Candy is a Great Incentive
In my experience there are two things that will get the attention of even the most bored student: money and candy. The only time I bring money to a tutoring session is when I’m planning to teach how to count money. And all of it returns home with me. Candy is a different story.
Sweets are a great incentive for kids, as we all know, and they certainly make doing math fun. I’ve found that M&M’s and Skittles are great for math because they come in many different colors. When you line them up in rows, they even look like an abacus, so surely they were intended to be used to learn math. (By the way, lining up M&Ms is not easy … they are surprisingly nonuniform in size!)
I know all you health-conscious parents would like to reach through the computer and hand me an article about the detrimental effects of candy, but not to worry! You can substitute fruit candy pieces, raisins (black, golden, and Craisins) or a mixtures of nuts for candy. The only requirements are that: 1) there is variety, so you divide the pieces into groups of like things; and 2) your kid likes them. Let’s face it, prunes will never work as an incentive for kids to learn new math concepts.
Now for M&M Math. There are any number of ways to make math games using candy pieces. You can start with counting, literally using the pieces like you would an abacus. How many orange pieces are there? How many red? Then move up to adding and subtracting. If I subtract 2 blue pieces from the 9 blue pieces, how many blue pieces are left? If I add the red pieces to the yellow pieces, how many will I have? Then multiply and divide. If I have two groups of green candies, with 4 in each group, how many total green pieces are there?
These are all fun games to play with candy, but the very best use of M&Ms, Skittles, or fruit candy is for learning fractions. Here are a couple of ways to play, but you can make up your own versions. The game on the left combines counting with whole number addition and fractions. The one on the right focuses on fractions.
Give it a try! Your kids will love it, and you’ll have an excuse to eat M&Ms … guilt free!