Making dollars and sense out of CNY

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Chinese New Year is in full swing and apart from teaching your kids about their culture and traditions, it’s a great way to sneak in a little age-appropriate maths practice. Even if you don’t celebrate Chinese New Year, you can still make use of these tips. Here are some ideas for weaving in a little maths in between stuffing your face with delicious tidbits.

Count dollar bills
Younger children will love helping you count fresh dollar bills to stuff hongbao. Older kids can be enlisted to do the maths – get them to figure out just how many $2 bills and $10 bills you need, depending on how many hongbaos of varying amounts are required.

Upcycle red packets
Make lanterns out of last year’s spare hongbao. Not only do you get to recycle a hongbao or 10, you can teach your kids about 3D geometry while making easy decorations that liven up the house. Younger children can roll up hongbao to make firecrackers, while older children can be tasked with bigger and more complex lantern designs. No matter what you do, you get to introduce maths concepts such as symmetry, the names of various polyhedral shapes, surface area, volume and more.

Think about ratios, proportions and budgets
With all the feasts you’re having, there’s no better time to brush up on concepts like ratios and proportions. If you’re cooking with a recipe but need to scale it up (or down) depending on the number of guests, work through the maths with your child. Encourage him to think about portion sizes – if everyone eats 100g of fish, how big a grouper do we need to buy? Or take your child to market and let him draw up a budget, figure out how much you’re spending, and how much you have left.

Add, subtract, divide
Toddlers and preschoolers can be tricky to entertain, so why not work on their counting skills? Count anything and everything you can get your hands on: watermelon seeds, nuts, pineapple tarts all do the trick. A slightly older kid might enjoy thinking about arrays of seeds or nuts, which can be a great way to start on multiplication. You can also rope in addition, subtraction and division. For example, how do you divide 10 kueh bangkit equally between three people?

Fun with estimation
Older kids can work on their estimation skills, which tends to be often overlooked. For example, how many love letters can one tin hold? How would you figure out if your estimation is accurate? Could you do it without counting? For bonus points, figure out the cost of each love letter. Or perhaps figure out the profit margin on selling love letters if it takes two minutes to make one. Speculative thinking exercises such as these are common interview questions (for example, how many barbers are there in San Francisco?) so why not give your child a head start?

Decide what to do with all that hongbao money
And of course, there’s plenty of mathematical thinking to be done with hongbaos. Younger kids will simply enjoy counting the packets, or the contents of the packets. Older kids can figure out the total amount, and then decide how much to spend, save or donate. In our family, we typically put aside half of the hongbaos received for long-term saving (such as for university), then put aside a quarter to save for something on our child’s wish list (a new bicycle or game, perhaps) and then a quarter for fun spending. Each family will have different priorities and proportions – discussing this with your child and then working with him to divide the money is a great way to pass on your family values and improve his numeracy skills at the same time.

Gong Xi Fa Cai and Happy Year of the Dog to you all!

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