Parenting hacks: easy ways to trick kids into loving math and science

Teach your children well.
Teach your children well.
Image: AP Photo/J Pat Carter
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Thanks to a charming Cheerios commercial, software developer Chad Miller was inspired to start a website. “This Is How to Dad” is not just full of parenting hacks—why you should buy your five-year-old a knife, how to teach them how to ride a bike—but also features some clever tips about how to encourage kids to become literate, numerate, and generally fond of learning.

Sure, there are apps for this kind of thing, but the best techniques only require some time and effort. We’ve highlighted a few of Miller’s tips and related advice from other sources for a not-even-close-to-complete guide to tricking—ahem, encouraging—children into becoming super-absorbent knowledge sponges.

One obvious note: “How to dad” is a catchy example of marketing verbification, but it’s really “how to parent” that matters here.

Teach kids their phone number by using your iPad as bait

Set the iPad’s access code to be your phone number. (Here’s how to make it longer than 4 digits.) Then teach kids when they’re lost to say, “Could you call my parents? My phone number is _____.”

Learn about probability by gambling (but not for money)

Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing, MAKE, and Cool Tools, carries dice in his pockets at all time so he can play the game Cee-lo. “Like most betting games, Cee-lo has a rough reputation. But played among friends, not betting for money, it can be rather wholesome,” he says. The game can be played by anyone kindergarden age and above—here are the rules.

Play the takeaway game

Start with a big pile of objects—Miller uses jelly packets at his neighborhood diner. Each player can remove one, two, or three items at a time. The last player to take an item wins. See who figures out the trick to winning, you or your five-year-old. (If you can’t stand losing: Think about multiples of four.)

Make your nerdy hobbies their nerdy hobbies

Exhibit A: This insanely detailed NASA spaceship and mission control simulator.

Buy a prism—after you remind yourself how they work

Prisms are cool! Look at the pretty rainbows! Did you know that all white light is made up of different colors of light, some with long waves and some with shorter ones? From there, work your way up to talking about Isaac Newton, with an occasional detour through The Rainbow Connection—it has no particular learning benefits, but it’s just a good song.

Teach kids how to factor large numbers

“Give the kid some chalk and a chalkboard and challenge them to tell you whether they can make a rectangle out of some number of dots,” Miller writes. “Don’t tell them they’re factoring numbers, and discovering multiplication and prime numbers.”

Can you make a rectangle out of 8 dots? (Not a line, note. Lines aren’t rectangles.)
Sure, 2 by 4.
How about 9?
Two by… nope that leaves a gap.
Not a rectangle. Make it wider.
Ah, 3 by 3 is a rectangle.
How about 10? 11?
How many rectangles can the kid make for 12?

Buy them Minecraft—they’re going to want it anyway

Tom Preston-Warner of the nonprofit group Codestarter, which provides laptops to kids who want to learn about computer programming, pre-loads the popular game as a default. “Kids LOVE Minecraft,” he writes. “Sure, it’s a game, but Minecraft encourages an engineering mindset where kids use their computer to build whatever they can dream.”

As Quartz has reported, Minecraft has become something like a massive open online course (MOOC). Part of the appeal is the game’s lack of an instruction manual, which forces users to figure things out on their own or go looking for fan-created user guides on YouTube.

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