Math Lab for Kids: Fun, Hands-On Activities for Learning with Shapes, Puzzles, and Games by Rebecca Rapoport and J. A. Yoder

Published by Quarry Books

Summary:  37 labs in nine chapters introduce a wide variety of mathematical topics, such as geometry, topology, fractals, and graph theory.  Each chapter begins with a “Think About It” question to be considered before diving into the labs.  Each lab includes a materials list, a boxed math fact, instructions, and diagrams.  The activities seem like simple games, puzzles, and craft projects, but don’t be fooled, constructing with toothpicks and gumdrops can lead to a greater understanding of antiprisms and Platonic solids.  In the authors’ introduction, they state that the activities have been tested on kids ages 6-10, but can be enjoyed by middle school students, high school students, and adults.  Back matter includes pull-outs to use with a few of the labs, hints and solutions for many of the labs, and an index. 144 pages; grades 2+

Pros:  “Mathematicians play,” the authors state in their introduction.  If you think you hate math, or you know a child who hates math, this book may be just the remedy.  Every activity looks like fun and is simple to set up, yet leads to a mathematical way of looking at the world.  The colorful photos of kids engaged in the activities and the simple, clear diagrams add to the fun.

Cons:  My neighbors may call for reinforcements when I head outside with five feet of string, two broomsticks, and some chalk to draw a giant ellipse in my driveway.

1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book by Juana Medina

Published by Viking 

Summary:  The numbers from 1 through 10 are explored with the ingredients of a salad.  Each page has the numeral (1) and the word (one), along with an animal created from a fruit or vegetable.  There’s one avocado deer with a big brown nose made from the pit, two radish mice, three pepper monkeys, and so forth.  The produce has been photographed, then embellished with black line drawings to create the animals.  One big delicious salad is shown at the end, with a recipe for dressing on the very last page.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The graphics jump off the page in this fun introduction to both numbers and healthy eating.

Cons:  Will preschoolers want to eat those cute tomato turtles?

Billions of Bricks: A Counting Book about Building by Kurt Cyrus

Published by Henry Holt and Company 

Summary:  A man, woman, and boy start building on the first page with bricks…two, four six.  People and bricks multiply with dizzying speed from there until the end of the book: molding and baking the clay to make bricks, mixing mortar, and building, building, building.  Schools, malls, government buildings: all are built with millions and billions of bricks.  Finally, at the end, “The work is nearly done, the cleanup has begun, let’s count the bricks we didn’t use, all together—one!”  32 pages, ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will love the catchy rhymes and the intricate illustrations showing many different people building immense structures with bricks.  While not a counting book in the traditional 1-2-3 sense, teachers can use it to introduce counting by two’s, five’s, and ten’s.

Cons:  Some child labor laws were undoubtedly violated in these pages.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Summary:  Teaching kids how to read graphs and charts?  Want to wow kids (or adults) with amazing animal facts (the biomass of termites is twice that of humans; the pistol shrimp makes a sound that’s louder than a jet plane taking off)?  This book has you covered on all fronts.  Looking at many different aspects of animals, including life spans, speed, size, and deadliness, every page has a different infographic that brings the information to life.  The sobering last few pages graph the winners and losers of mass extinctions of the past, including one that is going on right now, and chart the numbers left of some of the most endangered species.  Additional books and websites are listed at the end.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  You won’t hear much from any child you hand this book to; he or she will be way too absorbed studying the graphs and charts on every page.  That reader may emerge on occasion to share some fascinating fact with you (a koi fish can live 226 years!  There are 20 times more spider and scorpion species than mammals!).  I’ve already raved about Steve Jenkins’ cut-paper illustrations enough times to fill a pie chart, so I’ll spare you another round.

Cons:  It’s hard to believe those pesky squirrels in my backyard sleep twice as many hours as I do.

City Shapes by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Rhyming text follows a little girl around the city, finding different shapes in what she sees.  Shapes include a square, rectangle, triangle, circle, oval, diamond, and star.  The watercolor and collage illustrations are colorful and busy, making it a fun challenge to find the items mentioned in the text.  An author’s note tells of her love for New York City that inspired this book, and the illustrator’s note explains how he created the pictures (and that the girl in the book is his four-year-old daughter).  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier has created a bright visual feast on every page of a book that would make an excellent introduction to shapes.  Kids will be inspired to find shapes in their everyday lives.

Cons:  Only seven shapes are introduced.




Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season by Emma AdBage

Published by Kids Can Press 

Summary:  Simple but fun activities for learning math are arranged by season, with an emphasis on getting outdoors.  Measure worms in spring, count clouds in summer, play pick-up sticks in fall, and make snow shapes in winter.  Each listing begins with materials needed, which are all either objects that are found outside or simple household items.  Explanations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are given at the end.  Includes an index of activities, arranged by mathematical concept.  26 pages; grades PreK-3.

Pros:  This Swedish import makes learning math fun and healthy.  The activities are simple enough for preschoolers to enjoy, but include mathematical concepts that are covered through the primary grades.

Cons:  You’d have to live in a four-seasons climate to do everything.

Place Value by David A. Adler, illustrated by Edward Miller

Published by Holiday House

Summary:  A group of cooking monkeys demonstrate how place value works.  Starting with the concept of using 26 letters to make up words, they show how ten digits make up numbers.  Just as rearranging letters gives words different meanings, so does moving around the digits in large numbers.  The concept of place value to show ones, tens, hundreds, and on up is introduced and reinforced with several examples.  A brief history of the Hindu-Arabic number system and its basis in the number ten is given.  There are also explanations of the comma in large numbers and the decimal point, with a brief explanation of numbers to the right of the decimal.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A fun introduction to an important mathematical concept.  The illustrations add a light touch.

Cons:  The information about decimals may be a bit too much for kids just learning about place value.