Math Trains

How it Started
Math trains are something we did in kindergarten. We used blocks to make “shape trains” and follow patterns. Although we do not use the Math-u-See curriculum, we happen to have been given some Math-U-See blocks and we used those to “load the trains” and teach fact families.
I thought I was really clever and discovered this myself but as it turns out Kumon also uses a similar strategy as well.

The Game:
You bring your frieght car into the station (number five train in this case) and use your “crane” (child’s arm) to load the train.
The train master writes down the inventory ( 2+3=5)
We kept loading the trains until we had all the fact families down. Sometimes the crane would load the same “freight ”  but in different order ( example: 2+3, 3+2), proving the result was still the same.
We are also working on increasing comprehension of numbers greater than 10. I suggested that part of the train master’s job should be to total the cargo. You would hate to send all those trains off with the wrong order! Check twice send once.

We counted by fives and tens to do this. We also introduced the concept of multiplication, example: 5 trains x 5 bins each =25 bins of cargos leaving the station. I stuck with numbers I knew he knew for our first time.

 Did you notice the GORGEOUS writing? I was so proud. We also worked on pencil grip, as the picture above shows, he has not mastered that yet. Major success is that all of this was done without tears and no complaining.
 A train master takes his job seriously. 
Taking it Even Further
To end we “unloaded” the trains on to a “freight ship” (100 block). We took turns counting the cargo to make sure it was all there. Adding and subtracting double digits is where we ran into trouble in our workbook times so we went slow. I added one row he did the next.
Conversation goes something like this-
“5+5=10, now comes the 8 bins of chocolate how many do we have? You don’t know!? Oh, train master we won’t get paid if we don’t know! Let’s count, let’s start at 10…”  (Starting to count from a number other than zero is another area we are waiting for that “discovery moment”). 
This step I coached him through. I added on row he added the next.  The goal was not mastery but simply to build confidence and give him an experience where he could see that he was capable of adding greater numbers and even seeing patterns (3+7 and 33+ 7 both reach “ten”).
My number one goal was simply to begin to remove the intimidating nature of of math and to visually connect how numbers grow. These concepts are prime areas of discovery for him. By putting the unknown into the context of the “known” (block and trains) I am allowing him to discover while using his strengths (natural curiousity, love for things in motion, growing desire to be “in charge”).  By simply taking what I know about my child I can offer a learning experience that is so much more productive than being frustrated and trying to explain how to do a problem on a worksheet.

I consider this success!

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