The Authentic Experience


It’s the authentic experience in reading, writing, and math (really in all academic disciplines) that truly make a difference in what a child will not only learn, but internalize and use.  Exposure in isolation does not have the same impact as the authentic experience.  Drilling for hours doesn’t come close to the impact of the quick but authentic hit.

Most teachers and parents are extremely busy and may overlook the quick and easy authentic experience for children.  One of the main focuses of this blog is a reminder about all of those wonderful authentic teaching moments out there.  Sometimes I’ll go into detail if I think the details are important, but usually I’ll try to just put out a quick note about anything that strikes me as a great authentic learning moment for kids.

This also pairs with my favorite teaching and parenting strategy, the “Model Your Thoughts Out Loud” strategy.  By voicing your thoughts out loud for organization, planning, problem solving, etc, you are modeling behavior for children to internalize.  This can be talking in front of children to a co-worker, spouse, partner, relative, friend, caregiver, or even out loud to yourself.  What is important is that kids hear how and why things happen.  Events don’t just magically occur and things don’t magically appear without organization, planning and problem solving.  I will post ideas about this as well.

My last main focus will be authentic project ideas for teachers.  Again, I will go into detail when the details are important, but often I’ll just relay ideas that come to me, or that I come across.


Authentic Teaching – Pizza and Fractions



When ordering pizza – use fractions to discuss the slices and how many pieces everyone ate.  I ate 1/2 while you ate 1/3.  If I ate 1/2 of a small pizza and you ate 1/3 of an extra-large pizza, did I eat more?  If I ate 1/2 of a pizza and you ate 4/8 of the same pizza, who ate more?  Lots of authentic ways to teach fractions.

You can also teach the early vocabulary of fractions with young children.  When discussing ordering a pizza you can use words like whole, half, and quarter.  “Half” the pizza with cheese, and “Half” with pineapple and ham (my favorite).  Hmmm…gotta go order pizza for lunch now!

Authentic Teaching – Turning a Wait into a Math Lesson


I was waiting for Metro on a summer day, in a Washington, D.C. station.  The station was hot, crowded, and the trains were running late.  As I stood waiting, I noticed two mothers nearby, both with young sons.  Both children were whining, and my initial reaction was relief that I was not also dealing with a young child in this heat, bad enough I had to stand here and wait myself.  But as I stood watching, I was struck by the different way in which the two mothers were dealing with the wait.

One mother was explaining that the trains were running slow because they were so crowded.  She pointed up at the display that showed the wait for the next train, and started counting down with the numbers on the display.  Her child stopped whining, and became engaged with watching the seconds and minutes count down.  Not only was she teaching her child patience with patience, but she was also developing math skills.

The second mother reacted to her whining child with a swat on the behind, and language that really surprised me. Language not appropriate for sailors in a bar (no offense intended to sailors in bars), and certainly no way to model behavior for a child.  She also threatened to not get him a promised treat later.  His behavior escalated, hers escalated…and I am sure I don’t need to explain the moral of this story.

Authentic Teaching – Planning the Next Vacation


Whether it is over to the next town to visit relatives, or a vacation involving hotels and restaurants, children of all ages should be involved in the planning of, and preparation for travel.

Children can and should read about destinations before they get there.  Younger children can watch videos.  This is not only great authentic reading (or pre-reading) practice, it allows children to have expectations and ownership for the trip.  Not only does this increase reading skills and knowledge, but improves behavior.

Looking at pictures of grandma and her cane can lead to conversations about how grandma can’t chase young children around her house.  Books about the ocean lead to increased knowledge about our oceans, and the required rules to enjoy them safely.

Depending on the age and abilities of your children, they can also be involved in researching and planning a trip.  One of the most interesting and fun hotels I stayed in was found by my ten-year-old daughter, researching a place to stay overnight on our way home from a gymnastics meet.  (She also knew what my budget was and found a hotel within this range – authentic math practice.)

All children can and should help pack for a trip.  Packing lists can be made by parents to be followed by children (pictures work for pre-readers). Not only are lists reading practice (and writing for an older child who can write the list as well) but teach children that there is preparation, organization, and planning for travel.  Older children can do most of the packing themselves with some supervision.  For teenagers, that’s another story, just be happy if they pack for the right season. (Pick your battles here!)


Authentic Teaching – The License Plate Game


This is a new twist on an old travel game.  For years parents have entertained children on long car rides by having them look for and check off a license plate from all 50 states.  As many kids now have access to on line information through phones and tablets, you can add the task of looking up and naming the capital of the state, population, etc.  Authentic Math Bonus:  additional points for each plate can be added based on larger population, geographical location, etc.   The more you add, the busier the kids are, and the more reading they are doing.

Authentic Teaching – Restaurant Math


Here is another math idea for children while eating at restaurants.  My mom actually came up with this idea when I was a child and had discovered shrimp cocktails.  To make us aware of how much we were spending at restaurants, she played a game called “Guess the Check.”  After the first time, we would expect this, and my brothers and I would listen to everyone order, check the prices on the menu, and add up the cost in our heads.  Not only was this a great way to develop authentic math skills, but it also made us aware of what we were ordering/spending at a restaurant.  After a conversation about family budgets and eating out, my order of the expensive shrimp cocktail ceased (except when my grandparents came to town and were treating – that is what grandparents are for!)


Authentic Teaching – Vacation Math


This is the time of year when families tend to travel with children.  It is also the time of year when parents are often faced with the fearsome gift shop.  (Full disclosure:  I love gift shops, but my husband is definitely afraid of them!)

Giving children a budget before a trip is not only a great way to teach math, but also a way to cut down on whining.  Win, Win!  With young children the number can be how many souvenirs they can buy (remember that young children don’t even understand that everything in a store is for sale, so you can pick a few things in your price range and let them pick one).  For older children, they can have an amount they can spend during the trip.  You can even include calculating tax (and finding out the tax rate where you are traveling) with teenagers.

And remember it is also OK to say no souvenirs.  If this is not in the budget, it’s not in the budget.