Monstrously good Maths for Halloween
The cardboard ghosts and wispy spiders’ webs in supermarkets have been hinting at it for weeks, and now the calendar agrees – Halloween is upon us. On 31 October children across the country will don their spookiest outfits and make their way from house to house, entreating the adults who answer the door with a chorused “Trick or treat?”
It’s a tradition which is deeply engrained in American culture – even though Halloween itself can be traced back hundreds of years to the superstitious beliefs of pre-Reformation England – and though it’s not yet hit the same cultural heights in the UK, it’s gaining popularity every year.
Here are some ideas to make the evening both eerie and ‘Mathsy’. It is a school night, after all!
Pumpkin carving is a much-loved Halloween activity, and the results can be spectacular. It’s also a great opportunity for children to develop their estimating and measuring skills.
• Before they make the first incision, suggest they use a tape measure to gauge the circumference of the pumpkin. Is it bigger than Mum’s head? Smaller than Dad’s tummy?
• Bring the bathroom scales downstairs and weigh the pumpkin. Is it more than they expected? Can they think of anything else with a similar weight?
• Then, once the lid has been lifted and the contents removed, section off the seeds. How many do they think there are? Closest to the right answer gets a sweet!
The witches’ brew
Learning times tables can be tricky, but Halloween is a great time to work on it. Why not buy some small plastic creatures – spiders, mice, cats – and scatter them around the room. Place a cauldron (or saucepan) in the middle, and invite the children to gather the right ingredients for the witches’ brew. Sixteen spiders’ legs! Six mice eyes! Three cats’ tails! Gruesome – but a fun way of developing maths skills and learning a bit about anatomy.
Cooking with your children is excellent fun. Frustrating? Sometimes. Messy? Of course. But well worth it. As well as familiarising them with the idea that food doesn’t just ‘appear’ on a plate, it opens a door to a world where maths is a practical skill, not a theoretical one.
There are plenty of ghoulish recipes to try with your children at Halloween.BBC Good Food has a great selection. The secret to success is to enjoy the journey rather than getting too worked up about the destination. Let your children take responsibility for measuring out the right quantities, or timing how long something needs to be in the oven, or working out what the correct temperatures might be. Alright, so the end product might not be as tasty as if you had worked on it yourself – but the benefit of the lessons learnt and the fun had will be huge.
Trick or Treat bingo
Love it or hate it, it seems the Halloween practice of knocking on strangers’ doors and asking for sweets is here to stay. Whether you’re eager to get out there or dreading the sweets your children will bring home, here are a few ways to make them think about the numbers.
• Before they leave, create a Bingo board and see if they can collect a sweet to match each square. That should keep the neighbours on their toes.
• If they haven’t already eaten them by the time they get home, assign a value to each different sweet or chocolate type and pick a target number – the children have to select the right sweets to make up the target amount.
• Lastly, challenge your children to divide the sweets equally between everybody in the family – this is a great way for them to start learning about fractions without even trying, and means you might even get some chocolate!
Have a happy, Mathsy Halloween!