My kids need to learn math, and I homeschool them. So, it's up to me to teach them. Now, some parents go about this by getting a workbook and textbook and having their kids worth through them, helping them as necessary. I don't do this.

I hate worksheets. I don't see much value in worksheets. When was the last time you went to work and had to do a worksheet, let alone a page of math problems?

It's busy work and doesn't seem to correlate to the real world.

Yet, I still need the kids still need to learn math.


So, I try to come up with fun ways to teach the kids math without worksheets. This is my last effort, and the kids loved it.

We're science fiction nuts in my house, and the whole family likes attending ComiCons and other such events. We attend all the local Cons, and occasionally we travel to them.


"Okay kids, it's time for math."

[Kids groan.]

I asked, "If you could pick anywhere in the world to go to a ComiCon, where would it be?" They didn't get too creative with that answer. They knew the next travel ComiCon on our radar would be held in Chicago, so they said Chicago.

At this point, I cut up a sheet of paper into little rectangles. "What are the different ways to travel to Chicago?" I asked.





I handed one kid a blue pen and had her draw a little plane in the upper right hand corner of the paper. The other kid drew a car. They also drew a bus and a train.

"Which is the best way to travel?" I asked.

They both looked at me with quizzical expressions and said the name of a mode of transportation.

"You were right to look at me funny. That was a trick question."

I asked the kids what were the different properties of these modes of transportation. We came up with cost, travel time, and carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

And this is where the math started.

We had to look up the distance to Chicago. We had to calculate needed gas. We had to estimate a part of the insurance and repairs. We had to add this together to make the cost of a car trip. We had to calculate a travel time too. We cheated on the carbon emissions and looked that up on an online calculator.

We looked up the cost of bus tickets, plane tickets, and train tickets, along with the travel time. Then we found online calculators for the carbon emissions.

Trade offs

I laid the little rectangles out and again asked the kids, "What is the best way to travel?"

The kids quickly figured out that each of the modes have good things and bad things about them, and they noticed the triangle of tradeoffs.

I had them arrange the papers in order of best-to-worst for environmental import, best-to-worst for time, and best-to-worst for cost.


Then I asked them again which was the best method, and they clued into the fact that the "best" method is dependent on your criteria. They talked about it together and decided the train was the best, because it wasn't too expensive, had the lowest carbon emissions, and probably their biggest reason was that they hadn't traveled on a train before. (Clearly, I forgot a property to include. It should have been cost, time, environmental impact, and novelty.)

Once we had our travel cards done, I asked them what were the sleeping possibilities.

They came up with sleeping in a car, pitching a tent at a campground, and renting a hotel room. The properties we came up with were cost and comfort. I also explained that it was unlikely there were any campgrounds near the convention center.

The kids had to estimate the cost of fees at a tent campground and they had to calculate the cost of a hotel room. Both of these also required online research.

"What's the best place to sleep?" I asked. They both said the tent campground, because we don't do that a lot. (Again, I forgot the novelty factor.) One of the kids continued with, "but mommy and daddy probably think the hotel is the best because it is more comfortable."

The last category I had the kids work on was food, and the properties they came up with were cost, the tasty factor, the health factor, and time.

Again, research and math was needed to calculate the cost. Somehow their healthy scale went in the opposite direction of the comfort scale on sleeping plans, but otherwise this worked out.


"What are other the other costs?" I asked.

The kids came up with registration fees and toys in the dealers' room. I told them that I didn't care about the toys, because they have to pay for those. I also explained that we can't negotiate on the registration fees. (I'm not a famous writer or actor, so sliding by on registration by doing panels isn't an option worth pursuing. I'd rather poke my eyes out than volunteer to help run a Con, so that isn't an option.)

"So kids, what are our travel plans?"

I had the kids then go through the plans and calculate the following trips:

  • the cheapest trip
  • the most expensive trip
  • the most kid-fun trip
  • the "mommy is most comfortable so she isn't cranky" trip
  • the "daddy is most comfortable so he isn't cranky" trip
  • the most realistic trip for our family to take

And that was the whole math assignment.

The kids didn't fight or whine during the entire exercise. My dyslexic son didn't burn out on a worksheet, but still learned how to calculate gas needed for a trip. Both kids learned about trade offs. The kids had to learn to make rating scales, and they had to agree on ratings. They practiced online research and typing.

Did I mention that no one cried or complained?

If you'd like to steal this exercise for your kids, feel free. I've made some planning a trip math lesson materials you're welcome to download.