What are some fun, "lateral" math concepts/books for a 2nd grader
February 8, 2021 6:36 AM   Subscribe

My second grader loves math. In school learning multiplication and fractions, and he's mastered addition and subtraction. I'd like to buy him some activity books to encourage his interest. Ideally these would not just be learning 3rd and 4th grade math a year or two early. Instead, I'd like to find other, adjacent topics for him to explore. I've had some luck with logic puzzles, and a little with coding. What else should I look for? Specific book/workbook recommendations are especially appreciated.
posted by david1230 to Shopping (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Beast Academy books are kind of fun and provide a lot of enrichment activities.
posted by statsgirl at 6:52 AM on February 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

So, this doesn't fit exactly what you're asking for, but these Key math books are really excellent. Very simple, self-paced, and lots and lots of repetition to really drill home the concepts. I know it says Grade 6-8 in the description but that's an overstatement, all the kids in my Grade 4-5 class were using them, not just the advanced kids -- my teacher used them instead of the standard math curriculum.

They're workbooks that kids can write in directly, so it feels almost like an activity book. I loved them as a bright 4th-5th grader.
posted by mekily at 7:16 AM on February 8, 2021

Despite the grody title, I Hate Mathematics! is a classic I read at about that age. Its sequel, Math For Smarty Pants, is also great.
posted by 8603 at 7:25 AM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

May I suggest Boolean Algebra? I really took to this as a kid and was thrilled when I proved my first theorem.
posted by SPrintF at 7:30 AM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some of Mitsumasa Anno's books are math-oriented. As a nerdy child, I remember Anno's Hats as being an interesting introduction to "hat puzzles". And I was particularly fascinated by Socrates and the Three Little Pigs, which introduces combinatorics & probability in a fun way. The Anno's Math Games series and Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar were published too late for me to find them age-appropriate, but they looks to be much along the same lines.

I'll also second The I Hate Mathematics! Book and Math For Smarty Pants, which I loved to pieces at that age.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:39 AM on February 8, 2021

here are some things you can do with kids of that age...
1. have him calculate the fibonacci sequence himself. then draw the spiral with the numbers
2. have him make pascal's triangle - you don't need to do more with it, but can for later
3. have him roll one six sided die again and again and make a table of which numbers come up. have him roll two six sided dice again and agian and make a table of which numbers come up. Then have him figure out how many combinations from the dice make up each number.
4. play the 24 game
5. play the game 'sets'
6. have him write out the binary numbers in order from one to however many
7. try to make magic squares
8. teach him differen't ways of counting with your hands (try chisanbop and many others)
posted by jazh at 7:50 AM on February 8, 2021

This is not an activity book, but if you want a fun, mind-expanding bedtime book, I highly recommend The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure.

A lot of the details may go right over his head, but that's not the point. The point is that math is fun, creative, silly (yes, silly) and something you can spend a lifetime exploring.

This is a chapter book, and it would need to be read to him. In my case that was great, because I learned some things, too. (For example, who knew that perfect squares are the sums of successive odd numbers? Not me.)
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:53 AM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Perhaps a nicely illustrated and copiously annotated edition of Euclid's Elements? There's a reason it's known for inspiring generations of young people to pursue mathematics. I figure, either your kid gets bored of it in a day, or he's grateful for the rest of his life for the opportunity to see real no-fooling proofs at such a young age.

For something lighter and more obviously recreational, try "Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School" by Louis Sachar.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:05 AM on February 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if you don't mind more screen time and regrettable late-80s fashions, you could try digging up old episodes of Square One TV on YouTube.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:14 AM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Sadly, I don't have a specific resource, but learning to calculate in other bases is one of the math enrichment activities in the Monessori canon. Adding and subtracting is fairly straightforward, and it helps really solidify the base-ten concepts.
posted by DebetEsse at 8:44 AM on February 8, 2021

Seconding Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School. Louis Sachar is a gem, and this book is very well done. My smart, mathematically inclined brother did this book in 2nd grade or so, I think.
posted by reren at 8:51 AM on February 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Byrne’s Euclid. Not sure about the 2nd grade part, probably not.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:06 AM on February 8, 2021

have him make pascal's triangle

How about watching the game-show manifestation of Pascal's Triangle - Plinko?

Knowing fractions and addition/multiplication of fractions is a good lead into probability. You can plot out a Plinko board - keep it short to start - and figure out what the chances are of hitting the center slot, and what happens if you choose a different starting point.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:28 AM on February 8, 2021

Apologies if this was mentioned above (I'm on my lunch hour) but ask him to add the numbers from 1 to 20 without adding the numbers, just by thinking about it. (Hint: 1 and 19, 2 and 18, 3 and 17... etc). This can be generalized to the numbers between 1 and 100, etc.
posted by forthright at 9:56 AM on February 8, 2021

Oh, and how could I forget this one. Have him count the number of letters in number words. For instance, pi has three letters, three has five, five has four, four has four... loop. Ninety-nine has ten, ten has three, three has five, etc. Same result. Note that this works in English but not in many other languages. If he loves Math he might find that amusing.
posted by forthright at 9:59 AM on February 8, 2021

One of my faves from about that age, many years ago:

posted by february at 10:17 AM on February 8, 2021

The book Math Curse written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith is a fun one. Lots of places to start exploring.
posted by MillyMath at 10:45 AM on February 8, 2021


There's some resources for elementary school students here: https://fractalfoundation.org/resources/
posted by yohko at 11:29 AM on February 8, 2021

If you use complements, you can subtract by adding. Here's how to do it.

73 - 45 = 73 + 54 = 127 and move the one on the left as an add 1 on the right to get a final answer 27 + 1 = 28.

To get the 54 I added, I just asked myself what do I add to 4 in 45 to get 9 (5) and what do I add to 5 in 45 to get 9 (4).

You are really just adding and subtracting 100 this way but it's not important to know that.

Another example:

124 - 88 = 124 + 11 = 135 ----> 35 + 1 = 36.

Hope this made sense.
posted by wittgenstein at 11:33 AM on February 8, 2021

I made a prime number sieve toy a few years ago for little ms. flabdablet to play with. It's nothing fancy but it's kind of fun to click on.
posted by flabdablet at 11:57 AM on February 8, 2021

SET the game is great.

The book Math Lab for Kids is also excellent. There's another math games book by the same author, not sure if it covers the same territory or not.

Both of these we did (over video chat, pandemic summer school) with our old housemate's kiddo when they were in 2nd grade last year!
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:08 PM on February 8, 2021

Life of Fred & Bedtime Math

While you'd need to hunt around for specific problems of interest, MEP math is a free curriculum that has some interesting puzzles (ex).

Not free, but Singapore Math, also has a supplement for challenging word problems.

You might also want to work on mental math since it is not necessarily explicitly taught these days.
posted by oceano at 2:59 PM on February 8, 2021

If you're up for video, some Vi Hart would work for a mathematical kid that age.

I liked plotting different functions on graph paper. See what the quadratic coefficients do.

If you have decimals, play with repeating decimals. Why does 1/7 do that?

L-systems on grinded paper.

Cut a Mobius strip and figure out what's going on.
posted by away for regrooving at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2021

As a side issue, I'd give him some examples of fractions in real life such as money (pennies, nickels, dimes, etc) and cooking (tsp, tbsp, cups, etc).
posted by SemiSalt at 4:43 AM on February 9, 2021

Not sure how useful this will be, but my first grader is in a similar boat and I created this Python script last week to give her an endless set of problems in a way I can easily tweak the difficulty later on. It's still fairly raw as I built it as I went in the course of an hour or two, but it should simply run anywhere you have access to python3 (and could pretty easily be ported back to 2) and further extended to add some additional type of problems from the Python operator library (exponent and maybe less than/ greater than would be easy enough).
posted by yerfatma at 8:29 AM on February 9, 2021

Someone mentioned Square One. There's also CyberChase from PBS which is math adjacent.
posted by kathrynm at 4:19 PM on February 9, 2021

Maybe this is already what you meant by “logic puzzles,” but when I was around that age I was obsessed with quizzles.
posted by somedaycatlady at 4:58 PM on February 9, 2021

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