Hands-on Estimating

by Jimmie Lanley on May 14, 2009

Estimation is a very valuable skill in real life, so I tried to make the study of it somewhat real by staging a shopping experience.  We used some of Sprite’s Sculpey clay foods, loosely taped onto blank business cards. Then we gave each item a price. (It’s not dollars but just some unknown unit, so the prices didn’t have to be realistic in any specific economy.)


We used monopoly money as our currency. (Perfect! I finally didn’t have to cut little slips of paper for this living math activity!)And then we just played around — not really a game per se with a winner and loser, but just experimenting with the foods.

We each chose a meal and then compared — who had the most expensive meal?


I planned a day’s worth of meals, and gave Sprite 200 units of money. Did she have enough to pay for it? She used estimation to solve the problem. Then she gave me problems to solve.

Then we reversed the process. I have her an amount of money and had her use estimation to plan three meals for one day and stay within budget.

Why is this fun to Sprite? The math skills are identical to solving problems in a workbook, but she adores doing these kinds of role plays. Is it the toys? The play money? The silliness? Yes, it’s certainly the silliness. We made some funny meals — spaghetti, a pumpkin, and an ice cream cake, for example. We laughed about wanting pie for dinner!


It took a small amount of prep time to set up, but the pay off is so worth it. Excitement towards math is a wonderful reward for a few minutes of making tape loops!

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