Teaching Math Through Laundry

When my oldest son was one year old, he would follow me around the house as I did laundry and other chores. He would “help” me with the laundry. First he helped me collect the laundry. Then, he helped me sort the laundry. I did two simple piles-whites and colors. At first, he obviously needed help and he didn’t do it perfectly. Quite often my husband’s tan socks among other things were in our load of whites. I choose to temporarily tolerate this, because I wanted to encourage my son’s willingness to help and not focus on his failures. I decided that a helpful son was more important to me than perfect laundry. As he got older however, I did occasionally teach him such things as a particular shirt was tan instead of white and that I wanted it sorted in with the colors pile. This worked well, and by the time he was two, he was gathering and sorting the laundry, pretty well, all by himself.

Color identification and sorting are basic math skills. I think by simply helping me sort laundry, it set my son up for easy success in those areas of math. However, those were not the only things I have taught my children through laundry. In addition to the obvious life skill of knowing how to do laundry, I’ve also used laundry to aid in teaching my children the following math skills:

Counting-As we sorted laundry together sometimes we would count how many items we put into the basket.

More than/Less than-After we counted the clothes that we had sorted into each basket, I would ask my son which basket had more pieces of clothes (or articles of clothing) and which had less.

Paring/Matching-Obviously my children learned pairing and matching when I had them match up and fold the pairs of socks.

Shapes-I’ve pointed out the difference between a square and a rectangle using a washcloth and a hand towel. One day while my second son was folding towels, he excitedly pointed out that if you turn a square washcloth 45°, it becomes a diamond! He was happy to fold the diamonds that day (a task he usually complains about)!

Directions-I would give verbal instructions on how to fold a particular item such as “fold the shirt in half by placing your left hand in the middle of the shirt while you use your right hand to lift the right sleeve over to the left sleeve.”

Fractions-I’ve told my children to fold the washcloths in quarters and the hand towels in eighths. Then I’ve shown them how to count the layers after the items are folded to make sure they have folded them according to the correct fraction.

Skip counting-My oldest son really struggled with skip counting by twos, until I had him pair up our socks and lay the pairs all in a row on the floor. Then I had him count the socks. We did this a few times, and then he started getting how to count by twos.

Addition-I have had my oldest son fold our clothes and put them in separate piles for each family member. Then I had him count how many articles of clothing were on each pile and tell me the total number of articles of clothing (I did this with a small load the first time).

Multiplication-I’ve had my son lay out and count the pairs of socks in a load and then tell me how many socks total. This is a very basic intro to multiplication by 2’s.

As my children get older, I’m sure I’ll come up with even more ways of teaching them math while we do laundry together. When we are working on something new in math, I don’t usually bother to get out a special manipulative, I often just use what’s closest to hand at the time. With six people in our home, laundry is usually near by. My children seem to enjoy it when I teach them math through laundry.

What other ways have you used common household chores to teach your children math?

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