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Keep Celebrating After the Holidays with These Artistic Math Activities

Adorable preschooler paints a picture
With a little creativity, practicing math can become an artistic activity.
From making a paper Rosca de Reyes to finding ways to recycle used gift wrap, check out these artistic activities that will give you tons of opportunities to have fun together with math in January.
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From making patterned garlands to identifying the shapes in a snowman, there are many crafts, games, and activities to bring math into your kids' lives during the holiday season. But family fun incorporating math doesn't need to end just because the holidays do. There are plenty of ways to have fun with math as a family come January. Check out these ideas for creative and artistic activities that will give you tons of opportunities to talk about and have fun with math together in January.

Rosca Fruit Patterns for Día de los Reyes

rosca de reyes
A Rosca de Reyes | Victoria Gonzalez

Many families in Spain and Latin America celebrate Día de los Reyes (known as Three Kings Day or Epiphany), which honors the Three Wise Men. In Mexico, Día De Los Reyes takes place on January 6. Families buy a Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped bread topped with candied fruit that resembles a king's crown. Then, as they sip Mexican hot chocolate, they cut the rosca into wedges to see who will find the baby Jesus figurine hidden inside. Decorating the Rosca de Reyes with dried fruits is a perfect way to talk about patterns with your child. Patterns are any predictable sequence of colors, numbers, shapes or other physical characteristics. Almost all mathematics is based on patterns! Consider making and decorating your own Rosca de Reyes with a pattern of dried fruit. If you can't make a bread rosca, you can also make a rosca with paper plates, scissors, glue and decorations.

  • To make a flat paper rosca, cut out the center of a paper plate. You can also make a 3D rosca by cutting out the centers of two paper plates and gluing the edges of the paper plates together (you can also use staples). You can even place a baby figurine inside the plate to go inside the wreath like in a real rosca!
  • Decorate the rosca by coloring with brown crayon or marker or sticking brown construction paper or tissue paper onto the plate.
  • Use pom-poms, buttons, ribbon strips, sequins or other decorations as candied fruit and other sweet toppings. Talk with your child about what patterns to make with the "fruit" around the rosca. Demonstrate how to make a pattern with the decorations by first creating a pattern for them to copy.

Wrap Up the Holidays with Used Gift Wrap Activities

Have you ever finished opening gifts with your family and wondered if there is another use for all that leftover wrapping paper? There are many ways to reuse wrapping paper as a part of family crafts. With these two wrapping paper activities below, you can recycle that leftover wrapping paper and play with math as a family.

Wrapping Paper Chains
Making wrapping paper chains is a fun, simple activity that the youngest members of your family will love to dive into. The focus of the math talk for this activity is the repeating color pattern you will make with the chain, but there are plenty of other opportunities to talk about shapes and counting. All you need for this activity is used wrapping paper, scissors and tape.

  • Cut out long rectangle-shaped strips of wrapping paper around 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. Use different colors of wrapping paper to make a paper chain pattern with a repeating color sequence.
  • Talk with your child about what pattern to make with the paper strips. How many patterns can you make together with the colors you have? You can also start a pattern for your child and ask them what comes next.
  • To make the chain, connect the two ends of the rectangle strip with tape to make a circle (you can also use glue or staples). Next, insert a second strip of paper into the loop. Tape the ends of the strip together to make an interconnected loop. Repeat this step with your repeating color pattern until your paper chain is as long as you want — and practice counting circles as you go!

Wrapping Paper Bead Bracelets
Reusing paper is not only better for the environment, but sometimes, it can become a work of art. Did you know you can make beautiful paper beads using leftover wrapping paper? This activity is full of rich opportunities for math talk, including counting, shapes, measurement and patterns! Paper beads are an excellent activity for older children who will have an easier time with the fine motor movements of rolling the beads, but it can be perfect for young children too, with a bit of help. For this activity, you will need wrapping paper, scissors, yarn or string, glue and toothpicks or pencils.

  • First, measure the yarn or string for your bracelet. Next, measure the strips of wrapping paper, so they are the same length — around 8 inches (it's similar to the height of a book or DVD case). You can use a ruler or another object around your house to measure.
  • Cut out long strips of wrapping paper into rectangle (1 inch wide) and triangle shapes (1 inch wide at one end and tapering to a point at the other end). These 2D strip shapes will make different 3D bead shapes. Older children can make predictions about what the 3D beads will look like! Use different wrapping paper designs to make beads out of different colors.
  • Put a toothpick or pencil parallel against the end of the paper strip, and place a line of glue down the length of the paper strip. For the triangle strips, be sure to place the toothpick or pencil at the widest end of the strip. Roll the paper around the toothpick or pencil until you reach the end of the strip. Apply some glue over the bead and set it aside to dry. Repeat with each paper strip until you have enough beads for your bracelets. Talk with your child and compare the different 3D shapes that you create!
  • Finally, make a repeating pattern of beads using the different shapes and colors of beads you created and string them onto the yarn or string in this repeating sequence. Tie the ends of the string together to complete your wrapping paper bead bracelet!

Inspired by Just Bright Ideas' 7 Ways You Can Entertain Toddlers with Leftover Wrapping Paper.

Let it Snow with This Snowflake Activity

paper snowflakes
You can make your snowflakes as intricate as you like. | Annatsach/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

You may not have the opportunity to see snow this winter, but that doesn't mean you can't create your own! Snow is full of opportunities to talk about math — think about winter weather words and phrases like temperature and snow depth. Also, did you know that snowflakes are almost always symmetrical and have six sides? Make paper snowflakes with your little ones using paper and scissors.

  • To introduce this activity, talk about the connection between folding the paper and how many shapes you can create with your scissors. Fold the paper in half once and cut two shapes to create two shapes. Fold the paper in half twice, cut two shapes, and unfold the paper to create four shapes. Can your child help you find the rule for this pattern? Try cutting triangles, half-circles, and more into the fold to see what shapes you can make with your cuts.
  • To make the paper snowflake, touch the two opposite ends of the paper together and fold it into a triangle. Repeat this and fold into a smaller triangle. You can continue to make smaller triangles, but be sure to keep the same center point for each fold!
  • Cut shapes into the sides of your folded paper triangle. Make a pattern by cutting a repeating pattern of shapes and sizes into the side (i.e., small triangle, big triangle, big triangle).
  • Unfold the paper to see your finished product! Talk with your child about the shapes and patterns in your snowflake.

Inspired by Thriving STEM's How to Use Paper Snow Flakes to Learn Math.

Create Stones of Hope for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Stone of Hope sculpture MLK
The Stone of Hope Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. | NPS/volunteer Bill Shugarts

The third Monday of January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (also called MLK Day) and commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an important leader in the Civil Rights Movement against racial discrimination. The Stone of Hope is a 30-foot high granite statue in Washington D.C. made by sculptor Lei Yixin in 2011. The inspiration for the memorial design is a line from King's "I Have a Dream" speech: "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." You can take inspiration from the Stone of Hope by making your own special pattern rocks to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy while practicing patterns. After you paint your patterns on the rocks, let them dry, then paint on top of your patterns with inspirational words that celebrate the theme of nonviolent protest, like "hope," "love," "freedom," and "justice."

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