Sometime around 1900, a ten-year-old girl chased her younger brother and sister up a tree to escape a flash flood. To prevent losing their grip and falling into the water below, she kept them awake all night, reciting times tables. Two things struck me as I read this account of Jeannette Walls’ grandmother: (1) our kids (and I!) are very coddled compared to yesteryear; (2) You don’t need an iPad, or even paper, to learn your sums and multiplication tables.

With that in mind, let’s talk about some hands-on math and science.


Money (Sums) Argentina is the land of mental sums. A scarcity of small coins means you are always making change mentally. When the item costs $27 pesos, the cashier will inevitably ask if you have two pesos, $5 change is preferred to $3. It’s a little mental math game included with every purchase.

Exchange rates (Multiplication) What should the tooth fairy pay out in pesos? in Bhat? in Won? Is this item more or less expensive here than at home? Answer with mental math, long multiplication, or estimates. No google or calculators!

How much is your allowance in local currency? Encourage kids to estimate and practice mental math.

Cooking (Fractions) What better way to grasp the concept that 1/3 x 2 = 2/3 than by measuring out 2/3 cup of sugar, using the 1/3 cup twice?

Trip Planning. Plan a proposed travel route and have kids add up distances, estimate travel times, add in time for breaks, or record the actual distance traveled. For the best hands on learning, use a real map and only compare with Google Maps afterwards.

Clearly, kids still need some repeated practice. More on the books we like is coming soon.


Science is all around us if we’re paying attention. Here are some of our informal science lessons.

The geological features of Argentina are breathtaking. From Purmamarca’s hill of seven colors, across deserts and Sierras to Talampaya and Ischigualasto. The vast pampa. Patagonian steppes. The jagged Andes. (We spent a lot of time driving!)

Ischigualasto, the ashen desert-like Valley of the Moon was formed by a volcanic eruption. It features impressive fossil finds and quirky geoforms, shaped by the winds.

And then, there is the Patagonian south! Flamingos and the Perito Moreno Glacier, all in a day in El Calafate.


What can a text book teach about penguins that this close-up can’t do better? Frozen face guaranteed in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego.


At the Brazilian border are the Iguazu Falls and conservation area, a subtropical rain forest teeming with animals.

You don’t need to drive for days on end to find science. Research local birds and look for them on your next hike. Visit a botanic garden. Look up! And discover which constellations are in your line of sight. 

(By research, I mean, spend ten minutes. Have kids take notes and sketch what they observe. We’re not developing an entire course curriculum, here!)

Visit a winery or a farm. Learn about irrigation and fermentation.

Digital Resources

I have some qualms about leaning heavily on digital resources, despite recognizing their appeal.

The opportunities for sedentary screen time are innumerable. And then, our learning needs to be on a screen, too? I’d rather engage the tactile and auditory senses where possible. Count marbles instead of virtual bugs, you know?

My bias here leaves my digital resource section rather weak, but so many others have written thorough reviews. I’ll leave it to them.

Math Apps My kids have enjoyed Math Monsters, abcya, and SumDog (through a school account). Their absolute favorite is Prodigy, where duels are won and lost based on their answers to math problems. Some friends use Khan Academy for older kids.

MPR’s Brains On podcast has been a terrific find! Science is presented in accessible and fun ways. From elevators to sound, outer space to ocean depths. Listening with the kids better prepares me to field the inevitable questions that follow.


What does science look like near you? Beaches and sea creatures, rock formations and gemstones? Forests, flora, and fauna? A factory, medical center, children’s museum, observatory, aquarium, or science center?

Does this give you any ideas for integrating a little science into your next outing?










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