Friday, September 7, 2012

Teaching Through Play: Frying Pan Math Helps Kids with ADD

by John and Diane. 

One day I was watching my boys play. They were using their imaginations to make up a fairly complex game with rules and names of characters. They were remembering all the complexities of the game and everyone’s place in it.  Pretty good for kids with memory issues, and learning difficulties as well as ADD and other common problems that foster kids have.
Then I called them in to do school work like adding and subtracting. They could not remember anything they had learned the day before.  The rules for simple math problems did not mean anything to them and forget about them remembering something like how to add 1+2. It just was not fun so not worth remembering.  
This was very frustrating for me, and I admit that I got angry and raised my voice “Why can’t you remember this? We just did this yesterday?” 
Suddenly, once I read them the riot act for not paying attention, they were able to do it.  It dawned on me that I had seen this before. If I would nag the kids about their lessons, they would get mad, or sad and suddenly they could do their work, when before they could not.  If they were really happy, they could also learn. Weird right? It was just when they were in-between emotions that they seemed froze up or “forgetful.”
So, I came up with a plan. I would turn Math into a game. They would be learning without knowing they were learning. This is how I came up with Frying Pan Math.
Frying Pan Math
I made up cards with numbers on them. Start with the numbers 1-10 and make 5 of each number (so you have 5 copies of the number 1, 5 copies of the number 2 etc.)
Now I took an old frying pan and put a + sign in the bottom of it so the frying pan was called “Plus.”
Now I use a spatula to turn over the cards with the numbers on them. I told the kids
“We are going to cook up some numbers but we can’t let them burn, ok?  We will see how much you can cook today”
I said, “can you cook me up so numbers in my frying Pan?” now they thought this sounded fun!
 “Ok, John I can cook!”
I say, “This is a special frying pan, his name is “Plus,” so you always have to say his name.  If you put in a 2 then you have to say his name, “Plus” before you can put the next number in, Ok?” So you can't just say, I am putting 2 in the frying pan because if you do “Plus” will throw it out and you wont be able to cook it and win the game.”
“So you can say ‘2 Plus’ (which is the frying pan's name) 1, and then you can count on your fingers or in your head if you can, and tell me what they add up to.”
Then I go through what adding is, trust me this takes a long time some times.
So we play the game.  Now my job is to make it fun so they want to keep playing. Sound effects and the moving of the frying pan helps with the game and I pretend that it is hot and it’s going to burn. I may even let them move the numbers around the pan while they add them up. If they are taking a long time to add the numbers I can make it sound like the numbers are burning, which makes them work faster. Remember, the best part about this game is that the child is not only learning, but he is playing with his favorite toy- you.
A child “wins” by adding the most numbers correctly, or adding the most numbers together. It is really up to you.
A small prize for a “winner” if two children are playing makes the game more enjoyable and helps further motivate the kids. Just something small is fine.
 What I found is that I was able to move on to times tables with this method and that my kids with short term memory issues would remember basic math skills better because the more numbers he cooked up the bigger the prizes he got.  Kids are always motivated by greed.
Later I was able to transfer the things they learned during the Frying Pan Math game into more mainstream learning methods like flashcards to get my children ready for school. For example, I began to move away from the frying pan and into using flash cards and showed them they were the same numbers we were playing Frying Pan Math with.  First they didn’t think they could do it, but after a while they found themselves knowing the answers. They had the biggest smile on their faces because these were the same flash card we had been working on for months before and now they knew them. Wow!
 I was so proud of them and I thank God for showing me this! I had given up trying to teach the kids and was just letting them play and was praying for help it came to me how I had to teach my boys. I hope you all find it helpful for you and your kids as well.
If you have any helpful tips on how to use play in teaching at home, please share!
 image: adapted from 
Attribution Some rights reserved by grongar


  1. Fantastic...loved this idea and its so creative. This is how they will remember to learn. It absolutely is about the fun behind it. My son had a program where they built this big fort type concoction outside for weeks and when it was done it was actually a heart and all the parts of it (aorta, etc)...he knows all his anatomy parts to this day. LOL

    1. Thanks for your comment! That is pretty impressive that your son remembers his anatomy from that fort project! Teaching through play really works!