A Carnival of Math

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

A Carnival of Math

June 23, 2014

I tried to distract them as we drove past, but no luck–the kids spotted the flashing lights, the whirling wheels, the barkers, the balloons…

“There’s a carnival, can we go?”

My kids just love carnivals–the rare opportunity to scarf down junk food, the thrilling rides, and the fun games. I love that carnivals are another opportunity for them to see math skills in action.

Purchasing Power

Before they can ride, we need tickets. For some reason, carnivals still use the most inefficient method of ticket purchase known to man–a single, tiny booth stuck in some corner of the fair.

Do we buy the unlimited ride bracelets that my kids are begging for or do we go for the sheet of tickets? The unlimited ride bracelets are usually $30, but most of the time we can find a coupon code for $5 off, making them $25. A sheet of 40 tickets sells for $40. That will usually buy about 10 rides. My kids are quick to point out that they can easily go on that many rides. However, they can share the tickets–they can’t share the bracelets.

Measuring Up

Before we make a decision, we need a height check. My seven-year-old daughter is 4’2″. I note that at 50″ she is well within the “green zone” and she can ride every ride except for two that require the rider to be 54″ inches.

Her next younger brother is 3’8″ so at 44″ he is in the yellow zone and can ride most rides, some of which require an adult to ride with him.

The toddler is still 3’3″ and 39″ means that he can just enjoy a handful of rides, some alone and others with an adult.

So, the two taller kids usually get bracelets and we also grab a sheet of tickets for the toddler and adults to share. The big kids notice that this is adding up. Just the bracelet is the equivalent of over seven weeks of my seven year-old’s $3.50 allowance. Knowing math actually inspires some gratitude!

Get in Line

Now that we have our tickets in hand, we need to decide which rides to hit first. Each kid has a favorite–my daughter likes the big swings, my son prefers the kiddie coasters, and my toddler enjoys the fire trucks that circle around on a track. Everyone, including the baby, can go on the Ferris wheel together. So, how can we maximize our time at the fair?

Usually the kids want to go straight for their favorites, figuring there is always the possibility of a second–or even a third–ride later on. My big kids are bummed out because there is a long line for a centrifugal force ride shaped like a wheel with padded “cells” along the circumference.

When the ride spins, the centrifugal force pushes outward, sticking all the riders to the walls so they do not fall forward as the wheel tilts. I am just explaining that we can recreate this at home by spinning a sand pail filled with water when…

Wait! The line is moving pretty fast. This is a short ride–probably because no one’s stomach can handle more than a few minutes of this–and there are nine sections of three spots so 27 people can ride this ride at once. Long lines do not always mean long waits, depending on the length of the ride and the number of people who can ride. Fortunately no adults have to ride this one with them. My kids count off and figure out they’ll be getting in with the next group.

At their next pick, they aren’t as lucky. There is another long line for a bungee harness on a trampoline. There are only two trampolines and each person gets five minutes to jump. With twelve kids ahead of them, we’d be waiting about a half an hour before their turns. So we bounce out of there.

How High?

One of the highlights (ba-dum-cha) is seeing the view from on top of the Ferris wheel. The average carnival Ferris wheel is about 63 feet. We like to use my husband as a unit of measurement (pretending he is 6 feet tall for simplicity’s sake) and we estimate that the wheel is 10.5 “Daddies” high!

There’s a new ride that my eldest two can ride and it has the Ferris wheel beat. The Super Shot free-fall ride is 140 feet, or over 23 “Daddies” high!

Everyone Wins with Math!

Usually the kids talk us into shelling out a few more bucks for a carnival game or two. We know that they will mostly get a few small prizes that are worth a tenth of what it will cost to win them. The large, enticing prizes are almost impossible to earn.

After fishing out a couple of rubber ducks for a prize, we convince the kids we can replicate most of the games at home.

Math is a Thrill Ride

As we zig zag throughout the fair, looking for fast-moving lines. we wonder how fast the roller coaster goes and how the engineers make sure it is safe. Back at home, I know we can design our own roller coaster for toy cars and build ramps and loop de loops out of cardboard tubes.

We pass by the slide and think about our winter sledding adventures. What is the slope on that big slide and do the humps slow you down or will you go fast enough to “get air?”

By the time the toddler is out of tickets, everyone is stuffed full of funnel cake and exhausted from the thrills and fresh air. Time to head home and figure out one my favorite math problems–how many minutes will it take for the kids to fall asleep in the car?


Photo courtesy of Candace Lindemann

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About the Author

Candace Lindemann

Candace Lindemann, of Naturally Educational, is a nationally recognized and quoted educational expert and published children's writer who holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education,

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