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.

December 9, 2013

Baking is a great way to get kids measuring and understanding fractions, but these cookies pack an extra math punch. I like to say that these fun cookies put the “fib” in Fibonacci based on their cool spiral pattern, that is close to, but not quite a famous spiral. They’ll also impress your guests, and they’re easy to make with young bakers.

Basically, take your favorite sugar cookie recipe and either split the resulting dough in half, or double the recipe and split that in half, either way, there’s a bit of math.

Color half of the dough and leave half plain*. Chill it as necessary to maintain a consistency that will allow you and your assistant to roll the dough without it getting too sticky. Roll out two rectangles of roughly equal size (more math!), placing one on top of the other. My slabs were roughly 8.5″ x 11, about the size of a piece of loose leaf paper.

There really isn’t a wrong way to roll up your double-thick sheet of dough. In fact, it’s worth pausing to discuss with your little baking partners. How will the cookies look different if you roll from a long side versus one of the short ones? Which way will produce the largest spirals?

However you roll it, set the rolled dough back into the fridge to chill before slicing. Once they’ve firmed up again, try this neat trick that will not only leave your spirals intact, but allow your child to help you slice. Use about 18 inches of dental floss to do the cutting!

Look closely and you’ll see this in the illustration above. Place the floss under the roll of dough and then cross it in an X over the top. Switch your grip and pull quickly. You should have a nice clean slice.

While the cookies are baking, you can talk math. It’s true that the spirals in your cookies don’t quite represent those from a Fibonacci Sequence, but it’s close enough in the world of a young child. Back in pre-K, my boys delighted in learning that certain numbers, sequences and equations had special names.

The Fibonacci Sequence starts out 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8… with each new number representing the sum of the two most recent numbers. Kids in early elementary years might be able to figure out the next couple of Fibonacci numbers. For younger children, create sequences named after family and friends and have your baker try to figure out the patterns. For example, I might say the Kim Sequence is 2, 4, 6… and ask what’s next.

Back to those Fibonacci spirals. When you make squares as wide as the number in the Fibonacci Sequence and connect them in a certain way, the result is a distinct spiral, but not quite the one you’ll see if your cookies. So the proper spiral may not have occurred in your kitchen, but this special form can be found in nature from sunflowers to seashells–and even in our own bodies!

*You can use two colors, but the results might lead to fewer “oohs” and more “ewwws.”