Math and Gift Wrapping – The Perfect Combo?


Gift wrapping involves the following mathematical topics:

  1. Identifying shapes
  2. Understanding surface area
  3. General estimation reasoning

Identifying Shapes

Explain to your kids that wrapping different objects requires different styles of wrapping. An easy reference point would be items in your kitchen: how is the bread wrapped? What about a tube of frozen cookie dough? A spatula? How would these items be wrapped differently than the packaging for a box of pasta?

Once you’ve explored different shapes with your kids, explain that wrapping presents means asking some questions upfront: what is the easiest way to wrap this object? Should I put the gift in a box so it’s less obvious what it is? Is it soft, or hard? Is it a tricky shape like a cylinder? Asking questions allows young minds to express their curiosity muscles and learn to critically think about problem-solving.

Surface Area

Wrapping presents is a great way to better understand the concept of surface area. To explain surface area, try this:

  1. Place a gift box next to a roll of wrapping paper.
  2. Have your child roll out the wrapping paper to the size they think it needs to be to completely cover the box.
  3. Did he or she underestimate or overestimate? Take the time to explain that you have to cover ALL sides of the box and leave a little extra room to cover & tape.
  4. Once they’ve decided there is enough wrapping paper, cut the paper together (safety first!).
  5. Before the wrapping begins, compare the size of the box with the size of the paper they cut out.
    • Are they surprised by how much paper it takes?
    • Ask them to estimate how much bigger the paper is than the box looks: does it look like the paper is about twice as big as the box?
    • For older students, you can have them calculate the area of paper they cut out by having them measure the length (L) and width (W) and multiplying (L x W = Area).
  6. Explain estimation vs. measurement – was their method of estimating size accurate enough? Even if your little helper isn’t ready to calculate area, they can use their spatial reasoning skills to get pretty darn close to the right amount of paper.
  7. Time to wrap it up! You can add extra challenges like only using two pieces of tape or challenging them to wrap it without needing to cut the paper. Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to wrap the perfect present.

Other Seasonal Activities for The Fam!

  • Traveling for the holidays by car? There are several ways to integrate math into trip planning, as explored more in our blog post here.
  • Challenge your kids to become savvy with the international measurement systems by having them convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and back again. For younger kids, help them identify the basic relationship (temperatures in Fahrenheit have much lower Celsius equivalents). Older kids can look up the conversion formula and make more precise calculations.
  • Playing a board or card game with the entire family is a holiday staple! Check out our recent blog post here to see some of our highly recommended games!

Happy Holidays!

The Wonderland Math team

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