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10 Ways to Build Math Skills This Summer

Check out these 10 quick and easy ways to work math into your summer routine and help your child develop numbers sense.

By GreatSchools Staff

Helping your child become a mathematical thinker is an important way to support your child's classroom learning.

Avoiding the Summer Brain Drain

Children typically forget some of what they learned during the school year if they don't engage in learning activities over the summer. This is particularly true in math. A study by researchers at the University of Missouri shows that on average, students lost about 2.6 months of math learning over the summer.

That means classroom teachers spend weeks reviewing math facts and concepts in the first few weeks of school.

Third-grade teacher Linda Eisinger, a GreatSchools consultant and the 2005 Missouri Teacher of the Year, asks her students to take the flashcards they have made home for the summer.

"Math is so sequential," she said. "We tell parents that children just cannot forget everything we teach them during the year."

She also suggests a math twist for a license plate game families can play in the car. Ask your children to add up the numbers in the license plates of passing cars. You can assign a value to the letters, for example, every letter equals 5. Older children can multiply the numbers.

"Children love ideas like this that are kind of quirky," she said. "They seem more fun, not like work."

10 More Ways To Work Math Into Your Summer Routine

1. Note numbers.

Increase your child's awareness of numbers by looking around the house to find examples: the kitchen clock, the calendar, a cereal box, a TV dial, a stamp or inside her shoe. Have her write down the numbers she sees, or give her a number and ask her to look around the house for examples of the number. Boost your older child's awareness of how numbers are used by pointing out the movie times, weather forecasts and sports statistics in your daily newspaper.

2. Two, four, six, eight, now it's time to estimate.

Estimation is one way to increase a child's number sense. Before you put a stack of folded towels on a shelf or fill a bowl with peaches, ask your child to estimate how many will fit. Then count afterward to compare the actual number to the estimate. Helping your child learn to make appropriate predictions will help her see how numbers are used in everyday life. Learning to ask, "Is my answer reasonable?" will help her as she tackles math problems in the classroom.

3. What does a hundred look like?

Understanding the concept of 100 is difficult for young children, even if they can count that far. Suggest that your child start making collections of 100 things - rubber bands, watermelon seeds, pebbles or buttons. You can divide the objects in groups of 10 or 2 or 5 to see how these smaller groups add up to 100 in different ways. Glue the objects onto a piece of colored construction paper for a math collage. Seeing 100 will help her conceptualize it.

4. Unlock the code.

Help your child recognize numbers and think critically by appealing to his love of mystery. Write out all the letters in the alphabet on a sheet of paper, leaving room underneath each letter for a number. Under each letter, write the numbers from 1 to 26. In other words, a=1, b=2, etc. Practice writing coded messages using numbers rather than letters. You can use the code to leave simple messages from one another.

5. How tall are you?

Many families record the height of their child on a door or wall chart. If you do the same for everyone in the family, your child can join in the measuring and see how the heights compare. Measurement and understanding relationships between numbers are crucial to the development of mathematical thinking.

6. Play grocery store math.

The supermarket is an ideal place to use math skills, particularly for older children. Point out that yogurt is $2.59 a six-pack. Ask how much it would cost to buy 3? Your child can round up to $2.60 or $3.00 and figure this out. Talk about how he arrived at that number, point out how the estimate differs from the true cost. Or get the latest advertisement announcing sales from the grocery store. Have her look at the specials on fruit and determine how to spend $10.00. Supply her with paper and pencil, and maybe a calculator, as well, so she can practice using calculators the way adults use them every day.

7. What's on the menu?

The next time you go to a restaurant, hang on to the menu while you are waiting for your meal and play some math games with your child. Ask him to find the least expensive item on the menu, then all the items that cost between $5 and $10 or three items whose total cost is between $9 and $20. This will not only fill the time while you're waiting to eat, it will show your child how math is used every day.

8. Cook up a math game.

The kitchen is a great place to practice math, as long as there's an adult home to supervise. How many tomatoes will you need to double the recipe for sauce? If you put 10 slices of mushroom on the pizza, ask your child to put to twice as many olive slices. How many is that? If there are three people in your family and 15 strawberries to divide equally among them, how many strawberries will each person get?

9. Measure the distance.

You don't have to leave home for this game, although it's ideal for vacations. Get out a map that indicates the distance in miles between cities. Measure the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and between Phoenix and San Francisco. Which is greater? How does that compare to the distance between New York City and Chicago?

10. Change up.

Give your child an assortment of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Put a piece of fruit on the table and tell him it costs 45 cents. Tell him he needs to find five coin combinations that equal 45 cents. Change the item, raise the price and find five more. Keep a tally of all the ways to pay for each item.

Comments from readers

"This is really works "
"OK, these are pretty good. Now what can you recommend for students at the various high school levels: for example going into 9th grade and will be taking Algebra 1 or going into 10th grade and taking Geometry, 11th grade and Algebra 2. Thanks."
"Another great addition game that you can play with cards is Blackjack. Every number is used and if you modify it you can play 21, 35 or any other demonination. You can also add another twist by multiplying versus adding shooting for 110 or any other number!"
"I am very impress about your artical. I try some of your tips its very usefull for my kids. I need some tips for 4 year old kids."
"We come from europe and our kids are 2 months FREE! No numbers and letters at all! At the start of a new schoolyear they repeat all what they had learned the year before! They start with a fresh brain. And it works! I think that young kids are pushed to hard and later when they are older they don't have to work that hard! The level in europe is so much higher than in the US. Let them have a real holiday, they have already so much to do during the schoolyear!"
"Get index cards, permanent marker, make flash cards, sing 2+8=10, 3+7=10, 4+6=10... 10+7=17 9+7=16,...4+4=8, 5+5=10, 6+6=12, etc. practice adding facts, doubles facts, halve, make into colorful flash cards. Practive at bath, bed, morning, meal, quick reviews --just as important as multiplication facts for quick computing as work gets more complicated. Get memorize in Minutes- The Times Tables at Download the student book for much less at the site. Or buy the book and make your own booklet. Maybe also ebay, amazon. At there's the VHS Schoolhouse Rock-Multiplication Rock. VHS is safer, cd works on older computers. There's a grammar rock, money rock, america rock. I've had the science rock. Purchased and waiting for my mult rock. Rave reviews. Some libraries can carry. For which is greater/less fraction, get kids used to drawing at first, rectangular diagrams. 1 of 4 is a greater slice than 1 of 5. Reader Rabbit personalized 1st Grade! is super for teaching coins - but start now. help younger child learn drill sing 5, 10, 15,20,...10, 20, 30,...25, 50, 75, a dollar-get these # sets on flash cards. Then help with buying and money part of the cd to get started. (First, helpful to get Milly's Math House - a must for preschoolers.) For test taking, when stumped, teach child to count from where they stopped, adding dots or neat rows of circles on paper *(money), *(tables), using adding/slashing of tally marks, andor base 10 manipulatives. For distributing problems, such as how many does each get, or even for problems with measurement and conversion,.. draw circles to rep. measurements or packages, and draw heads to represent people and put appropriate # of dots in each circle for visualization. Trudy's Time and Place House cd is for telling time. Also for summer bedtime, review year's math workbooks by just flipping through pages to keep fresh in child's mind. It's not too late to get ready. Don't have ! time? Really recommend the cd's and Schoolhouse Rock. It's so! heartbr eaking to see kids struggle, so please keep the advice coming."
"I have an eight year old granddaughter who will be starting the 3rd grade next month. Can you suggest a simple method of teaching her the Timetable? She gets the correct answers by counting on her fingers. "
"Thank you for printing this. Unfortunately we are less than 2 weeks from the start of school here in Arizona and I could have used these hints about 2 months ago. Not your problem and I appreciate the hints. But maybe next year... Thank you"
"related links is the best. keep having this item on your website. thank you"
"Great suggestions! I will share these with my son and use them with my grandchildren!"
"I will often glance at articles that offer suggestions for helping to educate my children, but this one is the best I've seen! These are excellent ideas and I plan to use every single one for the rest of the summer. Thank you!"
"I agree with the forgetting of math facts during summer. My daughter's teacher suggested that parents have children read and do flash cards this summer. Once I started my children working with the flash cards, I noticed that they were a little rusty at first."
"awesome! I'll try these tips this week with all my kids. 5-6 , 11, & 12."
"It was awesome thanks for the great ideas and the websites to check out."