In all of my years of teaching, I’ve heard many students say that they don’t like math. They wonder why they need to learn certain concepts and insist that they’ll never have to use the skills that we cover during the school year.
Part of the reason they feel this way is because they only think math is a series of problems on a worksheet and don’t yet see how math is all around us in everyday life. This is one of the reasons that we must make math fun for students, especially during the summer months when they’ll be out of the classroom.
How to make math fun during the summer
As summer approaches and we all gladly welcome the warm weather and extra free time, we also need to be aware of the risk of our children experiencing “summer slide.” A study by researchers at the University of Missouri showed that on average, students lose about 2.6 months of math learning during the summer break. This learning loss can have lasting effects, including lower test scores, lower self-confidence, and lower high school and college success. Many teachers spend three to six weeks reteaching concepts taught during the previous spring. The good news is that there are several fun ways to keep your child’s math skills sharp over the summer.
Spend time cooking. Following a recipe is a fun way to reinforce skills like measurement, fractions, and proportions. As your child becomes more proficient in following the recipe, you can add a challenge by doubling, tripling, or halving the portions which will strengthen multiplication and division skills.
Go shopping. Spending time in a grocery store offers many mathematical opportunities. Calculating the unit price of a bottle of juice in a six-pack or determining the better bargain between two brands involve estimation as well as division skills. When using coupons, have your child determine the amount of money or percentage of the total cost saved by examining the receipt.
Create a restaurant at home. Give your child a variety of coins and “charge” him for the meal to review the coins’ values, reinforce number sense, and practice skip counting. After he finds the correct amount, ask him to create three more combinations of coins that equal the same amount. Then have him pay with bills and ask how much change is expected back.
More creative ways of making math fun in the summer
Watch sports and find the math. Sports offer a multitude of math practice opportunities. Follow a specific player’s stats over the course of the season. Compare one swimmer’s time to another’s to practice subtracting decimals and understanding place value. Calculate the percentage of shots made in a basketball game. Older children might even create a scale drawing of their backyard basketball court or compare the measurements to an official-sized court.
Start a business. Whether it’s babysitting, mowing lawns, or setting up a lemonade stand, children can learn the value of start-up costs, profit and loss, and saving their earnings for a future purchase.
Do math around the house. Something as simple as hanging a few pictures involves measurement and spatial thinking. Anyone who’s ever miscalculated the center of the wall and covered up a few nail holes knows the importance of correctly finding the center of the wall before starting. A more elaborate construction project involves using angles when designing the space, finding the area of the room to be carpeted, or problem-solving during the construction process.
Take a road trip. Planning the route of a family vacation (whether using a paper map or an app) will reinforce map reading skills, measurement, identifying coordinates, and creating a scale drawing. Have your child calculate the distance between two cities. Ask her how that compares to the distance between two other cities? She can also practice converting between metric and standard units of measurement by examining the map’s key.
Plant a garden. When planning the space to be used for planting, children practice calculating the area. Creating the rows of plants in arrays reinforces multiplication facts. Children with more advanced math skills can even determine the number of cubic yards of soil needed to be purchased by calculating the volume of the space.
Analyze the weather. Weather forecasts are filled with math. Practice subtraction skills by comparing the high and low temperatures for each day. Learn about averages by calculating the mean, median, and mode temperatures for the week. Review percents by determining how often the forecaster correctly predicts the weather!
Math is all around us each day. In order for children to keep the skills they’ve learned throughout the year, they need to practice them often. But most importantly, it needs to be fun or they won’t want to do it. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can even sneak the math in without your kids even noticing!
Applying math to everyday life can make math fun, useful
Hands-on, real-world examples are the best ways to get kids involved.
In my class this year, we reviewed the concept of surface area by wrapping empty gift boxes before winter break. Students began by estimating which boxes would have the greatest or least surface area. Then they used the grid lines on the back of the wrapping paper to determine the area while comparing the measurements with a ruler. The math conversations that took place were proof that they understood the concepts, and by the end of the lesson we had a festive classroom!
Whether it’s sports, cooking, or going on a vacation, the key to helping your child enjoy math is capitalizing on his interests. If he’s spending time doing something he enjoys and honing his math skills in the process, that’s a win. For those children who will most likely have extra screen time when the school year ends, there are many free math game apps and websites available to hold their interest. The most important thing to remember is to keep it fun!