A Summer that Counts: How Parents Can Keep Students' Math Skills Fresh
Most parents encourage their children to read during the summer and point to examples of language and word usage all around them. But that’s not how they usually approach math, says Kathy Zolla, a Colorado middle school math teacher. Zolla notes that students often like the idea of having a math-free summer, which often results in a degree of setback at the beginning of the next school year.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Math, just like language, is all around us. Zolla encourages parents to help their children find math in everyday life and see the prevalence and fun of numbers, just as they do with words. Here’s how they can keep interest in math alive over the summer.
Working with early learners
The goal of summer math for young learners is to get them to start counting and to make math seem as fun as possible. Regardless of their children’s math skill level, parents can encourage them to start taking notice of numbers. A few ideas:
- During a road trip, have the kids count the number of cars (types or colors) they see each day.
- At the airport, keep them busy between flights by counting something — the number of people wearing red shoes or perhaps columns in the terminal.
- Beyond travel, put them to work counting the seeds in a watermelon or how many steps it takes to walk to the mailbox.
- Help kids begin recognizing how these numbers interact, such as comparing the number of blue cars to red cars they see each day or adding up all the cars they see. Alternatively, they could compare the number of steps from their bed to the bathroom against the number of steps to the kitchen.
Practical math for advancing learners
As students develop their math skills, parents can encourage them to do grown-up math equations. Give them an opportunity to balance a checkbook or calculate a tip at a restaurant. This helps them work with practical applications of math and therefore enhance their appreciation of the subject overall.
Advanced concepts for older learners
Zolla says older students might enjoy escape rooms, which have become a popular entertainment destination in recent months. Escape rooms require players to solve a series of puzzles or riddles to eventually get out of the room. Students have to use logic and common sense, which will help to enhance their mathematical abilities.
Fun for everyone
All learners might enjoy a mathematical scavenger hunt. Zolla says parents can do that by challenging kids to find math in everyday life for a week. Each week could have a theme like counting, or the entire week could be bingo-style (Monday = counting, Tuesday = multiplication, Wednesday = shapes or geometry, etc.). No matter how you do it, you can help them develop an appreciation for mathematics beyond their books, tests, and classrooms.
While workbooks and computer games can help students to practice math, summer can be a great time for them to work on applying their skills. Parents who help their kids apply real-world examples of math can help them avoid summer setbacks and arrive in the new school year prepared to learn even more.
Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.