Summer learning tips to sharpen math skills

The summer heat can melt away memories of school for many children, but it annually melts away hard-earned math skills as well. As families plan for summer vacations, faculty at Lesley University have compiled a list of activities to help keep elementary grade level kids math skills fresh during the summer months.

According to a study by the Partnership for Learning, an average student can forget 60 percent of the math skills they learned during the school year over the summer break, a lapse in skills teachers grapple with each September. However, while suggested summer reading and advice on literacy are common, parents get little guidance on tactics to keep children learning invaluable mathematical problem solving skills during time away from school.

"The decline is more problematic in math skills for all students, since so much of the early part of the school year, becomes a review of previously taught material that's been lost," said Anne Collins, Director of Mathematics Programs at Lesley University. "Most schools give summer reading lists, but suggestions for math review and activities are very rare. Math involves problem solving and critical skills that are improved through practice, and it doesn't need to feel like school."

Simple card games can teach and keep multiplication or addition skills fresh; assisting parents with menu planning, or home improvement projects teach and reinforce problem solving; an inexpensive stopwatch can open dozens of doors and questions of time and rate of speed ratios. This summer especially, challenging a child to determine the cost of gasoline for a day or weekend trip can be very instructive while empowering him or her to find answers to such questions.

"Summer is a perfect opportunity for informal education, and helping students practice their math skills in different settings," Collins said. "It doesn't have to be a time for math skills review, but instead a time for children to put them to good use."

Other tips to enhance summer learning in math include:

  1. Set a budget for a picnic  and ask your child to "find the bargains" using the price per ounce figures on the supermarket shelves: "which one is really cheaper?"
  2. Play "War" with a deck of cards, but with math twists. Each player throws down two (or three) cards and adds or multiplies them. The highest (or lowest) sum or product wins the hand. Ask your child to invent a new version with the math he or she knows.
  3. Dominos. It's an old fashioned game that teaches number sense, strategy, and problem solving and strengthens those skills at any grade level.
  4. Cook. Following recipes, cutting it in half for fewer servings, or tripling it for a large gathering teaches very practical skills. Even a batch of lemonade can reinforce these skills.
  5. Construction. When doing home improvement projects large or small, even young children can assist with taking measurements and computing amounts of materials needed (and feel great pitching in as well).
  6. Garden. Involve children in gardening. Have the children determine the area of the garden. Have them calculate the amount of space taken up by tomatoes versus cucumbers, etc. Have students weigh the vegetables after they are picked.
  7. Weather Watch. Have children set up a simple rain gauge to measure the amount of rain over the course of a month or the whole summer. You could track the temperature and humidity and plot it on a chart.
  8. Ride your bike. Get an odometer for their bicycles and use the distance traveled to calculate their average rate of speed. Children love to know how fast and how far they go.
  9. Transportation. If you ride the subway, have your children use a stopwatch to calculate the average rate of speed a train travels between stations. You can even sometimes get an employee to tell them if they're on target.
  10. Chart your time. Have your children keep a chart indicating how much time they spend reading, watching television, doing chores, and playing. Children can determine what fraction of the day or week they spend on each activity. Students can also keep a chart indicating how they spend money each week.

"There are so many every-day activities where children can demonstrate their math abilities," Collins said. "Putting these skills to practice will make students feel accomplished and teachers grateful when school resumes in the fall."

Lesley University (www.lesley.edu), a 12,000-student, multi-site university for women and men, is one of the nation's largest providers of graduate professional education opportunities to K-12 educators. Anchored by a strong liberal arts curriculum, Lesley offers undergraduate and graduate programs in education, the arts, human services and the environment at its Cambridge and Boston campuses, online, and in 150 locations in 23 states.