It’s time for summer. The real summer. The one where there’s no school, the kids are free to do their own thing, and everybody relaxes and recharges.
Did you just snort your coffee through your nose? Are you rolling your eyes at me while you puzzle-piece your calendar together so the kids are fully enrolled in camps, lessons, and enrichment activities, and you can get to work? Did I just send your blood pressure through the roof as you realize that you haven’t planned anything or enough, and now your kid is going to miss out on all the possibilities? Maybe you are just sighing at the deep inequities of parents who have both the time and the money to afford all those camps, lessons, and enrichment activities.
Deep breaths. For all of us.
I cannot solve the childcare issue that summer presents for working parents, but I can offer some ideas for parents who are concerned with the gap between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next and how that affects math learning. If your child LOVES math and is excited for more math classes, by all means sign up for something like Russian School of Mathematics. If your kid is struggling with math and you’ve found a tutor to help, that is a great idea, too. But what if your child is “fine?” And what if you don’t have the resources for extra classes or tutors? You can support, enhance, and enrich your child’s mathematical thinking skills over the summer for not much money and just a little time investment. Here are 3 ideas that can be effective with kids of any age:
- Play games. Board games and card games are “low hanging fruit” in the world of math enrichment. They are the easiest and most fun way to promote strategic mathematical thinking and numerical fluency. Pick games that fits your family’s and your child’s needs and interests, and try new ones. Plan family game nights or play one-on-one with your child. It’s also good to find single-player games that your child can enjoy without having a partner. In our family, games like Yahtzee!, Blokus, Checkers, Chess, Rack-O, Uno, and Dominoes have been great opportunities to play together, and the kids don’t even realize that they are working their math muscles. There are also terrific single-player board games like Rush Hour, CodeMaster, and LaserMaze. Even playing Solitaire with a regular old deck of cards is a great idea. If you do not have a variety of games at home, share with friends or visit your local library. (Local readers: The Amesbury Library now lends a wide selection of games and enrichment activities, affording you the opportunity to access variety without spending piles of money. Brilliant.)
- Read books. You already know that you should read with your children to promote literacy. Why not be efficient and use reading to promote numeracy, too? There are some great books that encourage conversation, mathematical curiosity, and creative thinking. Read to your child or let her read to herself. Get a handful of books from the library and leave them around the house where the kids might pick them up and browse through them. Choose other books that you can read together. Here are some to try: The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Cat in Numberland by Ivar Eveland, The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman, How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, and Which One Doesn’t Belong? by Christopher Danielson. Make a plan to have books like this at hand throughout the summer. You’d be surprised at how reading books like these will trigger connections to what your child learned in school this past year and set foundations for what he’ll learn in school next year.
- Do workbooks, but…. Yes, it’s easy to buy a workbook to review the kinds of problems that your child worked on in class this year. You could also buy a workbook that will preview the kinds of problems that your child will work on in class next year. I’m bored just writing those two sentences. Imagine how your child will feel working on those kinds of problems. Perhaps as bored as you would be. That said, there is value to practice problems, and if your child is happy to use a traditional workbook, feel free to do it. But there are other options. This Is Not a Math Book by Anna Weltman is fantastic for kids who have the fine motor skills to work with a ruler and compass. The activities are creative and different from usual school work. The MouseMatics series of workbooks by Jane Kats is terrific for kids ages 4 – 8. These books present simple examples with a minimum of words so that children have the opportunity to figure out what to do on their own. If you have the time and inclination to be more involved in creating your child’s math experience over the summer, try Avoid Hard Work: And Other Encouraging Problem-Solving Tips for the Young, the Very Young, and the Young at Heart by Droujkova, Tanton, and McManaman. This book is a guide for parents (and teachers) that offers clear activities and instruction for strategies that make problem solving much less daunting. Your child may find these workbooks more engaging than the traditional sort, and the activities will deepen and broaden their understanding without teaching them next year’s curriculum or being a basic review of this past year’s curriculum.
Each of the above ideas starts with you and your child engaging with each other. Even if your daughter is playing a single-player game or your son is reading a book on his own, pay attention. Support her as she figures out the rules. Talk to him about the book. Coach her. Ask him to read to you. Ask her to teach you. Talk about the math stuff and the non-math stuff that come up. It doesn’t matter whether you are comfortable with math or not. What matters is that you are connecting with your child while sending the message that these concepts are interesting and important. It is possible to NOT have to outsource your child’s math enrichment for the summer.