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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Doppler

Best Summer Math Ideas for Elementary Students

STEM activities for elementary students, ways to engage your child in math over the summer, math activities for children, summer math fun!

As parents, we're always wondering what we can do to give our kids a ‘leg-up’ on next school year. How can we make sure they don't forget everything they learned this year. How do we prevent that dreaded ‘summer slide?’ You can certainly go out and purchase grade-level workbooks, or do math worksheets over the summer. But the truth is, there are plenty of other ways to prepare your child for math next year that don't cost any money, and help your child stay engaged in math (rather than dreading doing math worksheets over the summer). Teachers, you're going to want to check this out too and share it when you get asked (for the millionth time), 'what can my child do over the summer to get ready for next year?' Check it out!

Let me start by saying that summer is a great time to refine & review. When working on math over the summer, children should be refining their skills that they learned throughout the year through real-world application practice, and should be reviewing concepts learned by using those skills. Summer is typically not a time to learn new concepts.

For example, if your child just finished second grade and will be starting third grade in the Fall, this is a great time to review addition and subtraction concepts within 1,000. Over the summer you can look for addition and subtraction in the real world, for example, set a budget tog

and try to keep track of it, or host a lemonade stand and have your child keep track of the profits, calculate miles travelled and miles remaining on a family road trip etc.

As a parent, you may know that multiplication is on the horizon, and third grade is a huge year in math where your child will learn to multiply and divide. However, if you try to 'teach' them multiplication and division over the summer, you may actually be doing them a disservice. Children need a lot of time to conceptually understand multiplication before diving into some of the more efficient strategies and algorithms that many of us as parents learned growing up. They also need to conceptually understand multiplication, prior to applying that understanding to division. There is an important progression that children will follow in order to build this understanding, and it is not often one that as parents/guardians, we understand (unless you are a teacher or have been instructed by a teacher specifically on what to do).

The exception to the idea of not learning new concepts over the summer, is if a child was not proficient in grade-level standards for the previous year, then they may need to re-learn content from the previous grade level which may feel 'new' to them. If you know your child had specific areas that they struggled in with math in the previous grade-level, summer is a great time for a tutor. Also, if you listen to my podcast The Dog Ate My Homework, you will learn some great ideas to try at home to support your child in building understanding of concepts from the previous grade level (with easy-to-use tips, games and activities to try at home right away).

If you are in a situation where your child really needs to re-learn concepts from the previous grade level, and are looking for some ways to help them practice, I recommend an adaptive technology website, where the questions are adjusted based on your child's answers to questions. It is also helpful if you utilize a website that keeps track of your child's progress so you can see it (websites with parents components are especially helpful), so you can see if they actually completed the work or not. A few of the websites I love (which usually have tutorial videos included in case a child doesn't understand a concept and also include free trials) are:

But let's get back to the core of this post, which is that, children should not be learning new math concepts over the summer, but rather refining and reviewing concepts and skills learned in the previous year through engaging and real-world math situations. As teachers, we want our students to start the new school year fresh and excited and ready to learn (not burned out from too many math worksheets over the summer). With that being said, it is extremely helpful as teachers if children have done some sort of math over the summer to keep their skills fresh. So here are some quick and easy ways to help your child get ready for the next school year, while still having fun!

  1. Support your child in working on their independent problem-solving skills. While this may not actually be math-specific, it can have a huge impact on their ability to persevere through solving challenging math problems. So how do you support your child in building these skills?

    1. Resist the urge to jump in and help every time your child has a conflict. If they're working on a puzzle or a game and they say 'I need help,' rather than just going over and helping them (or worse, doing it for them), look at the situation and see if there is a way you can guide them towards solving the problem on their own. Questioning is usually a great way to do this. (i.e. "can you think of another way to try that?" "Is there a different way you could rotate that puzzle piece?" "Can you look at that differently?" etc.)

    2. Give your child guided choices, such as two different routes to get to the store, or two different ways to go around the block, or two different options for snack. Giving them some power in decision making will help them make choices that are best for them, just like in math, when they need to choose the most efficient strategy, or think through the steps of problem solving.

    3. Scaffold support with problem solving. For example, if your child often has trouble getting their shoes on, you can make a little visual chart (i.e step 1: loosen the Velcro or laces, step 2: push your foot in--toe first, then heel, step 3: Velcro or tie etc.). Then gradually turn this into just verbal directions, then gradually remove the verbal directions so you child can do it on their own, remembering the steps as they go.

2. Grow a garden: this is relatively

simple and low-cost and can have a huge impact on both math and science skills. You can grow a garden outside or inside, and it can be a simple as planting one seed in a pot of soil and watching it grow in the window, or as elaborate as buying vegetables/fruits or herbs at the store and planting them and watching them grow so you can eat them. Taking care of a garden teaches discipline, because children must diligently water the plants to make sure the plants have what they need to live, and it also teaches patience, as they wait to see the plants grow and change. It also teaches children to be careful observers, as they notice even the tiniest changes in their plant from day to day. All three of these skills are important in both math and science as children persevere in solving problems, notice how numbers change as they look for patterns and more.

  1. There are also many grade-level specific math connections that can be made to gardens. Some examples include, measuring the height of the plant as it grows, calculating perimeter or area of a rectangular garden/growing space, measuring amount of water, keeping track of data of how much water the plant gets and how often, graphing growth, changing factors in one plant vs. the other--i.e. sunlight, amount of water, location etc. Try using a ruler to show your child how a math tool is used in the real-world! Watching something grow is truly a magical experience for children and is a sneaky way to incorporate math into your summer!

3. Set a budget: from Kindergarten all the way through honestly high school, setting a summer budget is a great way to engage your child in math. You can choose the duration of the budget that works best for your child, for example, if you have a Kindergartener, they should be reviewing addition and subtraction within 5 and 10, so you could do a $10 weekly or monthly budget, whereas a second grader can add and subtract within 1,000, so you could engage them in helping you buy groceries for the week and keeping track of the budget that way. Children love to be part of the conversation when money is involved, and whether it's spending money or saving money, they can apply their addition and subtraction (and multiplication and division) skills to solving problems related to setting a budget or keeping track of spending. Not only does this support math skills, but it also support life skills that are important for life after school, which is the big connection we want children to see as they're seeing math through the lens of someone who could really use it in the real world.

  1. This is a great time to talk about math tools such as calculators, and show your child how powerful they can be for checking our work--that we don't use them to do the work for us, but that we want to make sure our calculations are correct, especially when dealing with money so this helps us be accurate, which is very important in math.

4. Cook/Bake something: Math is everywhere in cooking and baking. Whether it's measuring/converting measurements, using fractions or decimals, adding and subtracting, calculating bake times etc. these experiences are full of real-world math. If you've never engaged your child in cooking or baking with you before, start by having them help you with simple steps, such as pouring the water from the measuring cup into the pot, or scooping a certain amount of flour into the measuring spoon. Then you can have your child help you read the recipes from the cookbook, and can transition to having them help you with some of the more complicated problem-solving steps (such as: if the recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of olive oil, but you want to make a double batch to have enough for your whole family, how many table spoons will you need etc.). There are so many math connections in cooking and baking. Being precise is incredibly important (especially in baking), to make sure the recipe turns out correctly, and this is also one of the Standards for Mathematical Practice for elementary math (the standards that explain how mathematicians should interact with the math they are doing).

  1. You can also use this as an opportunity to use math tools in the real world such as a measuring cup or spoon, a meat thermometer, a candy thermometer, a scale and more

  2. This goes without saying but make sure to only include your child in the safe parts of the cooking and baking process and never have them handle hot food/kitchen utensils or work with appliances such as the stove/oven or microwave.

5. Find math in your child's favorite summer hobby: If you look for it, I have a sneaky feeling you'll find that math actually is...all around. (Any Love Actually fans out there recognize that twist on a favorite quote?). But seriously, math is everywhere. Does your child like swimming? Talk about the depth of the pool in the signs on the side of the pool, or calculate the time it takes them to swim across the pool. That's math! Does your child want to buy an ice cream cone from the ice cream truck? Calculating cost or making change is math! Does your child play a sport? Calculating score and points is math! Are you going on a family vacation? Point out the speed limit signs and calculate the difference between the speed limit in one place vs. the other, or find the total miles travelled, or determine gas mileage on your car, or at the gas station find the total cost to get a certain number of gallons of gas (I guarantee it's outrageous due to the current gas prices), that's math! Does your child play an instrument, or love video games? There's math there too! It is everywhere! And by pointing out math in the real world, you give your child an important key to unlocking a love of math they may have never realized they had before. When it connects to something they are passionate about, they immediately connect to math in a new way. As teachers, this is the very best thing that can prepare your child for math in the coming year--by helping your child develop a growth mindset, and a positive attitude towards math. With that, the sky is the limit for your child and they will absolutely be set up for success in math the next year and beyond.

Do you want to know the real secret though? Do any of the things above, but don't actually say that it's math. Just sneakily embed that math into your every day lives and your child will start to see the value of math and will build deep understanding and connections, without feeling like you're "making them do math." I promise, it's worth it!

Parents, share this blog post with your friends of elementary-aged children! Teachers, spread the word to the parents of your students so they can set their children up for success in math this summer!

Want more ideas? Check out these fun ideas from Math Geek Mama


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