Hear the word “summer” and images of sandy beaches, ice cream cones, and campfires come to mind, not multiplication, fractions, and geometry. However, the more relaxed pace of summer is the perfect time to work with your child on building his or her math skills. Rather than spending long hours with flashcards or repeated math practice, invest your time this summer in collaborative projects that use math concepts in the real world. For your child, math should involve not only getting the right answer, but also solving problems in the real world.
Math Projects from Children’s Literature
We already know how important it is to read to your child daily, but some children’s books are a wonderful resource for mathematical exploration as well. After reading a book with your child, see if you can discover the same math concepts in your own home.
For example, take the popular book How Big is a Foot? By Rolf Myller (Yearling Press). In this book, the king tells the carpenter to build the queen a bed that is 3 feet by 6 feet, but he forgets to mention that he used the size of his larger feet to create the dimensions of the bed. When the carpenter measures with his own smaller feet, the queen’s bed doesn’t fit at all! After reading this book, do some explorations of your own home using non-standard units of measure. How long is your child’s bedroom, measured in mom’s feet as well as child’s feet? How tall is your child’s bed, measured in dad’s hands as well as child’s hands? See if your child can discover on his own the importance of using standard measurements such as inches, feet, and yards.
Another excellent book to inspire family math activities is The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins (Greenwillow Books). In this story, Ma bakes a batch of cookies that needs to be divided equally between two children. However, each ring of the doorbell brings more children and the cookies must continue to be divided equally into ever smaller batches. After reading this story, explore the concept of division with your child. See if she can share her stuffed animals equally among her siblings. What if the cousins come over? Can she continue to share then equally? Let your child enjoy the process of division and see how she handles the challenge of dividing up an odd number!
Math Projects from Everyday Tasks
See if you can turn ordinary household activities into mathematical adventures.
For example, baking a cake can be rich with mathematical learning. Start by following a recipe with your child then introduce some mathematical challenges. Rather than simply adding 3/4 cup of oil, give your child several smaller measuring cups and see if he can combine them to reach the total. Ask him to double the recipe. How much oil would be needed then? For an older child, tell him that the recipe requires a ratio of 1 egg for every 2 cups of flour. See if he can figure out how many eggs would be needed when the recipe calls for 4 cups of flour. Try it again when the recipe calls for 3 cups of flour and see how he reacts.
Another activity involves working with your child to set up a mock yard sale. Allow her to place a price tag on each item and talk with her about the relative value of 90¢ versus $1.10. Ask her what she considers to be a very large or a very small price tag. Give her an outrageous value to see how she responds. For example, is this old skateboard worth $100,000,000? This will help to develop her intuitive number sense. Extend the activity by giving her $5.00 and ask her how many items she can purchase without going over the total. Or, invite her friends over and allow her to make change when they “buy” items for $4.30. These experiences will allow her to begin using place value and decimals in everyday life.
Together, these as well as other “summermind” math activities will help your children develop into real-world problem solvers.