Math and the Summer Slide Phenomenon

Your child has a library card and is signed up for the library’s summer reading program. Check. Your children have new books to read over the summer months. Check. Your child will read 15 minutes or more every day. Check. So, you’ve covered the basics for preventing Summer Slide for your child’s reading skills.

What do you have planned for math?

Most parents are aware of the Summer Slide, the phenomenon of the loss of reading and math skills during summer months when children are not in school. Much has been made of the link between lack of reading during the summer months and the resulting loss of reading skills. The emphasis on loss of math skills is often lost in the proliferation of articles surrounding reading loss.

Depending on which study you review, children lose on average 1.8 to 2 months of grade-level math skills. Duke University’s Talent Identification Program reported an even higher average loss of 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in computational ability. Unlike reading skills, the income level of the family does not impact the scores. Both high and low-income students are at risk. Math knowledge is lost at the same rate over the summer regardless of income according to a 2011 study by RAND Corporation.

Many school districts faced with earlier than ever standardized testing in the fall months. Those two months of math skills lost translates to more students that are already not at grade level when taking those math tests.

During the summer months of vacations, hanging out at the pool and long, lazy days with nothing to do, math review is often not a priority for parents or kids. It’s easy to find handy reading materials to practice reading, but studying math requires a bit more planning. Math is often a series of steps, done in a particular order. Children who are confused with math concepts need someone to make certain they do each step in its particular order. This requires more hands on attention from the parent.

Many parents of older students may not be prepared to handle the higher math concepts of trigonometry and calculus. If you are unable to help a child, with any grade level math, consider hiring a math tutor or enrolling in a math camp.

If your budget or schedule doesn’t permit tutors or camp, you need to take a look at some other resources.

First prep your child’s attitude about math. Math, like reading, is a necessity of life. Remind children that adults use math everyday. We might use it in our jobs creating a spreadsheet, measuring for a construction project, ordering inventory or with simple bookkeeping. At home, we have bank statements to be balanced, ingredients to be measured and occasionally, calculating the sales price of an item that’s 30% off.

Next, go to your state’s Department of Education. Listed by grade level, you can find out what a child should have learned over the past school year. Use this as a gauge as to what your child should already know and retain over the summer. It is also a resource as to what math concepts you can introduce that he will learn in his next grade at school.

Everyday, Look Around
Math can be taught in everyday moments, small bits at a time. Taking a trip this summer? Have your child calculate the distance. How many miles to the gallon did you get on your last fill-up at the gas station? Have your preschooler count how many trucks or dolls he has. Put pebbles in size order, small to large. Have your child handle the next purchase at the store by selecting the money and counting the change back. Does your child get an allowance? Visit your bank and get a blank check register. Have your child write in his next allowance payment as a deposit and every time he spends money he records it in the register and writes in his new balance. Look around, math is everywhere.

Cook together
Cooking provides real life experience with fractions. Have your child measure with an 1/8, ¼ or ½ cups to see its one cup equivalent. If you use a dark baking dish, what is the difference in oven temperature between that and a clear glass dish? Double the batch of cookies and recalculate the ingredient fractions needed. Use multiplication to determine how many cookies you will have with four cookie sheets and twelve cookies per sheet. Now, if they each cookie had ten chocolate chips, how many chips are there in total?

Board Games
Many adults fondly remember summers playing board games. Reintroduce your child to classic board games and you not only are creating family memories, you are reinforcing math concepts. Young children will learn to count. Monopoly has players determine 10% of their cash if they land on the Income Tax block and charts to interpret when purchasing houses and hotels. It has the added advantage of money, which requires making change. Board games reinforce math concepts such as: grouping and sorting, pattern recognition, problem solving and spatial awareness. In addition to having quality family time, your child is learning important social skills while having fun.

Go Online
Search for free, online math games and you will be surprised at the variety and fun math games available. Many have basic math, timed drills that can give a parent a beginning benchmark of your child’s rudimentary math skills. These varying themed games are created to be fun, while challenging your child with math concepts

Whiling away the time
Take a pair of dice with you. Anytime you’re met with a short wait, give a child the dice and have him cup them in his hand, shake the dice and open his hand. For small children, ask them to tell you the value of each die to reinforce counting skills. Ask the child which die is more, to begin learning the concepts of less and more. First graders can be asked to add or subtract the numbers on the dice. Always have the child repeat the math sequence aloud, such as, three plus five equals eight, to increase the likelihood of the child remembering the math fact. Third graders can multiply the dice. Older children can determine a percentage of the dice and then add that total together. Over time, the repetitive games will enhance basic math facts.

Math is such an integral part of sports. Sports statistics are an easy opening to discuss math with your child. Batting averages and decimals, win-loss percentage and, well percentages and even the NBA Draft Lottery requires probability. Pick your favorite sport and team and check out their stats.

As a final measure, if your younger child persists in having problems with math, it may be time to bring out some flash cards or math practice worksheets. Math problems progress with difficulty as your child progresses in school. If your child does not have basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts memorized, the next math levels will be very difficult and your child may not progress. If the child understands the mathematical concept at hand and just needs rote memory practice, this may be the approach when all else fails. While this task is usually met with reluctance, remind your child that every great athlete, at one time in his career, had to hit a ball with a bat, or dunk a basketball into a basket over and over for hours at a time until he had perfected the task. Keep this time short, and don’t overdo it.

As the summer progresses, your child will not only have maintained his math levels, he will have had the pleasure that comes from lots of one-on-one time with his parent. When school is back in session, that is what will remain, as well as the math skills.

Summer Tyler is the CEO of Everyday Games, an educational board game company.  She is the former Executive Director of two literacy programs.

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