• Carrie S. Cutler

Six Parenting Tips to Prevent Math Summer Slide

Summer slide, learning loss, June brain drain—whatever alliteration-esque phrase you choose—means some kids may lose up to 25% of the academic gains they made during the previous school year. Students from low-income homes are particularly at risk for this decline since their access to learning resources drops when the school doors close. Some fear the pandemic may have further amplified this concern.

Teachers and parents should resist the temptation to

approach the situation with a deficit view.

Telling children that they’re behind stymies the development of a math-positive mindset, because it doesn’t offer a path forward. Kids begin to view themselves as lost causes rather than worthwhile causes. Further, some research shows that teachers’ (and perhaps parents’) low expectations result in lower achievement.

So, instead of telling kids they need to make up for lost time,

tell them they have the gift of timethe summer!

Kids, with parental support and encouragement, can use the summer months wisely—

to maintain, explore, and build mathematical understanding.

Start by celebrating the gains made during the previous school year then remind children that learning is never complete. Share how you are continually refining your professional knowledge, your hobbies, your Seinfeld trivia expertise. They need to see that you’re a lifelong learner, and you don’t take the summer off. In fact, summer is an ideal time for parents and caregivers to snatch the baton handed off by educators and set high expectations for continuing the math marathon.

There is no expiration date on learning.

Summer can be about more than maintaining; it can be about progress.

I know, as a teacher educator and mom of 8 kids in kindergarten through college, I’m concerned. Am I doing enough to help support continued math learning through the summer months?

Here are a few tips I’ve found successful.

1. Read something math-y together every day.

Spending 20 minutes reading together as you swing in a hammock or snuggle on the couch contributes to the development of your child’s vocabulary, reasoning, and imagination. Encourage older kids to read on their own, too, by joining your local library’s summer reading program. Model for your kids that you value reading by having Family Reading Time where everyone, including the adults in the house, sets aside electronics and reads for pleasure.

Any reading time can easily be integrated with math time. In fact, kids don’t really differentiate between the two. They’re just glad to be with you! For some ideas about how to go about selecting and sharing math-themed picture books, check out this post.

These videos highlight a few of my favorites books that connect parents to kids and kids to math. Check them out for great follow-up math activity ideas, too. Your reading time will become rich math time, too.

How Many Kisses Do

You Want Tonight?

by Varsha Bajaj

Sundae Scoop by Stuart J. Murphy

Hurry Up and Slow Down by Layn Marlow

2. Leverage tech time.

While the pandemic may have limited some kids’ access to rich, hands-on experiences we consider ideal for math learning, it also morphed them into tech wizards. They recognize how their laptops, phones, and tablets can be used for much more than Minecraft, Among Us, and Animal Crossing but as gateways to creativity, skill building, and information finding. And kids recognize how their devices are tools for producing evidence of kids’ knowledge—products like Flipgrids, Jamboards, Tik Toks, and much more.

Applying these tech skills to math learning this summer is a snap.

The internet offers an abundance of worthwhile mathematical exploration and skill building resources. Here are my top picks:

  • Math Learning Center offers virtual manipulatives that mimic the hands-on base ten blocks, 2D shapes, geoboards, pan balances, and other tools kids use in classrooms. I really like their Number Pieces (which are similar to base ten blocks). Fiddle around with the menu at the bottom of the screen to create number sentences, change colors, and compose/decompose sets of pieces.

  • For building fluency with the math facts, I can’t begin to list the websites. There are too many! So my best advice is to be choosy about the sites you select. Keep in mind that when building fluency, children should work to develop efficiency, accuracy, and the appropriate and flexible use of strategies. For example, a site that flashes computation items at racing speed may not allow for flexible strategies because children can only answer facts that are memorized or “just known” during the short time given. Similarly, a site that offers enticing contexts and scenarios may be light on the actual math. My sons spend hours personalizing their avatar and setting up their world but not much time answering math questions. Your school district may have a subscription to a dynamic program that keeps track of kids’ progress and adjusts the challenge accordingly. Check to see if your child still has access to that website and continue to use it as a resource.

3. Experience real-world math.

When kids view math as a tool for solving problems and navigating the world, they value the effort it takes to become good at it.

Here’s a great example. I don’t know about you, but our family is starting to get sick of the sight of our beige carpet and weed-filled back yard. We are ready to hit the road for a vacation! I am including my kids in the real-world math required for planning the adventure.

  • For my preschool-age son, this might mean using a map or the internet to find interesting destinations within, say, 200 miles of our home in Houston. (Or maybe 300 miles because Texas is pretty spread out and 200 miles doesn’t get you very far.)

  • My elementary-age sons can survey the rest of the family to find out everyone’s top destination choice.

  • My middle schooler can create an agenda using time, distance, and factors such as stops for gas and food.

  • My two high schoolers can use math to determine the cost of the trip, considering expenses for hotels, food, gas, and entertainment.

Making math fun isn’t cheating kids out of learning;

it’s showing them that math is richer than memorizing formulas or filling in worksheets.

4. Give family game night a math twist.

Whether it’s a classic board game, dominoes, or puzzles kids benefit from the mathematics inherent in family game night. A few years ago, I attended a conference where a presenter shared the results of a study that blew my mind. Preschool-age children who played board games with numbered squares showed significant improvement in numerical knowledge including digit recognition, one-to-one correspondence (saying one number for each square counted) and outscored their peers who played similar games that used color rather than numbers on the squares. Think the difference between Chutes and Ladders (numbered squares) and Candy Land (colored squares). Pretty cool, huh?

Amp up the math in your game night with these easy games for the whole family.

Read the instructions for each game in the video description or find them in Math-Positive Mindsets. These games are so fun, kids will ask to play them over and over.

5. Write to build a math-positive mindset.

It sounds tricky to write about our feelings in math. I mean, math is just a bunch of numbers, right? No way! Math is about solving problems, communicating ideas, and justifying reasoning. And these processes are inextricably connected to how we feel about ourselves as doers of math. A new book from Allison Dillard of AllisonLuvsMath makes writing about math mindsets so easy and fun. Love Math Journal: 200+ Quick prompts, Affirmations, and Reflections to Cultivate Gratitude, Growth Mindset, and a Love of Math (great title, huh?) provides brief, open-ended prompts focused on gratitude and reflection, twin pillars of math-positive mindsets. If your kids seem a bit grrr about math, writing their feelings in this book can be a form of math mindset therapy. Check it out and leave a comment to tell me how it goes.

6. Ask your kids to choose a math passion project.

Talk with your kids about the math they would like to learn this summer. If they choose to focus on solidifying math facts, you can support that with daily practice (about 5-7 minutes) using online games or these favorites:

You can find full instructions for these game in their video descriptions or in Math-Positive Mindsets.

If your kids have a passion for problem solving and designing, they might choosing coding for a passion project. My sons love the creativity and problem solving inherent in coding. I love the math they learn as they design, experiment, improve, and celebrate their successful programs. My preschool and elementary-age sons have mastered the Code and Go Robot Coding Mouse from Learning Resources. In this video, Quinn (age 5) shows us how the coding device supports counting with one-to-one correspondence, using guess and check, and resilience. McGregor (age 7) loves the Sphero coding device. In this video, he shows how he uses blocks of code to control the sphere’s movement. He’s experimenting with angles, speed, distance, and time. Lots of measurement going on with coding!

These are my sons’ math passion projects for the summer, but your kids certainly have their own ideas about how to make math exciting.

Having a project that is personally meaningful to kids increases motivation to

learn, create, and grow this summer.

If they need a bit of a push, here are 19 passion project suggestions (I like prime numbers ) to prompt their creative drive.

1. Plan a trip to the zoo. Decide how long you will spend at each exhibit. Determine alternative routes, giving advantages and disadvantages of each.

2. Brainstorm creative answers to math questions beginning, “What would happen if there were no number 7?” or “What would you do if you could only use odd numbers to solve 22 + 44 = ?” or “How would things be different if there were no circles?” Draw your ideas in a book and read it to a friend or family member.

3. Write a newspaper article about a math discovery you made during math class. Send the newspaper article via email to a friend or family member.

4. Write a peppy math-related public service announcement that would help build math-positive mindsets.

5. Write an advertisement for a calculator. Write about how it can be used to solve real-world math problems.

6. Propose contents of a time capsule that shows how math is taught to kids in our times. Ask siblings or friends to help you gather the items and bury it.

7. Research to identify from which cultures certain mathematical ideas originated. Make a poster or virtual presentation to share with others.

8. Write short biographies of mathematicians of color. Write a letter to the mathematicians to tell them how their work influences your life and learning.

9. Create a timeline about major events in your life.

10. Design a museum exhibit that teaches kids about measurement. Set it up and invite younger children to try it out.

11. Act out a play or reader’s theater you write based on a math-themed book.

12. Paint or draw a work of art that exemplifies a mathematical idea such as square numbers or multiples.

13. Write a poem that uses Fibonacci patterns in the numbers of syllables.

14. Devise and carry out a personal fitness plan or healthy diet utilizing graphs and tables.

15. Perform fitness tests like sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping rope. Use graphs and tables to organize information.

16. Follow and keep track of sports scores and rankings. Use graphs and tables to organize information.

17. Draw a floor plan of your dream home. Include measurements and scale.

18. Draw a map of your neighborhood. Include a key with scale information.

19. Measure something unusual like a width of your family car or the height of the slide in your neighborhood park.

The chiming school bell doesn’t have to signal a pause in math learning.

Give these fun, simple activities a shot. Look for more suggestions for family-friendly math games and tasks in my new book Math-Positive Mindsets. If you like these ideas, hit subscribe to receive my website updates. With continued support, encouragement and attention, your kids will progress in their math learning this summer. Hang in there, parents! You got this!


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