Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Bolstering math skills over summer -- Summer engagement series, Part III

Bolstering math skills over summer -- Summer engagement series, Part III
As discussed in our last few posts, now is not the time to really be digging in and getting your kids to some rigorous studying, revision, or academic style learning. And that includes math. As many schools shifted to online learning and virtual platforms, those schools, teachers, and administrators also largely realized that the shift was abrupt and most students weren't prepared -- several opted to move away from grades and to provide pass/fail grading instead which I fully applaud.

I'm hearing more and more from friends, acquaintances, strangers, and the media that most kids didn't really learn anything other than how to use new forms of technology.

So, it would be tempting to say, "Well, they didn't learn during the last few months so let's use summer to catch up!"

But, hold up there! 

Let's not....

As noted in the previous posts in this series, our kids (and we parents and teachers and administrators) need some down time. We ALL need to decompress from an incredibly difficult and stressful end to the school year. And, many also need time to grieve the loss of normalcy and seeing friends and going out and doing all the things we used to do -- we can do some of those things again, with precautions, but currently any sense of normalcy still has a cloud of impending doom just over the horizon. We aren't out of this yet and no one can truly say what things will look like a few months from now when school is back in session, not to mention all of the other facets of life.

So, how can we make sure your kids are still engaged and not just sitting on their butts and doing nothing? Yesterday, we addressed reading skills. Today, we'll talk about math.

Please understand that these suggestions and ideas are not meant for kids who have significant known deficits, delays, or other issues requiring formal or immediate interventions. For kids in those categories, yes, absolutely do some work to help them and support them as you look towards next school year.

Math skills can come in many forms, and instead of focusing on worksheets, online drills, and so on, let's brainstorm some other ways to look at and experience math:

First, buy an abacus! Not only can it be fun to simply play around with it, but you can point out to your kids that each line on the abacus has ten beads and there are ten rows equaling 100 beads total. Encourage them to play with it, count on it, shift the beads around to make different groupings of beads, and so on. If something comes up requiring your child to do some simple math, encourage them to use the abacus to figure it out instead of just telling them the answer. You don't really need to tell them how the abacus works, for the most part, and instead can challenge them to try to figure it out on their own once they know that it's a 10 beads by 10 rows frame. 

And, honestly, sometimes just mindlessly playing around with the beads without even paying attention to the mathematics part can be soothing. Leave the abacus on the coffee table and just see if what happens.

Cooking is a pretty obvious math oriented task. Encourage your kids to help in the kitchen and have them measure ingredients, read recipes, set timers, and so on. Cooking together covers multiple subjects ranging from math to nutrition to safety to home economics and so on. You could even task each person with being responsible for one meal per week and have them take care of everything from finding recipes (give them an old fashioned cookbook!) to writing a grocery list and checking the list against the cupboards to doing most of the work (teach them how to hold a knife, stir a soup, use the oven and stove, and so on). McKenzie is a Montessori teacher and one of the important aspects of Montessori education is practical skills such as these. If you don't have a cookbook, you can task your child with watching a YouTube video to learn a recipe -- my son and I watched a lot of Alton Brown and Gordon Ramsey videos (his actual how-to videos are not laced with expletives) to learn to cook together. Kids who are a bit further along with math can also be tasked with figuring out how to double a recipe for cookies or halve a recipe for smaller portion sizes.

Give the kids a copy of your grocery list and ask them to compare it to the grocery ads that come in the mail each week -- at my house, we receive two grocery store ads and two drug store ads. Have your kids compare prices between the stores to find the best deals. If you have a recipe in mind, you can even ask them to try to figure out how much it will cost to make the dish. Again, you don't need to provide a lot of instruction. This is more of a "figure it out" situation -- if your child says they can't do it or don't know how, ask them how they would go about learning how: "If you had to figure this out without me or without help, how do you think you might do it?"

Pull out board games. Many board games have math built into them, whether it is subtle in games that simply involve counting turns or numbers of cards or turns or more involved with card games that require counting, pattern recognition, and so on. Board games are also a great way to get kids off of technology. There are so many great games out there, and you probably already have some at home. 

Have your kids help you build or repair something or give them some basic tools and ask them to figure out how to make those tools part of their play for the day. For example, put a variety of measuring tools in a simple tool box and send the kids to the backyard or patio. Tell them to pretend they are carpenters and have to get ready for a job by measuring everything on the patio. You don't need to give them instruction on how to use the tools -- just let them goof around. They'll start to connect the numbers with measurement naturally and may come to you with questions. These natural connections are built upon later as play often precedes and lays the foundation for actual learning and skills acquisition. You can do the same with a box of dice, dominoes, and other toys, game pieces, or tools that have numbers, measurements, or patterns on them. 

If you are taking a trip, whether just down the street or across a long distance, have the kids figure out the distance you'll be traveling and how long it should take. Then have them keep track to see if they were correct. As you drive, you can point out mileage signs and ask the kids to figure out how much further. 

Frankly, though, don't worry about concrete math skills too much this summer. Teachers will be heading into the coming school year knowing that most kids didn't actually learn a lot in the last few months of this past school year and they are preparing for that. They aren't expecting your children to return to school full of knowledge, new skills, and great experiences. They are expecting kids to return who may be scared, nervous, or otherwise no further ahead academically than they were in February or March of this past school year. 

Give yourself and your family a break. It's ok to take time off from learning. In our next post, we'll focus on the power of learning through play (and we'll talk about how play involves math, reading, life skills, and more!).

Check out the rest of our Summer Engagement series: 

  • Preview: Summer engagement -- how to keep your kids learning all summer (Read it HERE)
  • Part I: Is summer "brain drain" real and where do we go from here? (Read it HERE)
  • Part II: Keep those kids reading this summer (Read it HERE)
  • Part IV: Learning through play (Read it HERE)

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