Support for PBS Parents provided by:

  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Ready Jet Go
  • Peg + Cat
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Arthur
  • Bob the Builder
  • Martha Speaks
  • WordGirl
  • Sesame Street
  • Ruff Ruffman Show
  • The Electric Company
  • Cyberchase
  • Between the Lions
  • Caillou
  • Chuck Vanderchuck
  • Oh Noah
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Mister Rogers
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • SciGirls
  • Wilson & Ditch
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM


Simple Tips for Summer Math Learning

countingrocksIt’s the refrain of summer journeys everywhere: “Are we there yet?” I remember the first time I heard one of my sons ask this question; we were only 10 minutes into an all-day road trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Although “Are we there yet?” is often asked by children, parents find themselves asking the same question about the next school year and whether or not their children will be ready.

Summer reading clubs and story times can help with early literacy and reading, but it might seem daunting to figure out how to prepare a young child for math. Here’s the great news: you’re the right person for the job.

“Parents are their child’s first teacher,” says Kara Tuohy, an elementary school teacher and mom of two young girls in San Jose, California, “and all parents have the ability to teach their children. Everyday activities can turn into math lessons.”

Here are some easy tips for summer math learning:

  • View road trips as a mobile classroom. Turn “Are we there yet?” into a learning opportunity. Create paper tickets for each trip and share how many tickets long the trip will be. At even intervals, collect one ticket from your child. This fun exercise gives children a tangible and visual way to understand distance and time. Using different colors allows your child to practice patterns and learn early addition problems or fractions.
  • Use everyday errands as learning opportunities. Laura Burns, an elementary math tutor in Mansfield, Ohio, has her favorite place to teach her own young children math: the grocery store. “We review numbers while we choose groceries, for example, adding the quantity of apples, looking at prices to reinforce decimals and even doing simple number recognition while standing in line.”
  • Transform routine chores into fun lessons for young children. For preschoolers, the opportunity to be a good helper can be all the motivation they need. Pam Booker, a mom of twin five-year-olds who works with the Virginia Infant and Toddler Network in Richmond, Virginia, recounts a story at a local laundromat: “Together we sorted colors, whites and darks, found empty machines, filled them with our clothes, measured capfuls of laundry detergent and inserted the appropriate number of coins.” By using measuring, sorting and counting, Booker created a natural math lesson.
  • Turn children’s collections into math lessons. Children love to collect and gather items, especially at the park, beach, forest or even in the backyard. Encourage children to sort their items by size, color, shape or texture. Tuohy suggests, “If a child loves to be outside and observe nature, the child could do a scavenger hunt where they have to find a specific number of leaves, rocks, sticks, etc. With an activity like this, the child is actively engaged in a real experience that is based on his specific interests.”
  • Follow your child’s interests to guide learning. No two children are alike, and especially so if you have both a son and a daughter. Girls often thrive with visual examples, so if your daughter likes the backyard garden, Booker suggests allowing her to measure plants’ growth with another object and track its growth for a set amount of time.

    Your sports-loving son can work on number recognition with team members’ jerseys, and game scores can be an early way for them to grasp addition. Burns remarks, “I have found when working with boys, the more physically involved they are in the activity, the better.” Cheering at and actively watching or participating in a game can help the learning progress, as can a walk to make observations about nature and patterns.

  • In the end, Booker observes that often, “the only obstacle [to summer learning] is reminding adults that it’s important to play; making things fun and playful when engaging in activities with young children is the key.” Using these simple tips and boredom busters for summer math learning will keep kids occupied and keep you feeling good about your child’s preparedness for school in the fall.

    • Pingback: Math Mania . Education . PBS Parents | PBS

    • Tornesla

      Great article! I really want to try the ticket idea next time we travel! Another easy way to incorporate math is with sharing. I always ask my son to split a group of objects (let’s say a handful of m&ms) between himself and his sister. He’s really dividing and understanding fractions this way! We’ve even started dividing Mom an equal portion (so working with thirds).

      • Jessica E

         Tornesla, I love the idea of splitting items between your son and daughter.  What a simple way of introducing fractions!!

    • Hmercer

      Great ideas. Will try this with my 4 year old on the next trip to Costco.

    • Wendy_mcclellan

      Love these ideas, especially the tickets on the road trip and the nature scavenger hunt – my boys would love that!

    • BSP

      Look at all of these wonderful ideas that can easily be embedded into any family or classroom routine – without a lot of planning or materials.  bravo!

    • Kara

      Great ideas, Jessica,that I can incorporate all summer long.

    • Jennifer

      Simple and fun ideas that can turn every day things into a learning adventure. Looking forward to incorporating these tips into our routine. 

    • Sam

      I have a 7 year old – we can turn any day into a math lesson with just a little desire from ME.  He is always ready to learn.  Counting money, sorting laundry, cleaning out the tupperware-like container drawers and matching tops to bottoms and then sorting by size.  His is always ready to learn so I have to remind myself that I’m often the couch potato who losing valuable opportunities. Like this article points out – every day is an opportunity to teach.

      • Jessica E

         Sam, this is a good reminder for me too!  So often I just need to keep learning at the forefront of my mind.  But sounds like you have great ideas, so don’t be too hard on yourself!

    • Amanda

      Love the idea of extending summer learning through PLAY!   Thanks for the tips!

    • Grandma

      Wonderful ideas for indoor and outdoor activities that grandparents can do with their grandkids during summer visits without spending a dime. Keep these great articles coming our way.

    • Margeluck

      Very inventive ideas that are easy to implement.

    • Rud

      Great ideas and to get parents to apply ideas to typical daily activities!

    • vanessa

      I homeschool, and this was a brilliant reminder even for me, that just because we have more down time in summer doesnt mean it is time to stop the lessons! 

      • Jessica E

        Thanks Vanessa!  Summer can be all about learning and playing, at the same time!

    • Pingback: STOP THE SUMMER SLUMP - Have a Standout Summer!

    • Coupon Kait

      Lots of great ideas. My 6 year old has learned lots of her math skills at the grocery store. I was suprized last year when she figured out the .99 cent marketing trick to make things look less expensive :)

      • Jessica E

         Your daughter is really perceptive!  I agree, the supermarket can be a vast math-learning opportunity.

    • Jennifer Kennedy

      I’m always looking for ways to demonstrate how math is used in “everyday ways,” just like the mom at the grocery store. We worked on fractions during dinner out the other evening, demonstrating that 3/8 of the pizza was leftover. When you stop to think about it, there are lots of ways to incorporate learning. Thanks for the tips!

    • Signed_with_atude

      Great Tips!!  I can’t wait to implement these into our daily routine!!  I remember when I was first teaching my daughter shapes and double digit numbers; we used the street signs and speed limit signs.  Now, she keeps me updated on the speed limit so I don’t get a ticket:)  Once she had an understanding of double digit numbers, we could mix it up a bit with something like, “What if it is a 5 and 8?”  or “What if we add/subtract 3 to that number?”  Then, we started story problems in addition and subtraction.  I have found that the best time to keep her well focused, is in the car;)  Cookies always spark the enthusiasm for learning!  Not as treats or rewards…simply discussing cookies gets her all fired up:)  “We made 10 cookies last night and grandma ate 3, while we were sleeping, how many cookies do we have left?”  “I see 4 horses in that field.  How many horses does that person have, if there are 2 more in the barn?”  “We are taking cookies to sister’s school today.  We have 15 cookies and we need 21 cookies, how many more cookies do we need?” I remember her taking off her shoes and using her toes for that one…LOL!!  She used signs everywhere we went, to learn how to read too.  Keeping the learning process interesting, fun and challenging is most definitely the key!!  Not just a good tool for toddlers but I believe that, as our children get older, we too need to adapt to those changes and continue to keep it this way.  This held true for me in college and still to this day. 

      • Jessica E

         I love how many ideas you came up with just simple street signs and cookies!  My older son is trying to learn some addition and subtraction math facts, so I am going to use your ideas, thanks!

    • Jenn_good

      Love the suggestions especially since I have both a boy and girl. We’re staying at my parents’ condo right now and having fun making up equations to fit the unit numbers as we walk by on the way to the beach. Conviently my parents’ is 5+1=6. I remember doing this with house numbers on the way to the bus stop. Mom was a nerd, I know.

      • Jessica E

         Mom wasn’t a nerd, she was a smart mama!

    • Lynn

      Love all the ideas! Summer is my kids’ birthday season so we work on fractions with our countdown to the big day. My son is officially 6 11/12 today :)

      • Jessica E

         What a great idea to learn fractions, counting down to a birthday–something kids love to do anyway! 

    • Pingback: Summer Tips for Parents 2K13 – Part II | I Live, I Love, I Teach

    • Think Through Math

      It’s so important that parents and educators encourage kids, particularly those without access to summer learning programs or online resources, to participate in these activities to keep them thinking mathematically while out of school. Research suggests that kids – particularly those in low-income areas – lose 2.5 to 3 full months of grade level math equivalency over summer break. Scary statistics, but it’s great to see things like this being shared to help reduce the impact of learning decay. Thanks for sharing!

      Here are some more ways to prevent the summer slide:

    • artsy momma

      Thanks Jane!

    What's this?

    Sign up for free newsletters.

    Connect with Us

    PBS Parents Picks

    1. Wild Kratts image

      Wild Kratts App Teaches Young Children How to Care for Animals

      In this app, kids are charge of feeding, washing, and playing with baby animals.

    2. Curious Kids image

      How (And Why) To Encourage Curiosity

      "...when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better."

    3. Gardening Benefits image

      The Benefits of Gardening With Kids

      Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. A few containers and soil in a sunny spot will do.