It’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.
Jessica Efird is a writer and blogger at Sweet Peas and Pumpkins. Before blogging, she worked on Capitol Hill covering education policy. She is a wife and mom to two young boys.