At Mathnasium, we have come to know that children can put their minds into “vacation-mode” remarkably quickly and completely. So completely, in fact, that they can virtually wipe math from their minds in as little as a week.
For instance, when our Mathletes returned to us after one week of spring vacation recently, it took them another week to return math-wise to where they were before vacation. If each week of vacation equals one week of catch-up, can you imagine how much review is needed after three months of vacation? Three months! This is the reason teachers often review for the first three months of the school year.
What can we do as parents to keep “math in mind” during the summer? The answer to that is to consciously bring math into daily life. Money, time and travel are great math “vehicles.”
Kids in grades K-12 can use math, learn to set goals and develop a responsible fiscal sense by using money. First, help younger children learn the value of each of our coins and bills. Then they can practice adding and subtracting when buying items and giving change while playing “store.”
Second, give kids of all ages an allowance each week, and ask them how much that would amount to per day (division). Ask the reverse by stating they will be earning “X” amount of money a day. What would be the total in a week or a month? (multiplication)
Next, they can create a goal for themselves by deciding what they would like to purchase and finding out its cost, and then work to earn the money. Have them count the money earned daily (addition) and then subtract the total from the cost of the item (subtraction). Ask older kids who have part-time jobs to average the amount of money they earn a week and to estimate how long it will take them to earn the money they need. Finally, have your children calculate and save 10 percent of the money they earn each week.
Time is another great vehicle for math learning. When many of our Mathletes first come to us, they cannot read an analog clock and are therefore missing out on a valuable opportunity to practice their math. We recommend that all parents purchase and use an analog clock in their homes. Kids of all ages can learn and practice their 5’s, 10’s, 15’s, 30’s and 60’s tables by counting how many of each of those numbers are in an hour or day. [For instance, 5 minutes x 12 = 60 minutes; there are four 15-minute segments (4 x 15 = 60) in one hour.]
Ask your children such questions as: “What time will it be in 10, 15, or 20 minutes?” “What time was it 15 or 30 minutes ago?” “How many ten, 15, or 20-minute segments are in one or two hours?” “How many minutes are there in three hours, etc?” In addition to the clock, when hiking or biking, you can have your children estimate the amount of time needed to hike/bike uphill 2 miles as opposed to downhill over the same distance. Afterwards, you can compare the estimates to the actual times.
Vacation travel is yet another opportunity to use math. Look at a map with your children when planning your trip. Have them use the legend to estimate how far you will be driving or flying to your destination. Then, check your GPS or an online mapping site to determine how close they came to the real number.
Ask them questions such as, “If we are driving at an average of 65 mph, how long will the trip it take?” Or, “If we stop for lunch for one hour and have two 20 minute breaks along the way, how long will it take us?” Give your children a map and ask, “If we want to stop for a break after 2 hours, how far will we have driven and where shall we stop?” Giving them the navigational responsibility of choosing the location of your breaks will engage them more in the process.
While driving, younger children can count cows, horses, car license plates from different states, or even total the number of cars you passed in, say, 15 minutes. From this data, older children can calculate fractions or percentages (e.g., cars passed from different states divided by the total number of cars passed)
When parents keep math in mind and engage children in the process, children will keep math in mind too!
Dan Gehlbach is the owner and center director of Mathnasium Learning Center, located in West Des Moines and within the Waukee School District. Dan lives in Urbandale. Year round, the center helps kids get caught up, keep up and get ahead while they develop confidence and a love for math. For more information call 440-MATH or consult the web site at www.mathnasium.com/westdesmoines.