This Summer, Help Your Child Do Better In Math

Is your child a math whiz, or is math a struggle for them? Here are three practical down-to-earth tips to help your child do better in math, starting now.

It’s hard to escape math in our day-to-day lives. Whether you’re trying to pay bills, balance your budget, or saving up for your next family vacation, you need math to help you get there. Still, though, plenty of kids struggle in math in school. Whether your child struggles with math, or solves math problems “for fun,” there’s plenty you can do over the summer to help your child do better in math next fall.

Since my husband teaches math for a living, our girls haven’t had much choice about learning math along the way. We started teaching them basic math concepts when they were in diapers, and kept on practicing when they were in preschool. They also get plenty of practice with things like selling Girl Scout cookies every year, or lemonade on our front lawn.

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Whether your kids are already crazy about math, or need some inspiration to get going, here are three practical tips to help you unlock your child’s math talent this summer:

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1. Get up to speed

Before you can help your child do better in math this summer, you need to have a clear sense of where they’re at. You may already have some sense of their strengths and “growth areas” from supervising their homework this past year. But unless you’ve been an in-house school volunteer during math period, you may have no clue of how their abilities compare to those of their age peers.

I’m not talking unhealthy comparisons akin to “how come you aren’t doing as well as so-and-so?”. I’m talking about having a realistic sense of how your child’s abilities stack up, against the curriculum and learning standards of their school, for their age and grade level:

  • One good place to start is just by asking your child. Start a conversation with them about their favorite and least favorite subjects. Ask why  they listed those things. Ask them the most interesting or exciting things they learned in school this past year. This may start to give you some clues.
  • You can also poke around on your school’s or district’s website, to get a sense of the curriculum for your child’s level. This is, of course, another perfect topic to discuss with your child’s teacher when school is in session. S/he can give you a snapshot of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, compared to what their math curriculum expects children to do at that age. (And you don’t necessarily have to wait until parents’ night to send your child’s math teacher an email or parent portal message, especially if you’re concerned.)
  • But now that many US schools have let out for summer, getting ahold of the teacher is probably not an option. Thus your child’s final report card is the first place you can look for strengths and weaknesses. Check not just the letter grades, but also the skills sets breakdown and the comments section.
Even strong students may have areas that need improvement scattered among those skills they’ve “checked off.”

2. Practice makes perfect better

The more you can do to instill a “growth mindset” in your child, the easier it will be to help them improve in any area where they struggle – not just math. Whereas a child with a “fixed intelligence” mindset may not want to try to improve (believing he or she “just isn’t good at math”), one with a “growth mindset” will be better able to focus on working to improve skills, versus being “stuck” with whatever innate “ability” (or lack thereof) they may possess.

The more you can do to instill a 'growth mindset' in your child, the easier it will be to help them improve in any area where they struggle.Click To Tweet

This is why we avoid teaching the girls that “practice makes perfect.” But we DO emphasize to them that practice, and the hard work and effort that go along with it, can definitely help you get better. (Besides, as a spiritual descendant of the Pilgrims who first settled what became Massachusetts, my Calvinist background teaches that perfection, being Divine, is unattainable for us mere mortals anyway.)

Even children for whom math comes more easily will progress at a faster pace, and ultimately go farther, if they practice regularly. This can be tricky over the summer, but there are plenty of skill-based options online that will help your child move forward:

  • One of our favorites is Xtramath. Accessing your account from a desktop or laptop computer is free, or you can download the app for a modest one-time fee. Our girls’ school uses this electronic flashcard program daily during the school year to help kids master their basic math facts, and promotes it for home use as a daily five-minute “math vitamin.” Our kids like the challenge of “racing the teacher,” and get so excited when they pass to another level.
  • Another great resource for summer practice at home is Cazoom Maths, where parents can print out worksheets for their kids to use at home, or on summer travels. Those who need to brush up or maintain basic skills will have a way to practice; and if your child is already a math lover, these worksheets can help them zoom ahead over the summer while staying sharp on the basics.
  • There are also lots of games where a basic knowledge of math is necessary for play, from classics like Monopoly and Cribbage to newer ones like Dino Math Tracks and Prime Climb. (My girls have, and LOVE, all of these games; Essie loves them so much that she’ll even play against herself if there’s no one else handy!)

3. Give them real-world practice

Especially if your child is a reluctant learner, there’s nothing like real-world examples to motivate them to master skills. There are so many ways you can do this with math as you go about your summer:

  • Take them grocery shopping with you. If you buy groceries weekly with a set budget, have them help you track your spending as you go, and make decisions about how to stay within budget.
  • If you go on a family vacation or to a summer event, give them a small allowance of spending money. They’ll have to learn to budget and make choices from all the available tempting options of souvenirs, snacks, etc. (Plus, doing this will cut down on the whining every five minutes, as they beg you to buy them another snack or souvenir.)
  • Planning a summer road trip? Have them help you calculate mileage from point A to point B, and track expenses as you go.
  • And by all means, get them involved in back-to-school shopping. Give them a set budget for clothing and make them stick to it. Or have them help you comparison-shop for basic back-to-school supplies on your school’s list.
  • Have them work with you to set up a budget for their school-year expenses, from lunch money to school fees to after-school activities and dues.
  • If they have an entrepreneurial bent, by all means encourage their efforts. My girls have begged forever to have a lemonade stand, so we finally held one earlier this spring, in conjunction with our community tag sale weekend. They got to learn about unit pricing and cost comparisons, as well as budgeting the start-up funds I gave them, keeping their overhead costs in check, making change, and paying their expenses after the sale.
Our combination lemonade stand/Girl Scout cookie booth, where the girls also offloaded some of the last boxes from our troop’s spring sale.

Do your kids love math? What are your favorite ways to help your child improve their math skills? Share with us in the comments!

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