No matter what the activity is, the way to improve is practice, practice, practice. (Though some forms of practice are better than others.) During the school year, some subjects like reading, science, and math get regular practice under the guidance of a teacher.
But math summer slide is a common problem. Students are prone to lose progress in learning math over the summer. In fact, this phenomenon is especially apparent in math, where many students fail to see the relevance to the rest of their lives and many families don’t feel confident in helping their children practice.
Summer Math Games and Activities
Fortunately, there are plenty of summer math activities that either teachers or family members can do with students to help them keep their math skills sharp and math brains churning all summer long. These games and activities can be repeated throughout the summer, and we encourage you to customize them to your own and your students’ or children’s interests. If relevant, these can also be useful summer school math activities.
1. Play a Card or Board Game
Who said learning math couldn't be fun? There are plenty of games that have been designed with math learning in mind, but it doesn't need to be. Choose any game you already enjoy playing that includes points, money, or strategic thinking—which gives you an awful lot of options! Look for ways to layer math talk on top of the game:
- What strategy did you use?
- How would your score change if you had made this move instead?
- What types of game decisions take the most time to decide on?
2. Play an App or Video Game
If you have the tools, you can always make the game digital! This can be dedicated and targeted math practice (such as our practice app, Waggle), or it can be any game that your students or children like to play. When using a general entertainment game, look for ways to discuss the game either while students are playing or after they're finished. Many of the same questions about cards or board games apply here, too.
If two students are playing or one student is playing with you, consider playing with Math Bingo game boards out (two games in one!) to combine playing a game they love with math applications.
3. Cook or Bake Together
This includes critical thinking skills such as following directions and attending to precision, but it also includes specific mathematical skills such as arithmetic and ratios. While cooking or baking, call attention to mathematical questions and decisions. You can ask questions such as:
- Do we need more or less flour?
- How much sugar would we need if we were to cut the recipe in half?
- How much longer should it stay in the oven?
Look for ways to incorporate math talk even before you start (e.g., How would you measure a quarter cup?) and after you're done (e.g., How many portions does this make?).
4. Print Out or Download Independent Activities
This is a broad category of course, but useful for families who either have limited time with their children or do not feel comfortable with math. We regularly offer free games, activities, and downloadables to meet your children’s age and interest.
You might want to start with our full library of free resources, or check out some of our specific free summer math games and activities:
- Math at Work Web Episodes and Activities (Grades 3 and up)
- Math at The Met: Video and Activities to Teach Math at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Grades 3 and up)
- Math Activities for Middle School (Grades 6 and up)
5. Analyze Sports
Sports are full of math. For younger students, the activity can be as simple as adding up goals, identifying shapes, or discussing the difference between 2- and 3-point shots. As you watch together, be sure to ask math-minded questions such as “Who has more points?”
For students who are ready, look for examples of statistics, decisions that can be modeled using equations, and strategies that can elicit deeper mathematical discussion. For instance, you could compare a baseball player’s on-base percentage versus batting average or point out the advantages of kicking a soccer ball from different angles.
This can also be an occasion to play Math Bingo! Try these free downloadable bingo boards where students—and possibly you—compete to find examples of math during the sport. Boards are available for Grades 1 and up, Grades 6 and up, and blank for you to fill out. Plus they can be adapted to other activities, such as analyzing a TV show or spotting things out a window!
6. Play a License Plate Game
Trying to keep your children’s math minds sharp while on the road? Make a game out of license plates! For young children, the game can simply involve adding up the numbers. Who can be the first person to find a “10?”
For children who are ready, can you use the numbers on the license plate and the four basic operations to get 24? (For example, if a license plate has 9, 1, 2, and 5, then you can make 24 by organizing the numbers as (9 – 1) × (5 – 2).)
7. Take a Field Trip
Show children that math really is everywhere. If you’re fortunate to live near a science (or even math!) museum, spend time looking at how numbers, equations, data, and critical thinking go into different discoveries, inventions, and phenomena. However, this activity does not need to be limited to science and math museums. You can make math lessons out of art museums or even go on a free virtual field trip.
8. Track Goals
Want to combine math with whatever your students like? Identify a skill they want to get better at, and then turn that into summer math practice!
Make a chart and measure progress. Work with them to identify something they want to get better in, such as reading, basketball, or piano. Then decide on a way to measure progress, such as pages read, shots attempted, or minutes practiced. Finally, record what they do either in a notebook or digitally.
Use the records to have thoughtful conversations about goals and progress. Consider probing questions such as “Do you see a correlation between amount practiced and your performance?” or “If you practiced 10% more every day, do you think you would be 10% better?” We have a free handout to support this activity as part of our Math at Work series (see Activity 5: Setting Goals).
Learn more about our easy-to-implement summer school programs. Visit the HMH summer school site.