Get a Jump Start on Math

When your children return to school at the end of August, their teachers will spend several weeks helping them get back the skills they lost over the summer. The worst losses occur in the retention of math facts and spelling words. This does not happen to all children, and it need not happen to your children, if you are willing to provide some structured learning time during the summer. Doing this might not be the battle you anticipate. Research shows the majority of children actually want to be involved in activities that will prepare them for the next grade. This month, we are giving you activities to keep your children’s math skills sharp.

Math Web Sites
The more fun your children have with summer math activities, the more interested they will be in doing them. Explore with your children some of the hundreds of Web sites offering math activities from games to drills to challenging problems. Use your search engines to find several sites that intrigue your children. Here are some we found:

Graphing presents information in pictorial form. There are many types of graphs. Young children can be introduced to them by drawing the results of simple experiments. For example, open a small package of differently colored candies. Then have your children sort out the candies by color to form rows, and they will have made a graph. The same thing can be done with coins. Older children can graph the temperature by using strips of paper to represent the height of the mercury on a thermometer at noon every day for a week. They can glue the strips to a piece of paper forming a bar graph. The strips should be labeled by the day of the week.

Here is an activity that really teaches solid geometry and also can make a very attractive display. It may take several days to build the completed models. Have your children build models of five regular solids: cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, icosahedron and dodecahedron. They can find patterns for these figures online at and other Web sites. When they are done, have them use the models to determine the number of faces, vertices and edges for each solid. The vertices are the corners; the edge is where the two faces meet and connect the vertices.

Estimation is a useful skill for your children to have both in the real world and in doing math problems in school. Measurement estimation is a particularly practical skill. How far is it to the mailbox? How high is the counter top? It is especially helpful, as well as fun, to use body units to get a rough idea of length. For example, if children know the length of their stride, they easily can walk off distances. Then for shorter measures, they can use their fingers and hands. Help your children acquire the measurement estimation skill by having them measure the length of their fingers, hands, feet and stride. Then they can use their bodies to measure the length of their bedrooms, the distance from the couch to the refrigerator, the size of the TV screen, the width of a window and the size of a book. They can check the accuracy of their measurements by using a tape measure or ruler.

Put mathematics into trips to the grocery store by teaching your children how to estimate what the total will be. Have them round prices to the nearest dollar and then to the nearest 50 cents. They will be amazed to discover that rounding to the nearest 50 cents usually brings their total to within a dollar of the cash register before the tax is added.

The more your children play with numbers, the more they will be intrigued by math. They probably are familiar with word palindromes, such as dad, mom and radar, in which the letters in the word are the same whether you read them forward or backward. Numbers can be turned into palindromes, too. Here is how it works. Take 145, which is not a palindrome. Reverse it, and add the two numbers together (145 plus 541). The answer will be 686, a number palindrome. Have your children try this with easy numbers like 38, 48 and 86. They may need to keep adding and reversing the sum several times before it forms a palindrome. Finally, give them the challenge of turning 89 into a palindrome. They’ll need to fill a page with the calculations and get a lot of practice adding.

Statisticians call the average, the mean. Use four people to introduce your children to this concept. Cut a strip of paper as long as each person is tall. Then tape the ends of the strips together. Fold the strip in half and in half again to find the average height of the group. Have the children compare their height to the average to discover who is taller and who is shorter. For more fun with averages, your children can use strips of paper to measure the distance of jumps.

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