Families across California have adopted new routines for their school-aged children due to school closures from the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have continued their learning at home, and many will do so over the course of the summer. Math is a critical subject for all students. In this blog, we will focus on tips for families to help children of all ages continue learning and practicing key math skills.
Before reviewing our tips for supporting student learning in math, it is important to address a common concern shared by students and families across the country. For some students and families, math is an academic topic that can seem intimidating. For adults, math may have been challenging when they were in school. For children, hearing about the difficulty of math from the adults in their lives can result in children feeling like they will be bad at math because their parent, older sibling, and/or other adults in their lives had a difficult time learning math.
It is critical that adults supporting students in math do so with a positive attitude and help children adopt a “Growth Mindset.” A Growth Mindset is the belief that intelligence and skills can be developed (rather than something a person is born with or without). A person with a Growth Mindset believes that they can improve any skill by trying hard, practicing, looking for help when needed, and learning from mistakes. A “Fixed Mindset” is the belief that skills and intelligence are pre-determined at birth and cannot be improved. As the data below shows, having a growth mindset is closely related to children doing well academically:
Just as a Growth Mindset is important, so is keeping children engaged in learning all year long. Research shows that children who do not engage in learning over the summer suffer tremendous learning loss. It can be easy for school-aged children to forget the math they have learned over the course of the school year during the summer if they don’t continue practicing the math skills they learned. On average, children lose nearly two and a half months of math over the summer. But it can be easy for students to practice applying the math they have learned. Math is something that we use every day whether we know it or not! Best of all, families have a lot of experience with real-world math that can be helpful to school-aged children.
Combining the experience of families and a Growth Mindset can help all children continue to learn math despite school closures and summer breaks. Below are some tips for families to help children with math.
For children in pre-K through elementary school:
- Counting is Key: Counting is one of the most basic skills required to do math. For young children, they can practice math by counting the items around them. How many stuffed animals do they have in their room? How many apples are there? If children can count to five, try counting to ten. If they can count to ten, they can practice counting to 20 and so on.
- Adding and Subtracting: After counting comes addition and subtraction. These skills can also be practiced at home. Try giving a child two apples, then two more, and ask them to count the total. They now have four apples and that’s addition (2+2=4)! Similar exercises can be done with subtraction and once children understand the concept, they can begin adding and subtracting larger numbers.
- Shapes are Everywhere: Another key topic in math is geometry, which includes the study of shapes. Young children can learn to identify shapes in their everyday life and notice what makes each shape unique. For example, triangles have three sides, circles are round, squares have four even sides, rectangles have four sides but are not even. As children go about their day, they can identify the shapes that are all around them and add more shapes to their vocabulary (octagon, oval, etc.).
For children in late elementary grades through middle school:
- Baking is Math: To make a perfect birthday cake – or any other baked good – the right amount of each ingredient is very important. Children can be included in baking to learn about different units of measurement (like cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons) and how much of each ingredient is required. The amount of each ingredient used can be compared to form ratios. For example, a simple cake may require three cups of flour and two cups of sugar. The ratio of these two ingredients is written as 3:2. This can be repeated to find the ratio of eggs used to cups of milk and more.
- Discovering Size: Measuring items and learning units of measurement (i.e. inches, feet, yards, gallons, ounces, etc.) is an important skill for understanding the world around us. Children can get valuable practice with these skills by measuring the items that are part of their everyday lives. How many square feet are the bedroom (the length of the bedroom multiplied by the width of the bedroom)? How many square feet is the bed? What percentage of the bedroom is taken up by the bed (the square footage of the bed divided by the square footage of the bedroom)? This can be repeated by measuring things like doors, windows, walls, and more.
For children in middle and high school:
- Creating a Budget: As children grow and prepare for a more independent life, the management of money becomes more important. Budgets are critical for families across the country. They are also complex math puzzles and a great way for older children to both practice math and build skills that will benefit them in the future. Children can create a budge around their allowance if they have one or can create a practice budget with just a few simple categories like income (i.e. monthly paycheck) and expenses (i.e. rent, food, transportation, clothing, utilities, and spending money, etc.). Helping children create a budget is good math practice and prepares them for living independently in the future.
- Designing and Building: For children who like building and creating, a great activity that contains math is designing a building project. This can be something simple like designing shelves to display keepsakes and photos or a new fence that will look nice in the backyard. These types of projects require measurements in order to design your project; addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to account for the materials needed; and a budget to acquire the supplies. More complicated projects will require more math and can provide a greater challenge!
Math is something that can be practiced at home and should be part of every child’s daily learning. Best of all, it can be fun and prepare children to be successful students and adults. By adopting a Growth Mindset when it comes to math, children are likely to have greater success academically. The tips and activities above also provide math-learning opportunities that can be completed over the summer and help children from losing the valuable math skills they have learned over the course of the school year. Even if math was not a parent’s favorite subject in school, it is something that families know a lot about, and it plays a part in their everyday lives. When adults share their knowledge, children can continue learning about math in ways that will help them in the future.