Math During Summer Vacation
Let's face it – when the summer sun is calling your child outdoors, the last thing he really wants to think about is anything related to school. Sure, you may be able to convince him that enjoying a book under a shady tree is not too bad of a way to spend an afternoon (or at least that it could bring him closer to a prize for finishing the local library's summer reading program), but ask him to do math during vacation and you will officially be entered in the "Craziest Parent of the Year" contest.
If you'd like your preteen to do more with numbers this summer than remember the time and channel of her favorite rerun, you'll need to be a bit sneaky. The good news for your child is that sneaky doesn't have to mean boring.
1. Appeal to the Business Side
Just as it is for adults, money is a great motivator for tweens. Encourage yours to rummage for unused toys and books and have a garage sale. If your child has trouble coming up with enough merchandise, "encourage her to sell lemonade, soda or cookies, too," says Geri Strandberg, a mother of two from Gilbert, Ariz. Not only will it make your house neater, it will give your child the chance to practice some mathematical skills. Discuss the concept of depreciation, and then let your preteen figure out what to charge for each item. Most Web sites devoted to garage-sale pricing recommend 10 to 30 percent of the original cost as a guideline. At the sale itself, let the child assist in adding up totals and giving back change.
With money in their pockets, preteens will probably want to hit the mall. Before you agree to drive, though, see if you can get them to think a bit longer term. Opening or adding to a savings account not only makes money available for bigger goals, but also rewards with free money in the form of interest. Many banks offer free gifts, such as piggy banks or stuffed animals, to young customers on their first visit. Monitoring account activity can help your child see how math is applicable to the "real world" and may instill a sense of pride in being old enough to have a personal statement book.
2. Appeal to the Fun Side
Any dieter can tell you that the best form of exercise is one that doesn't feel like exercise at all. When you're having fun, you just enjoy the activity – and what you gain (or in the case of a dieter, lose) in the process is just icing on the cake.
On long summer afternoons, take a break from the heat by going indoors for some board games. Classics such as Monopoly and Life provide plenty of opportunities to deal with money, and be sure to let your child serve as the banker for added experience.
Another great game to take up is chess. According to the American Chess Foundation, chess improves such math-related skills as visual memory, attention span, spatial reasoning and ability to anticipate consequences. "Many parents come here with their kids on field trips telling me how their children have changed since taking up chess," says Sharon Samole, membership director of the World Chess Hall of Fame. "They are better able to focus and sit still. Most tell me their children have improved math and science scores, too."
If you have a baseball fan in your household, use that love of the sport. Baseball is chock full of numbers: ERAs, RBIs, win-loss percentages, batting averages. Help your child understand the meaning behind the numbers, and then get out the Sunday sports section to do some comparisons and projections. Is any team on pace to win or lose 100 games? If A-Rod had 14 homers this month, what would his total for the season be if he kept up this pace? What is the difference in earned-run-average between the best and worst pitcher in the National League? To add to the fun, have each member of the family compile a simple fantasy team by choosing one player from any team for each of the nine positions (and yes, you can pick a designated hitter instead of a pitcher). Keep track weekly of how each person's dream team is doing by adding up the batting averages for all nine players and dividing by nine to get the average. The person whose team has the best batting average at season's end gets to pick the place for a family outing.
3. Appeal to the Sense of Adventure
Whether you are hitting the road to Disney or to Grandma's this summer, get out the map and let your tween help plot the journey. Talk about the shortest distance between two points being a straight line – and then see if that can work (little things like, say, the Great Lakes might get in the way). Let everyone guess the total number of miles, and then let your child determine the actual number using the map key and a ruler. Which state marks the halfway point? If you stop for bathroom breaks every two hours, in which cities would you end up (assuming a rate of 50 miles per hour)? If you get the dreaded "Are we there yet?" during the trip, pass the map to the backseat and say "You tell me how much farther." (If this doesn't help with math, at least it might cut down on whining.) Another way to pass travel time – load up on grade-level-appropriate Sudoku books and let your child discover why these Japanese number puzzles are so addictive.
4. Appeal to the Stomach
Your child may have been cooking with you for years, doing such tasks as stirring in chocolate chips or cracking open an egg. Now that he is older, he is ready to take on more challenges in the kitchen. Under your distant (but watchful) eye, let him tackle a recipe on his own that involves measuring out ingredients. (The cookie section of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, a staple in many homes, is a good place to start.) Remind him that he may have to make some conversions (such as 8 ounces of butter being equal to half a pound), may need to improvise on measuring tools (such as using the quarter cup twice when the half cup is already dirty), should double-check his work before proceeding to the next step (such as whether it called for a teaspoon or a tablespoon of baking soda), and can double the recipe if he wants to make more. Being able to follow steps precisely to arrive at the desired result will serve him well in the future both in advanced mathematics and in the days when Mom will no longer be there to prepare every meal.