Tips for Preventing the Summer Math Brain Drain
For many students (and parents alike), it‘s tempting to throw the backpack in the closet and not pick up a book until August rolls around again. But, say area educators, the summertime “brain drain,” particularly in math, is real. And it can really hold your child back in his or her academic progress.
“The metaphor is exercise,” says Vane Lucas, local franchisee of three Tulsa-area Mathnasium math learning center locations. “Imagine someone who is in good shape and they don’t exercise for three months – they’re going to get flabby.” He adds that research conducted at Johns Hopkins University shows that students who do nothing over the summer months lose up to three months of knowledge.
But how does a parent combat dreaded math brain flab? It need not be complicated or cause anxiety, says Lucas, even for parents who feel they are not great at math themselves. An easy start – have your child work with money. “Sometimes students now don’t even touch money,” Lucas says with disbelief. “Have students buy things themselves,“ and not with a debit or credit card. The act of counting out cold, hard cash and calculating change is an approachable way to work on addition and subtraction without calling it a “math lesson.”
Kay Strain, clinical instructor at the University School, a school for academically talented children ages three through eighth grade located on the University of Tulsa campus, suggests playing games with your elementary- and middle school-aged children. Rather than pulling out a worksheet, “a kid might react pretty well to a parent wanting to sit down and play a board game that doesn’t seem ‘mathy’.” There are plenty of games commercially available that focus on pattern recognition or honing problem-solving skills – both crucial as a child transitions from procedural math to more complex mathematics like algebra.
But, warns Strain, especially with middle school-aged children, parents should tread lightly. “[Parents] need to be fairly careful not to burn them out,” she says. In this age group, children “think they’re terrible or great and that determines whether they enjoy [math] or not.”
For the littlest mathematicians in training, an excellent start is number recognition, says Alicia Parent, also a clinical instructor at the University School. She suggests creating a number line for summer in your home — counting the days with a series of Post-It notes tacked onto a wall daily. Play with magnetic numbers on the fridge.
Snack-time and mealtime are great opportunities for practicing counting and patterns, Parent notes. Count the goldfish crackers in a bowl — ask your child to eat three and count the remainder. Have your little one line up his red and green grapes in a repeating pattern on the plate.
An old-fashioned round analog clock is also a super math tool for smaller kids, adds Lucas. “It’s one of the first places we talk about fractions.”
At the end of the day, whether its summertime or the school year, when it comes to math, says Strain, “you don’t want to take the joy out of it, and you want to give them that joy if they don’t have it already.”
Mathnasium offers summer programs for children in grades 2-12 with one- or two-month packages in all three of its locations. The program works with students who need remediation, those who are looking to stay on track and those who are gifted and looking to jump forward in math skills. Complete assessments are free, and there is a one-time $99 initiation fee if you choose to enroll. Costs vary for a two-month program depending on the age of the student and location.
Online tools abound – our experts recommend checking out the following:
- KahnAcademy.org: a terrific tool for kids who need to see a problem being worked with a detailed explanation and opportunities for practicing the skill.
- aaamath.com: though a bit clunky, this great site features interactive math lessons sorted by grade level and provides opportunities for practice
- okcollegestart.org: totally free summer courses in STEM fields for students in grades 8-12 offered by the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education.
- Board Games: Plenty of commercially available board games provide opportunities for learning about patterns and honing problem solving skills without being “math games.” Some examples provided by teacher Kay Strain include: Rush Hour, Pay Day, Set: The Family Game of Visual Perception, Rummikub, Chess, and Go.