Sharpen math skills this summer without a workbook!

I can see it now. That first morning of summer vacation, my sons will come rushing down the stairs for breakfast pleading, "Math! Sweet, dear, fractions and decimals! Please, mom! CAN WE SOLVE EQUATIONS ALL DAY?" It could happen! Or not.

Funny thing about math - it doesn't elicit quite the same excitement as, say, a trip to the water park or the sound of the ice cream truck. No one seems to miss regrouping or finding place value when school's out and the Slip 'n Slide beckons.

And when September rolls around, many students dread math. Memory for the facts or long division may be rusty, and the rules for simplifying fractions could be history (like the ice cream truck).

As a math tutor, I have found the key to helping kids stay sharp during the summer is to stay INVOLVED. If you simply toss a workbook in front of them and disappear, chances are, it will collect more dust than completed pages.

Need some ideas for the summer?

Younger students
Fruit chews and fact families. Skip the flash cards! To practice math facts, break out the crayons, markers, fruit chews and scratch paper. Have them practice their fact families by writing four colorful sentences for each fact (2+4=6, 4+2=6, 6-2=4, and 6-4=2). The fruit chews can sit in a little pile next to the paper, and they can reward themselves with one chew for each completed "family." SUV math. Even for short commutes, give your child mental math problems to solve. You could ask, "Can you name a few ways to make seven?" Or "How many cookies will I have if four friends each give me two?" Guess the digit. This can be played anytime and almost anywhere. Think of a number, give kids a range, and then let them ask yes or no questions for clues (Is it even? Is it greater than 7?). Kitchen floor geometry. Drag out the can of wooden blocks and let kids have at it. Seriously! Visual discrimination and geometry skills will be sharpened and they may have forgotten about the joy of building.
Older students
Play the unplugged way. Think of this as a rare technology-free opportunity to connect with your kids. Yahtzee, Uno, Othello, Top It, Mancala, Connect Four, Pentago, cribbage and blackjack are a few possible games to play. Middle school girly-math. Check out Danica McKellar's book series, Math Doesn't Suck, from the library. Her creative approach to engage tween and teen girls may expand your daughter's vision of math. Pull a Bobby Flay (or Rachel Ray). Cook or bake together, discussing the quantities in the recipes. Let them do the measuring and quiz them (How many cups in a quart? Quarts in a gallon? Ounces in a quarter pound?). Rip, review and snack. Find a used textbook comparable to the one from school (try eBay or Amazon) and tear out the end-of-chapter "reviews" or "tests." Sometimes the answers are in the back. Why tear them out? A single page won't overwhelm like the full text can. Assign one test per week, pair it with your kids' favorite snacks, and supervise (you could straighten kitchen cabinets or clean the fridge while kids work at the counter).
All ages
Drill, baby drill. Together, check out websites such as www.aaamath.com, where you can click on grade levels for appropriate drills. It's fun, interactive and painless! Remember, the summer is actually a wonderful time to explore math with your kids. The stress of exams and report cards no longer hangs over them, and they can even work outside in the sunshine. Make the summer days COUNT!

Michele Ranard is passionate about helping kids feel good about math! She loves doing math in the sunshine. She is a math tutor, professional counselor and freelancer with a twisted blog at www.cheekychicmama.com.