Bored? Let’s Math!

From Kristina: We’re about halfway through summer, which means that you’re probably ready for school to start again mostly because your kids are telling you they’re “bored.” (This is when I like to tell them about “jump rope” or cue up videos of kids in other countries playing happily with a stick and an old tire for hours and tell them they’ve rotted their brains on TV).

Speaking of brain rotting- have they started that math packet for school yet? No? Here are some fun ideas for sneaking in a little math work, and fighting boredom brought to you by Mathnasium.

1. Play Board and Card Games

When you and the kids are ready to escape the heat of the midday sun, find a cool spot and break out the board and card games. They will think they are just having fun but playing these games will also improve your child’s numerical fluency, logic, and application of probability. Choose games that use money, keeps a running score, and/or requires strategy. Playing together is a great way to bond with your child.

Some of our favorite games for developing math skills are Monopoly, Blokus, blackjack, Scrabble,chess, and Life.

Note from me: Learn to play Cribbage.  Skip counting by twos, making combinations of 15, overly complicated rules and skunking.  It’s the ultimate game. Just don’t agree to play for $1 a peg with anyone from Wisconsin, because you’ll lose your entire paycheck. 

2. Make Yummy Treats

There are so many math skills used for cooking that there are entire math books devoted to culinary math. Following a recipe introduces math concepts like sequencing and counting. Young chefs will learn to measure precisely for baking and to estimate when a recipe says season “to taste.” If your kids are beginners in the kitchen, start with a simple smoothie or popsicle recipe. They will cool you down and they are hard to mess up.

Once they can follow a basic recipe, you may want to introduce scaling and/or converting recipes. Scaling a recipe means changing the amount that the recipe will make. Scaling requires thinking proportionally, a prerequisite for algebra. If children are scaling a baking recipe, they may need to adjust the size of the pan and/or the cooking time. Use this this handy chart (and math explanation) to help. Converting a recipe means changing it from metric units to standard units or visa-versa. Use this chart and calculator to make converting the recipe easier. Note from me: This is a very fancy way of saying doubling or halving. For example,  your kids might want to make a half-recipe of creamed spinach and double a recipe of brownies. Before you make them (and you) crazy- check the number of eggs you need to change it. Nothing will blow your child’s head off like needing 3/4 of an egg.

Don’t fret if kids make (safe) mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. If they try to double a cake recipe and the cake fails to rise, they will be motivated to learn how to multiply the measurements. When they follow recipes correctly, they get to eat, and share their creation.

For kid-friendly recipe ideas, go to Food Network, Allrecipes.com, Delish, and Summer Recipes.

3. Incorporate Music

Does your community have free summer concerts in the park? (Note from me: We do! Leesylvania State Park, Virginia Gateway, Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center, and Harris Pavilion all have concerts on our family-friendly calendar!) After enjoying a picnic at the park listening to a local band, extend the learning by incorporating music at home. Music is inherently mathematical. The patterns you hear and recognize in your favorite tunes follow a mathematical structure. Pattern creation and recognition is a basic component of elementary arithmetic. Pattern theory is a complex branch of mathematics.

Introduce your child to simple music theory and discuss concepts about fractions and proportions within music. The following activities are perfect for families that don’t have much experience with music:

  • Clap the beat to a favorite song.
  • Dance to music with various rhythms like waltz, cha-cha, and tango.
  • Learn to read sheet music to a simple song, like “Mary had a Little Lamb.” It has a 4/4 time signature (a whole note gets 4 beats, a half note gets 2 beats, quarter notes get 1 beat). When you and your child both understand that, try a song with a different time signature.

Use these great websites as resources:

4. Draw Pictures

Many children need time during the summer to relax by themselves. Drawing can be relaxing, rewarding, and boost math skills. Explore topics such as geometry, proportional thinking, ratios, and patterns by drawing with your children. Talk about how using accurate proportions makes drawings look more realistic. For example, when drawing a face the eyes should be spaced in the middle from top to bottom and the space between the eyes should be equal to the length of an eye. You can try to draw the same objects from various perspectives to explore various curves, angles, lines, and shapes. You may also try enlarge a picture using “the grid method” to reinforce working with percentages and fractions.

Use these websites as resources for the grid method and other drawing techniques:

5. Do a Science Project

It is hard to do a science project without including math. Choose a project that interests your children. The Topic Selection Wizard is a great resource for choosing a project that matches your interests and abilities. The “wizard” assumes you are doing a project for school, but don’t let that deter you. Input how much time you and your child have for the project, your child’s grade level and general interests. The wizard will ask follow up questions about what your child likes to learn about and do for fun. Your child should help you answer those questions. You might learn that your child has a new interest they haven’t yet explored. After answering the questions the wizard comes back with a list of possible projects ideas tailored to your child.

Note from me: Harris Teeter has dry ice. Wear gloves- but have fun 🙂

6. Become Entrepreneurs

Kids like to have extra spending money during the summer to pay for trips to the pool snack shop and ice cream truck. They also have more free time than they do in the summer. That combination makes it a great opportunity to start a business. Teach accounting skills like counting money, using decimals, estimating and using patterns to make predictions by helping your child start a business. Easy summer businesses for children include babysitting, car washing, yard maintenance, lemonade stands, and dog walking. Earning spending money motivates kids in math. Calculate expenses and profit opportunities, project future earnings.

Note from me: My oldest has more money than me. True Story.

7. Join the “Makers” Movement

Making things requires children to formulate a strategy and following through, just like they need to do with challenging math problems. Reinforce skills like problem solving, measuring, fractions, proportions and more. You and your child will create a keepsake to remember the fun you had. Kids and adults are joining the “makers” movement. If you have a little “maker” you could go to your local Maker Faire for inspiration. It is fun to experiment with different materials. One teenage boy we know found he liked working with chainlink, while his little sister preferred recycled materials.

See these links for project ideas:

Note from me: One of the most popular stations I’ve ever worked at a VBS involved recycling bins and duct tape. The kids had a blast constructing things out of old cans, bottles, and boxes.  Just make sure the edges of cans aren’t sharp.

8. Plan a Trip

Strengthen children’s understanding of budgeting by letting them help plan your summer vacation. When kids take ownership of how they allocate money it helps with math skills, and it cuts down on whining for more! The kids can evaluate if it makes sense to spend money on airfare and hotels and have less money for activities. Maybe they would rather drive somewhere, camp, and have more money to spend on activities.

If you already have a destination in mind, try this online flying-vs-driving calculator to compare costs.

Note from me: Have a AAA membership? Let them do this with your kids 😉

9. Throw a Party or Host a Barbecue

Support your children’s ability to add, subtract, and multiply with decimals by planning a party. Decide on a budget, and let them help suggest a menu and decorations. Ask questions like, “If we spend $30 on decorations, does that leave enough money for food?” If your children need help to get started on the menu calculations, these sites are great resources:

Note from me: I like barbecues and I’ll bring the potato salad.

Whichever activities you choose, have fun and make memories you and your children will remember fondly. Math can be a part of activities they enjoy. Summer is also a great time to check out your local Mathnasium center. We have fun and prepare kids to succeed in math!

Note from me: thanks to Mathnasium for the fun ideas!