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You’ve probably heard about the summer slide. Children tend to score lower at the end of the summer on achievement tests than they scored at the beginning of the summer on the same tests. This means students start school in the fall less capable than they ended the school year in the spring. But the slide is steeper in math.

Studies have found that students lose the most ground – more than two months of learning – in math. Two months of loss means that children returning to school in September have lost the math they learned in April and May. In comparison, some students return to school with similar (but smaller) losses in reading but middle class students typically return with small gains. What this seems to indicate is that moms and dads pay attention to summer reading. We enroll them in library reading challenges and set weekly reading goals. But math? Math gets ignored. And math gets forgotten.

So helping your child avoid the summer slide takes more than a stack of good books to read. It takes math and it takes a good attitude towards math. That’s where you start.

Whoever is home with the kids this summer and whoever decides how the kids will spend their time has to include math activities in the everyday plan and has to communicate that this is enjoyable. If you are not comfortable with math yourself, look on this summer as a chance to change that. This is the summer you and your child will learn math together.

Start with math books, since books are already what you’re likely thinking of for your child this summer. Books like I Hate Mathematics! and Math For Smarty-Pants are fun to read and include math tricks, puzzles and impressive ideas. Picture books by Mitsumasa Anno (like Anno’s Counting Book) are intriguing for younger children and older kids too. Find books of math puzzles and make working on these part of the daily routine.

Also, your Southwestern Advantage books have thousands of step-by-step math examples – and the online version has video tutorials on white boards.

Then, do math activities. Measure things, divide things up, add things. When you and your child go shopping this summer, ask her to keep track of the bill, rounding the cost of each item and guessing what the total will be. See how close she can get to the actual amount and see how she gets better at this over the summer. Ask your child to estimate the sales tax for purchases. Calculate baseball batting averages. Hold a backyard Olympics and measure long jumps and time sprints. Even Sudoku, card games and Monopoly can add math skills.

The key here is to keep math front-and-center this summer and avoid the summer slide. Let math add to the fun and it will add to your child’s achievement in the fall.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

Have you or your child ever said, “I’m just no good at math?” If so, then new research from Norway delivers news that’s both good and bad:

Many of us have believed that math ability is something a person is born with – or not. So it might be hard to believe that this isn’t so. Here is how researchers came to the conclusion that mathematicians aren’t born that way.

Scientists asked 70 Norwegian fifth-graders to complete nine different math tasks. Each task required knowledge of different mathematical operations and different applications of mathematical thinking. If math ability were inborn, individual children would have been equally good (or equally bad) on all nine tasks. But they weren’t. Children were better at tasks they had practiced in school and less successful in other tasks. No one appeared to be “naturally good” at math or “naturally bad.”

This is bad news for those of us who have used the excuse that we’re just not good at math as a reason for not trying very hard. But it’s good news for those of us who would like to do better at math than we are doing right now. Practice does make perfect.

So here are some math tips for parents.

  1. Start your child early in thinking mathematically. People who seem “naturally good” at math are people who were surrounded by numbers and opportunities for problem-solving from a young age. Play with math ideas as they come up naturally during play.
  2. Start early in supporting your child in mastering math tasks. You might dread helping your child with math homework, but if you start in kindergarten you and your child can learn math together. Don’t imagine your child is “too young” to understand.
  3. Accept no excuses. As your child gets older, the math gets more complicated. But your child is smart. She can do this. And you are smart too. Even if you don’t understand her math homework, you can. Learn this stuff together.
  4. Don’t let others make excuses either. Your child’s other parent, his grandmother, or even his teacher might hint that he’s just not good at math. They might say he has other wonderful qualities so his lack of math skill isn’t a problem. But of course it is. Math is essential. Don’t let anyone tell you (or tell your child) that it’s okay to be bad at math.

The bad news is we are all responsible for doing the hard work of learning math. The good news is we can be successful if we try.

Help your child to try harder.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.