By Sarah Vander Schaaff

A few months ago, I decided that instead of buying workbooks for my kids to look at over the summer, I’d start collecting the homework they brought home and use it as a basis for a personalized binder.  I’d add new material, too, of course, and try to find things that appealed to their interests as well as their grade level and the one they’d be approaching.

But you know, it was only last month that I took down the Halloween lights that had been iced into a bush in our front yard for most of the winter. I may, perhaps, have been too ambitious in my dream for the ideal summer “let’s not forget everything you learned” binder-made-by-mom.

I’m not saying I won’t put together something that annoys my nine year old, but it just might not be as grand as I had once imagined.

There is a name for parents like me: scared. Homework is hard enough when my oldest is keeping up with the pace and difficulty of her math assignments. I don’t need a summer slump to set us back. I say “us,” and let’s be clear: she’s the one doing her homework. But that doesn’t mean I’m not connected to the process or to her feelings.

This week, I’m reprinting the interview I did with a math teacher last spring about the subject of keeping math skills sharp over the summer. It may feel too early to begin thinking about this, and believe me, I feel the same way. It really was just a few hours ago that I packed away the winter mittens.

Questions for our Math Teacher, modified from our interview last spring:

1. Any thoughts you wish parents and students took to heart about summer?

Summer is a wonderful time of year. It is probably my favorite season because everything just feels more relaxed and “breezy,” even when things are a little crazy.

However, these lazy days of summer can wreak havoc on a progress that was made during the school year. Instead of taking the summer off and starting the school year at a deficit, use this summer to get ahead a little. Surround yourself with new and interesting math games, workbooks, websites, and/or apps. Have fun, relax, and enjoy the summer. Just please do not waste the educational opportunities that summer has to offer.

2. What do you recommend to parents and students to keep skills sharp over the summer months?

Summer school is ideal for helping prevent regression, especially for students who participate in a special education program. Tutoring or educational camps are also very effective ways to keep a child’s skills sharp in the summer. If these are not viable options, having students complete one math worksheet a day (or working on a math app for about 10-15 minutes, depending on age and ability) can also keep their skills in check.

The rest of the time it is important to do some educational activities, even if it is simply adding up all of the items in the grocery cart.

3. Do you notice students forget skills over the summer months, in effect starting the fall having forgotten some of the things they’d learned at the end of the year?

The summer is traditionally a time of year where almost all students experience regression of previously learned skills. This is especially true if students have learning differences and/or are not involved in some type of supplemental instruction in the form of tutoring, summer school, or other educational activities.

Conversely, some students who are very involved in summer learning activities make significant gains in their skills during the summer months and are actually able to improve their skills in one or more subject area.

Teachers must re-asses a student’s skills at the beginning of the year. This formal or informal assessment may affect the student’s placement in math, reading, and other classes. Depending on the student population and school culture, the first month of school is usually dedicated to reviewing material in order to recover the skills and knowledge that was lost.

Recommendations from Nancy:
I believe that games (yes, the ones that come in cardboard boxes and have dice, cards and chips) are one of the most underutilized resources by parents today and a great way to keep students fresh over the summer. Which games you choose will depend on your children’s interests and competitive nature and the math skills you want to reinforce. However, some of our favorite games that work well for strengthening visual and math reasoning skills include Q-bitz, Gobblet and SET (visual reasoning/strategic thinking), and Albert’s Insomnia and Shut the Box (math facts). These are in addition to classic games we grew up with such as Battleship, Othello and Monopoly which are all great ways to keep that math brain churning.


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