No More Summer Backslide
Are you worried that your kids’ (or grandkids’) math abilities are going to slide backward over the summer? It is a common, but preventable, problem. There are lots of ways to reinforce math skills during the school break. A quick internet search, or a search on this blog, will bring up ideas for using math at home, outside, and in the car. My book, Math Can Be Fun, is full of creative approaches as well.
And here’s another idea. Start a math play group for your neighborhood, or even for your community.
I know. It sounds like a lot of work. You’re thinking, “I don’t have time to do that.” But it’s not and you do. I’ll show you how.
The Benefits of a Math Play Group
First, let’s talk about the benefits. Obviously, it will help the kids to exercise their math skills. And while your kids are having fun playing math games, they’ll be strengthening their social skills, especially if you include some cooperative activities. And, I promise, you’ll get enjoyment from seeing children helping each other with math. Look at it as a way to give back to your community while also benefiting your family.
How to Make It Happen
Setting up a math play group is really quite easy. You need: 1) a venue; 2) math activities; and 3) an adult who is enthusiastic about math. Let’s take these one at a time.
The most important aspect of the venue is its location. It must be convenient for parents to get their kids there. I learned this part the hard way. Earlier this year I set up a math play group in a church that is centrally located between two communities. The location was inconvenient for people in both areas so hardly anyone showed up. It is much better to serve a smaller area from a location that is convenient to the people who live there. If you are serving your neighborhood, you could try rotating to a different house each week.
For a community-wide play group, your best bet is a public library. Everyone knows where the library is, and parents will have something to do while their kids are involved with the group. Also, most, if not all, public libraries have a kids’ area equipped with tables and chairs. My guess is that the staff will be thrilled at the idea of adding math play time to their programming—I know my library is. I’ll be shocked to hear back from anyone that their library does not embrace the idea, but if that is your experience, try another library.
Get recommendations from the staff on the best day and time to host the group, but Saturday is generally the best choice since more parents will be off work.
If, for some reason, a library is not an option for you, approach the leaders of your church or any church that is centrally located within your community. Most churches have gathering rooms and church leaders are always looking for ways to support the local community. Some may require the adults involved in the program to have a basic background check done. I got mine here for $19.95.
The materials you’ll need will depend on the age range you want to target and how creative you want to get. I chose to focus on kids in 2nd through 5th grade. I find that many kids in this age range have already developed a fear and/or dislike of math, but they are still young enough to change this mindset. But choose the age range that works best for your neighborhood or your community.
There are many, many activities that you can do with no materials at all, or with just a white board. The most comprehensive list of activities I’ve found is washmath.org (link downloads GamesAndActivities.pdf file). You can also find a list of activities that I used for an elementary school math night here.
You may be able to borrow a white board from the library, if that is your venue. Otherwise, you can pick one up for very little money. Be sure it is at least 3 feet wide, and don’t forget dry erase markers and a felt eraser.
You can also assemble a basic “math kit.” You’ll find some great math teaching aids in your own home. Some basic items include: playing cards, measuring cups, a checkers game, dominoes, and rulers or measuring tapes. I use “wet erase” markers to write math problems on the checkers squares, and I use playing cards and dominoes for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions activities. Look for the book Mega-Fun Card-Game Math in your library (or purchase it on Amazon) for ideas for math card games. As a variation, dominoes can be substituted for cards in many of the games. Also, kids love measuring things, and they can use their measurements to make line and bar graphs.
You can also start networking with family, friends, and teachers to gather commercial math manipulatives and games. Or you can buy them. Two of my favorites are the Fraction Tower (about $14) and Pizza Fractions (about $15). You don’t have to have these kinds of items, but they are wonderful teaching aids.
This could be you! And if it’s not, there is surely at least one adult in your circles who is enthusiastic about math. If you know two or three adults who could be co-leaders, even better. It may take a bit of convincing, though. Here are some points you could make.
It will only take an hour of their time each week, plus travel time.
They will be doing a community service.
They will get that joyful feeling that only comes from helping others.
They will have fun.
What are you waiting for? Call a few friends today to let them know what you’re planning. Head to the library after work today. Start thinking about the age range you want to include. And get excited! This could be the most fun you and your kids will have this summer.
I’d be glad to share my play group flyer with you. You can just write your specific information into the blank boxes. Send me a quick note and I’ll send it right over.
Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions, and please let me know how it goes!