# Math Skills: A Fun Part of School Vacations

by Dr. Louise Johnson1

Parents are often concerned that their children’s mathematical progress is hindered by long breaks, whether for “summer” vacation, traveling time, or whatever. It is true that a break in formal learning can require much review at the start of the next academic session. There are, however, things you can do to help younger children broaden their number sense during such times. Children learn best if they enjoy what they are doing. Whenever possible, making a game out of the activity helps to encourage the child’s participation and enjoyment. Here are a few examples of activities that can be encouraged during a school break. All are appropriate for either boys or girls and for one or more children.

## Personal Number Book

Your child may enjoy making a personal “number book” of things he finds important. A scrapbook or a book made by punching holes in paper and connecting the sheets with string or ribbon could be used. Help your child draw pictures or glue on pictures, and write a numbers caption underneath. (“I saw three deer”; “I played with my two friends. Sally and Billy”; “I made ten cookies for Daddy”; etc.).This provides a way for the child to record his or her summer activities and a good reference when the child wishes to share the family’s adventures with grandmother or classmates when vacation is over.

## How Many Ways to Pay?

When asking your child to purchase an item or give a tip at a restaurant, have the child find how many ways he or she could pay for the item using various combinations of coins. The child may wish to put the answers on a chart for future reference.

## Tangram Shapes

Making shapes from the seven tangram pieces can provide many hours of pleasure while traveling and at the same time help develop understanding of spatial relationships. [A tangram is a seven-piece puzzle set which can be used for many mathematical activities, including exploring and discovering geometric properties.]

Making shapes from the seven tangram pieces can provide many hours of pleasure while traveling and at the same time help develop understanding of spatial relationships. [A tangram is a seven-piece puzzle set which can be used for many mathematical activities, including exploring and discovering geometric properties.]

## Making Estimates

In the course of your normal daily life, you can encourage learning experiences in which children make estimates dealing with concepts of number, time, length, height, and weight. For instance, you might display a number of pennies, buttons, or beans in a glass jar and ask children to estimate the number. Encourage children to verbalize the thinking processes used to arrive at the estimate. They can then determine the actual number. (Counting by twos or fives speeds the process and gives good practice with these important skills.) Other activities might include daily estimates of how long it will take to complete a task or activity, such as: How long will it take to travel 150 miles? If Grandmother lives 1,200 miles away, how many hours will it take to get there? How many minutes will it take to set the table?

## In a Minute

How much time is a minute? To help your child get a feel for time and how it is measured, see what he or she can do in a minute while you time him on a watch or count slowly to sixty. Can the child run around the yard or count to twenty? Let your child time you also.

## Recording Weather

Keep a record of the weather for a week or for the entire vacation. With your child’s help, create a calendar on a sheet of paper. Individual squares on the calendar should be made large enough to accommodate the date and the weather symbol. Have the child design symbols for rain, sunshine, clouds, etc.

Each day in the top of the appropriate calendar square, the child can draw the weather symbol and color the bottom of the box – red if the weather is warm, blue if it is cold. The child may want to record other information as well. Periodically, have him or her tell you the number of rainy days, warm days, etc. and make comparisons from one week to another.

## Needed Numbers

Whenever possible, have your child help you determine numbers of items needed. How many plates are needed on the table for dinner? If only the children drink milk, how many glasses do we need? Is this more or less than the number of plates needed? How many people want tea to drink? If each person at your birthday party is to have two cupcakes, how many do we need to make? How much money do I have to take to the store to buy ten pounds of potatoes and a gallon of ice cream? How much more money do I have to earn to buy the bicycle I want? How many more days until school starts? If I save half my allowance each week and give \$.50 at church on Sunday, how much will I have left to spend each week?

## Stamp Collection

Suggest the child start a stamp collection and have him or her select stamps to make different amounts of postage.

## Nothing but 1, 2, and 3!

Make a game of seeing whether your child (or your whole family!) can go through an entire day without using any numbers other than 1, 2, and 3.

If your child shows no interest in a certain activity, don’t force it. The child may simply not like it, so try something else or wait for another time when he or she appears to be more ready for it. The above suggestions are meant only as a catalyst to get you thinking. Do not be afraid to try your own ideas. No one knows better than you what your child will enjoy. – Louise Johnson

Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial purposes.

1. Dr. Louise Johnson, Ed.D., author of several articles and the book reviews in this publication, is a retired mathematics educator and former university dean who has served as a volunteer for our organization. (Dr. Louise Johnson passed away in 2007.)