Four Tips to Make Learning Math Fun This Summer

Tips to make summer learning fun

Finding that elusive balance between summer learning and summer fun can be tough. Why? We’re all aware of the research – two and a half months of learning loss makes us worried that our child won’t succeed the following school year. On the other hand, we’re fully aware that kids need a break. How can you find that happy medium?

Although the answer lies in filling in academic gaps and getting ahead, it also has a lot to do with teaching life skills that transcend the classroom. This article focuses on practical ways to incorporate math skills into the dog days of summer without making it a chore for everyone involved.

Managing Money:

I’ve often thought of writing a short book containing interviews with parents about raising kids. It would just have two chapters: What I’m Glad I Did and What I Wish I Did. Now that my oldest son is off to college next year, I most definitely look back and think, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” Although we would all love to turn back time, we can certainly reflect on the things we’re glad we did.

When one of my sons was 17 years old, I signed him up for a Pay Pal debit card. I knew I had to take action because I was doling out cash at every turn. Five bucks for a Frappuccino, $30 for a video game, $25 for lacrosse balls (even though he had 15 of them in the garage already), and $40 for a Vineyard Vines t-shirt. I became my son’s ATM machine. I didn’t like the feeling and I knew this doling out of cash would not teach him any fiscal responsibility.

My son mentioned in passing to me that one of his friend’s parents had given him a set amount on a Pay Pal card each month, so I thought that might work for us too. A set amount was deposited into his account every two weeks. It was extremely hard for him at first. After all, this money had to cover his frequent trips to Chipotle, clothing (except for back-to-school wear), movies, etc. It was probably the hardest for me when he had no money the last few days of the pay period, BUT we kept to the plan.

I am now a few bucks richer (in the end, I spent less money on incidentals than him) and he’s a whole lot wiser when it comes to understanding the value of a dollar. Three years later, I also gave my younger son a debit card. I can’t think of a better life lesson in math than budgeting money.


Understanding the relationship between fractions, decimals, and percentages is essential to math success. A real-life way to do this is to have your child figure out the tip every single time you go to a restaurant. This summer, teach your child to use mental math to estimate the tip, and then figure it out exactly by using pencil and paper (no calculator!). Do the same for taxis, pizza deliveries, and even the tip jar at the local frozen yogurt shop.

Fractions and Long-Term Math Mastery:

During my days as a classroom teacher, I noticed that my students who didn’t fully grasp fractions, decimals, and percents almost always had trouble with every other math topic. It was almost like fractions were a litmus test for math mastery.

The research shows that my observations weren’t confined to my group of students. Numerous studies have revealed that having a solid understanding of fractions is crucial for later math learning, such as in algebra. When students cannot perform mental math calculations using fractions, they can’t estimate answers to algebraic equations.

Think of this problem: 1/4x=3. Can you solve it using mental math (without a calculator)? The answer is 12. Students who are able to manipulate fractions in their heads have a leg up in middle and high school math.

So, how can you help your child become more adept with fractions? One way I helped students understand this concept was through money. As a tutor, I set up a store with my students. The store usually had ten items we found around the house. Each was labeled with a price we made up ($5, $2.50, $9.00, etc.). Then, I’d announce the sale for the day, such as ¼ off or a deep discount of 70% off. The student would have to estimate what the new price would be and then figure it out with pencil and paper. We’d also work with adding on sales tax to get a final check-out amount.

The kids I tutored loved playing “store,” and you can do the same thing with your child. Anytime fractions, decimals, and percents are related to money or sports (think batting average in baseball or free throw percentage in basketball) the concept makes sense a whole lot faster.

Preview, Don’t Just Review: 

The bottom line is that cumulative subjects such as math and foreign languages are tough to catch up on when students fall behind or are just in the bubble of understanding. Summer review shouldn’t just be remedial. Good instruction towards the end of the summer includes a preview of information that students will see in September and October. In fact, research shows that remedial instruction alone does not have the positive impact that remedial plus previewing has.

If you want to help your child over the summer, don’t just focus on reviewing the basics. Spend time accelerating as well. Your child will feel far more confident in the fall. A math tutor can help to design a program that touches on both review and preview, and quite frankly, having an expert come weekly takes the emotion out of you trying to teach your child. For those that want to set up their own program, I like Math IXL, an online math software. This site is helpful for a general review of grade-level concepts.

In the end, math can be meaningful and engaging over the summer, especially when it’s related to real-life uses (think money!). There are also a number of great apps and websites that aim to shore up skills in different areas.