March 1, 2013

In the United States, standardized test scores show that Math is one of the subjects students struggle with the most. State and federal grants are available to fund new and existing Math - focused programs with the goal of helping students improve their performance on these tests. Parents can lend a hand by making Math matter in the young people’s lives. This article lists five activities parents can do with their children to help them understand the importance of Math skills and improve their Math comprehension.

**1. “Everyday Math”.** This isn’t the same as the Math method many schools teach. Instead, by this I am referring to the chances you - as an adult – have to use Math in your everyday life. This might be the hardest of the five activities because you probably use more Math than you realize. For example, has your child ever asked you, “How much longer ‘til we’re there?” on a long car trip? I’m sure they have! Help them do the mental Math to figure out how long it will take instead of answering their question. We use Math when we get gas, buy groceries, look at the clock, and many, many more times during the day. The next time your child is with you and you find yourself doing some mental Math, talk about it. Let them know what you’re trying to figure out and let them help you. With practice, your child will learn how important Math is to their everyday lives; they’ll be much better at mental Math, too!

**2. Weather.** This activity works well with younger students and those who love Science class. It certainly worked for my daughter. When she was in kindergarten or first grade, she started studying weather. She immediately showed interest at home and started asking what the weather was going to be like the next day or two. From there, her interest expanded into natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes. As my wife and I encouraged her, we realized she was improving her Math skills, too. She was learning about wind speeds (miles/ kilometers per hour), the Fujita scale, storm size relative to effected states and area of the ocean covered by a hurricane. Weather data is easy to find and it is available every hour of every day for different parts of the world.

**3. Cooking.** This activity helps you teach two skills with one lesson. Cooking – especially baking – is great for teaching the functionality of fractions. Kids of all ages can help with cooking and baking. If you’re cooking for a large group of people, you can teach your child how to double or triple the fractions in the measurements. You can extend this activity by teaching them about portion sizes and figuring out how to buy enough ingredients to cook the recipe. The next time your elementary student reminds you about the school bake sale or bringing cupcakes for student birthdays, have them help you do the Math and bake the cupcakes.

**4. College Planning.** This works well with high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Use Math to help your high schooler compute the “real world” costs of college. Until they do this, they won’t have any idea how much it’s going to cost. Have them add tuition, room and board, school supplies, textbooks, any bills they’re going to have to pay (ex. cell phone, gas money, etc.), snacks . . . everything you can think of. Then, have them multiply it by four so they can see how much their college degree will cost.

You can extend this activity by talking to them about college loans. Use the results from the “college expenses” activity (above) to help them see how much money they’ll need in college loans. Remind them about interest and help them compute the final amount they’ll have to pay back using a 10 or 20 – year repayment schedule. This may just help your teenager understand the importance of studying hard in college!

**5. Video Games.** If your son or daughter plays video games, the game tracks and saves their game play statistics either on their console, PC, or on a separate website. This is not an endorsement for increasing their gaming time, or allowing them to play games you don’t approve of. Instead, use Math to teach them how to make the most of their gaming time on allowed games. For example, at a minimum, gamers earn experience points for finishing levels and performance scores with vehicles or weapons in the game. Have them use their scores to compute things like “average level completion time” or “average experience points per level”. (Make sure they know how to interpret these numbers.) Explain how they can use the data to set personal goals for improving their scores. Instead of passively sitting and playing the game, they can work toward their goal. This works for all types of games: racing, shooting, adventure, sports, and more.

Summary: School standardized test data reveals a trend of poor Math performance in the United States. Because of this, state and federal education grants are widely available for new and existing Math programs. Parents can help their children see the importance of Math skills by taking the time to do Math - related activities. Some activity examples are: involving children in your everyday mental Math, translating daily weather data, using fractions and multiplication while cooking and baking, helping high schoolers plan for college, and using video game statistics to create gaming challenges.

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