Danica McKellar makes summer math fun

Seira Wilson on July 22, 2020

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The usual summer slump of kids being out of the classroom is even more of a concern after months of remote learning, and keeping up with math can be especially tricky. Fortunately Danica McKellar is a master at making math fun. This Wonder Years/Hallmark actress is also a best-selling author and her latest book, The Times Machine!: Learn Multiplication and Division. . . Like, Yesterday!, teaches kids from second to fifth grade how to memorize multiplication facts at home using stories, rhymes, and engaging cartoon graphics. We asked McKellar for some tips to help parents keep our kids' minds active and learning math this summer without it feeling like summer school.

*The Times Machine!: Learn Multiplication and Division. . . Like, Yesterday! is a July editors' pick for the Best Nonfiction Children's Books of the Month.

My Top 5 Fun Ways to Save Your Kids from the Summer Slide in Math!

The Summer Slide, also known as Brain Drain, happens every year—kids have been learning and growing their brains since September, then summer hits and much of that hard-earned knowledge gives way to pool days and endless video games.

Don’t get me wrong—breaks are good! It’s important to give the brain a little break here and there. But three months is a looong time, and the fact that many teachers spend the first months of school reviewing last year’s material says it all.

This summer, the stakes are higher. Let’s face it—not as much learning happened the last few months of this past school year. Parents did their best to fill in the gaps, but neither teachers nor parents had ample notice (or training!) for the sudden schooling at home.

Of all the subjects, math gets hit the hardest because the concepts are cumulative. For example, if a child forgets some of the multiplication facts, the ability to factor or reduce a fraction goes with it.

How can we keep our kids’ skills sharp without putting a damper on the summer? Make the math fun!

1. Food! Food provides many opportunities for practicing fractions and decimals. For example, you could take your favorite cookie recipe and double it. Instead of ¾ cup flour, now you’ll be using 1½ cups. This can be used to show fraction addition: ¾ + ¾ = 1 ½, or fraction multiplication and reducing fractions: ¾ x 2 = 6/4 = 3/2 = 1 ½. Even when you’re shopping, whether online or in a store, show your kids how much ground turkey costs per pound, then tell them how many pounds you’ll buy, and see if they can do the decimal multiplication to predict the cost. For extra points, have them calculate the sales tax! And incentives always help—if they correctly calculate the cost, perhaps they get to stay up an extra 10 minutes beyond bedtime.

2. Charts! Have your kids make a colorful chart or graph about something they are interested in. My son used to play a cartoony zombie video game and he loved studying the long list of all the different zombies and their “toughness” ratings: low, medium, high, or very high. So we did a zombies pie chart and bar graph to show what percentage of the zombies had each toughness. He was so proud: even after a few years, it’s still on the wall! It could be your child’s favorite sports team’s scores, or their friends’ favorite animals or foods, or the number of pages each character appears on in their favorite book. Whatever their interests, first have them collect the data, organize it in a table, and then make a colorful chart to display their findings! They can draw the graphs or even use a graphing software (there are many free ones online).

3. Multiplication Facts! Summer is a great time to nail down multiplication facts (times tables). In my multiplication/division book The Times Machine, I have created stories and silly poems to help. I also created free printable multiplication facts at TheTimesMachine.com for you to print and put up on your child’s bathroom mirror so they are seen twice a day during teeth brushing. Then quiz them in fun ways! For example, they can practice writing down the toughest ones using sidewalk chalk outside instead of a pencil and paper. Or have them jump into the pool, but right before they do, give them a problem to shout out the answer to before they hit the water!

4. Egg Carton Math! For younger kids (grades 1 to 2), there’s a super fun and very visual trick that helps kids to understand addition and subtraction, using something in your fridge: egg cartons! Just take two empty egg cartons, cut off two sections each (leaving ten on each carton, like ten-frames), and use small toys to make addition and subtraction problems. Check out the demo at McKellarMath.com: just click on “Fun Links” and scroll down to the video called “Do Not Open This Math Book: Intro to Place Value,” starring Mr. Mouse!

5. Picture Books! For even younger kids, you can use picture books and make a game out of counting objects on each page. I designed Goodnight, Numbers for this, but every picture book will have objects to count. Use your kids’ favorite books! I especially love this tip because of the bonus snuggle time. 

Danica McKellar

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