Written by: Lisa Cantkier, OCT

Math was almost always a weak subject for me as a student. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, math did not make any sense to me and I certainly could not relate the concepts to real life situations. I’m quite sure this sounds familiar. How on earth could “X” represent something to be solved? Why did I need to solve the problem that “X” was facing? And how could that possibly apply to me? What nonsense!

I never panicked because I assumed that most kids struggled with math. Little did I know then that research confirms this. There has been lot of discussion for some time now about a North American ‘math crisis.’ A recent Harvard study reported that only 6% of American high school students take advanced math courses, and this is true for both private and public schools.

As I got older and wiser, math concepts suddenly began to make sense. It was as though a mysterious light turned on. In amazement, I searched for answers to the classic question “why is math so difficult?” In my quest I was enlightened by the likes of modern day mathematicians, including University of Toronto professor Dr. John Mighton. What the experts explain time and time again can be summarized as follows. Math, simply put, is much like a building. We must fully grasp the concepts at the first level before we can move up. In short, we need a solid foundation first. The idea is simple, yet frequently overlooked. It was striking to me because in school I always felt pressured to move on before I was ready.

According to the experts, it is imperative for children to understand what they are learning extremely well before moving to the next concept. And that can be tricky, not to mention time consuming, especially since math has a language of its own that requires digesting. The solution to the problem must include two key components: time and patience. Now I understand why grade 13 Finite fell apart for me within the first month – I kept moving on before my own foundation was solid. I should have taken the time to ask more questions and I should have had the patience to proceed with lots of practice.

As parents, we can help our children at a young age to gain a solid understanding of the basic concepts needed to build a strong math foundation. We can help our children fill in any holes in their foundation with practice and application of skills. This does not have to be done using a workbook alone. There are many activities you can do with your child. Summertime is a wonderful opportunity to help your child build their math foundation. It’s a great time to apply math skills to real life. The key will be to make the activities you choose fun.

Boys love to build and it is good for girls too. Building things requires an understanding of geometry. You can help your child build doll houses, bird houses or toy cars. They will be able to learn about and apply their knowledge of measurement and visual-spatial skills. Young children can develop math skills by helping you in the kitchen. By cooking and using recipes with your child, you are teaching a variety of math skills including measurement, fractions and ratios. Double a recipe or cut it in half to stir things up. Another fun activity that builds math skills is planning a summer trip. It doesn’t have to be a long trip – even planning a day trip is a good use of calculating time and distance. Using a map can be fun and your child will practice using basic computation skills. You could plan a summer garage sale with your child. Sell lemonade or bead bracelets. Your child will learn about money and profit. Children will also practice their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills. One final idea is to start a savings account with your child. This can help your child learn about calculating percent, multiplication, and of course saving money.

This is just a sample of a few ways you can help your child over the summer with math skills. Regardless of the activities you choose, one thing is certain – you will create lasting memories with your child. And there can’t be a more solid foundation for a child than that!