With millions of students across the country missing school for prolonged periods due to COVID-19 closures, keeping math and science skills sharp is a challenge for parents and teachers alike. While it’s difficult to predict the level of learning loss during these unprecedented times, data showing typical learning loss from the annual summer break gives us a good indication of the uphill battle educators face. According to NWEA research, students are likely to return to school in the fall with less than 50% of the expected learning gains made in mathematics and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what would be expected during normal times. The importance of summer school, online learning, and informal daily learning opportunities have never been clearer.
While educators are rushing to meet the needs of students by adding and expanding online learning, not every student has the equipment or access necessary to utilize digital learning. Learning loss in math and science can be even greater for children in low-income families, who are disproportionally affected. But keeping math and science skills sharp among students doesn’t require regimented, structured learning sessions. Taking a break from the books is sometimes the best way to keep kids fresh and engaged with learning. With a little time, creativity, and planning, there are a number of unique ways of making learning fun and keeping math and science skills sharp during school closures and throughout the summer.
Make math a weekly event.
I know what you’re thinking—this doesn’t sound fun. But setting aside a bit of time each week to work on even one math problem gives students a chance to keep their math skills sharp and avoid getting burned out. If you’re like me and not a math whiz, it could be a fun exercise to work on a problem with your child. And it affords a nice bonding experience even if you have to cheat and look up the answer in the end.
Cook up a fun activity.
Try incorporating math or science into daily activities. Baking or cooking with your child can be a chance to use both math and science. Pick a recipe that requires unit measurements with multiplication or division and fractional measurements. For older children, consider discussing the function of ingredients and the molecular changes involved in baking. Just make sure to supervise if the family is counting on having a tasty meal or dessert that night.
Go out for a nature hike.
Getting out of the house and going for a safe social-distancing hike is a great way to spark a love of natural science. Consider discussing with your child the various types of flora and fauna you see along the way. See who can identify the most birds and when you come across one you don’t know, snap a photo and try to identify it online once you’re home.
Once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, going to museums and zoos is another excellent way to learn about science.
Make a game of it!
Playing games that require math is a great way of keeping math and science skills sharp, and puzzles and board games are great for stimulating learning year-round. Engaging in these activities can be a nice distraction during times of stress and anxiety, so consider the following games to keep your student engaged in learning:
- Monopoly®: Promotes spatial recognition, counting money, and problem-solving skills
- Yahtzee®: Helps students master addition and subtraction skills as well as sequencing numbers
- Rummikub®: Reinforces skills such as sequencing and patterns
- SEQUENCE® Numbers: Helps students master addition and subtraction skills
- Rack-o®: Promotes both number sequencing and addition skills
Doing a science experiment at home is a nice way to not only sharpen science skills but practically apply knowledge. It can get kids excited about the scientific method and the importance of science labs, and fortunately, there are plenty of websites that offer a variety of fun science projects for kids.
Despite the many challenges COVID-19 presents, it has opened new opportunities to rethink education. The importance of remote learning and digital curriculum is expanding at light speed, which could have lasting long-term benefits for students. The difficult times and hurdles we face are also bringing students and families closer together as they discover new ways of stimulating learning at home and staying active and engaged in education. Keeping math and science skills sharp doesn’t have to be a tedious chore. With a little planning, family time can become a fun and productive learning experience.
Kuhfeld, M., Tarasawa, B. (2020, April). The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement. Collaborative For Student Growth. https://www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2020/05/Collaborative-Brief_Covid19-Slide-APR20.pdf