by Patricia Steinmeyer
Last spring in elementary school, we had “Dress Like A Teacher Day.” Several of the girls showed up dressed like me–the long skirt, the glasses, and the cardigan sweater. These girls had the ensemble down: I’d actually be delighted to wear some of those outfits! But the accessories my elementary math students sported were befuddling — short pieces of rope they called “math-magical ropes.”
Why ropes? I had no idea why the kids were carrying ropes!
At last someone told me the answer: Apparently one day in class, I was explaining a math concept. But the children were not listening. Instead, they were gazing at a crane with a dangling, rope-like cable operating just outside the classroom window. When I followed their eyes and saw the apparatus, I exclaimed, “Wow! There’s a math-magical rope!”
That was it.
The students may have forgotten that day’s lesson, but they sure remembered the math-magical rope. Students have an astonishing capacity to carry around words that their teachers forget.
It’s helpless. We teachers may never be able to math-magically reverse the number of forgotten words. But we can definitely try to choose the ones that are light and easy to carry.
Summer is here, and it’s a great time to watch your child in action. In the classroom, I find that simply observing is one of the best ways to learn about children. So, if you are looking for some new ways to keep your child geared up for learning, a little bit of friendly “spying” may tip you off!
1). Observe your child typing.
Yes. Typing. How long does it take your child to type a sentence? A paragraph? To search the keyboard for the “n” key?…With the dawning of the new Common Core State Standards, by fourth grade your child should “demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” By sixth grade, this expectation increases to three pages.
Increasingly, students are completing classroom work on computers. Now, look at your child typing. Would a few minutes of daily summer typing practice be helpful?
2). Observe your child playing.
Is it difficult to do this during the long, summer months of camps, swimming lessons, and structured activities? If so, get rid of some clutter and give your child some play time to explore, dream up creative activities—and to deal with finding their own solutions to occasional boredom.
When there is nothing to do, does your child head straight for the television and video games? Try giving the screen a day or two “off”—It’s amazing how creative children can be within those limits. Challenge them to find something fun, inclusive, and safe to do or create on their own “electricity”!
3). Observe your child reading.
Does your child avoid reading new books and stories, and continually go back to the same, comfortable reads? It may be time to “shop the library” together for some new stories.
Do you observe that your child starts reading, finishes part of the first chapter, and then gives up on a story? Try helping your child discover a new story by reading the first few chapters of the book aloud to your child. Once engaged, he or she may find it easier to pick up the book and finish reading it independently!
4). Observe your child using mathematics.
Does your child need to add and subtract when playing board games, talking about sports, buying an ice-cream cone, or measuring ingredients to make instant pudding? Observe your child’s math use during the summer, and let your child know that you notice. Also, share how you are using mathematics in your daily life.
…What if you do a great job spying, but you find that your child is not using math? Look for opportunities to enjoy mathematics that are easily within reach. Bake a cake; try some origami; plan a lemonade stand; build a fort; design a container garden; play Monopoly; track the number of miles walked in a week; map and create a budget for the next family outing; clip coupons and see what you can save together for an “end of the summer” treat…