This week we are very privileged to have Dr. Rick of Sylvan Learning Center writing a guest post for us with some of his tips to help kids with math, reading, spelling and writing in the summer months. “Dr. Rick” has more than forty years of education experience, in both the public and private sectors, including classroom teaching, administration and more than a decade with Sylvan. He began his professional career with the Baltimore County, Maryland, Public Schools as a high school English teacher, where he saw first-hand the power of literature and language arts to influence and elevate students’ thoughts. Over the years, he has dealt with the issues that are important to parents, students and teachers — instruction that makes a difference in students’ lives, assessment that measures students’ progress fairly and guides instruction, the content and skills that teachers teach and students learn and the daily issues that have an impact on families, including the role of homework, the skills students need to be successful in school and beyond and, of course, the basics — the three R’s.



Here are a dozen tips for summer math learning. Adapt them to your family’s needs.

* GROCERY STORE MATH. Counting, estimating, and making change are good math exercises. What can we get for $10.00? Will you count the change for me, please? Let me know when we’ve reached fifteen items in the cart, please.

* MENU MATH. What’s the most expensive meal on the menu? What’s the least expensive? We have $20.00 to spend – what can we get? What’s the proper tip?

* KITCHEN MATH. Practice fractions by using recipes or reading cookbooks. Practice numbers by counting the cutlery we’ll need for dinner. Measuring ingredients is a perfect math lesson. Don’t tell them, though.

* MAP MATH. What’s the distance from home to our destination? How long will it take us if we travel the speed limit? What’s the most direct route? What do you think is the most scenic route? Why?

* ON-THE-ROAD MATH. Numbers are all around roads if you look for them. Add or subtract license plate numbers, speed limits, or route numbers. Keep track of time traveled or how long you’ve been reading aloud to encourage learning how to tell time.

* MONEY MATH. Teach about making change. Count change in a piggy bank. How many ways can I make 45 cents? Open a savings account and watch the amount rise with deposits and interest. Talk about the advantages of saving for a big purchase or for a rainy day.

* READING AND WRITING MATH. Read books about math and mathematicians. (A good website is The June 26, 2009, blog, “Dozen Delectable Math Books” gives recommendations for ages 2-adult.)

* CALENDAR MATH. Count down the days to special events like the first day of school, birthdays, holidays, vacations, assignments, and appointments.

* GAME MATH. Use cards, dominoes or dice (“math cubes”) to reinforce counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division skills. Play Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, and other games that encourage counting. Together, do the sudoku puzzles in the daily paper.

* COMPUTER MATH. There’s no shortage of cool game and instructional websites. Try the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ website, Click on __”Summer Games for Children.”__

* BEACH MATH. Count starfish and seashells. Umbrellas and pizza joints. Flip flops and beach balls. Dig holes, then encourage kids to fill one-quarter, one-half, three-quarters with water or seashells. Draw geometric shapes in the sand – circles, squares, rectangles, triangles – and identify them.

* MAIL MATH. Keep junk mail to make out “pretend” orders of clothes, books, groceries, etc. Add up the orders. Compare and contrast prices.

* GROWTH MATH. (Okay, so it’s a “baker’s dozen” tips.) Measure everyone in the family. Compare heights. Measure growth over time.

You get the picture. We’re surrounded by words and numbers every day. Draw your children’s attention to them without making a big-deal lesson out of them. Let them see you reading, doing math, and writing, as part of your daily life. By including them, you’re encouraging them to join you in your grown-up world, something kids can’t resist (for a time, anyway).


* OFFER A VARIETY OF PUBLICATIONS (magazines, newsletters, books, etc.) so kids can make their own literary choices. Availability is key.

* ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO READ EVERYTHING AND READ ALOUD – food labels, movie disclaimers, street signs, store names, music lyrics, restaurant menus, etc.

* MAKE MAIL TIME FUN. Give young readers “junk mail” and ask them to circle the words that they recognize. Become the family’s mailman. Ask your child to read the names printed on the mail and have him or her “deliver” the mail to the specific family members.

* ENSURE BOOKS ARE ALWAYS ON -HAND. Keep books in each car, at the house, at the homes of family members, etc. This ensures that a child can amuse himself or herself if a sibling’s sports practice is running late or if you are caught in traffic.

* SCHEDULE “LIBRARY TIME.” Just as a family schedules swimming practice, set a specific time aside for visiting the library.

* CREATE A BOOK-ON-TAPE. Encourage your child to read a book aloud and tape it. As a special gift or surprise, send the book-on-tape to a loved one with a special message.

* WRITE YOUR NAME IN YOUR BOOKS. When children write their names in their books, it gives the child ownership. Store the books in a special place to create a personal library.

* READ BEFORE BEDTIME. Reading is relaxing. Allow your child to stay up 15 minutes later each night – as long as he/she is reading.

* READ ALOUD TO YOUR CHILDREN. No matter the age of the child, reading together can create a lasting family memory.


* CREATE A WORD WALL. Write new words your child has mastered on colored paper and “chain” them around her room as a constant and colorful reminder of her increasing vocabulary. A “mini word wall” can be equally efficient and more public on the refrigerator. The more words, the higher the confidence rises.

* CHOOSE A LETTER-OF THE-DAY. Together with really young kids, each day select a letter that your family is going to focus on. Find words in the newspaper, magazines, online, on billboards, and around town that begin with that letter. Make a list of those words. Enlist the participation of older siblings and other family members. Share the words you’ve all discovered at family time.

* DO A SCAVENGER HUNT. Find items that begin with a certain letter. First to find ten items wins an extra ten minutes of bedtime story reading. (Bedtime reading is one of the few times you can loosen up a routine!)

* BE AN ARTIST. With your children, draw or cut out pictures of people, items, and events that start with a certain letter. Be creative and exaggerated for emphasis and vocabulary-building. “F is for flaming fireworks, Fourth of July, fishing, frolicking, fast footraces, free time, fresh fruit, family, friends, and fields full of flawless flowers.” Exhibit these pictures for the whole family to appreciate.

* HIGHLIGHT NAMES. Write the names of family members and friends on cards so the youngest kids recognize them. Start with their own names, of course. Decorate the cards with pictures of these people or their hobbies.

* PLAY WORD GAMES IN THE CAR. Kids __really__ don’t need to be in front of a screen __all__ the time, especially in the car. For each five minutes on a ride, spot as many items as you can that begin with a certain letter. Make a list. After five minutes, change the letter.

* KEEP A SUMMER JOURNAL. Writing helps spelling like no other activity.

* PLAY GAMES THAT REINFORCE SPELLING. Play Scrabble, do crossword puzzles (they’re a healthy addiction), make up silly words and rhymes. Rhyming and word games help kids understand the main principle of phonics – letters make sounds and sounds make words.

* HAVE A PEN PAL. Kids love getting mail. Snail mail is more fun than email.

* CREATE YOUR OWN SPELLING LISTS. Use favorite summer activities, summer books, and summer interests as your source for words. Find cool summer books by visiting the free for book suggestions and kids’ prizes.

* HAVE A FAMILY SPELLING BEE. Use words from your readings, your vacation, or your family interests.

* PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Then review. If you’re looking for spelling practice workbooks, check out Sylvan’s, which are excellent. Go to for a virtual tour.

There’s so much opportunity to improve your kids’ spelling skills and get them confidently ready for the new school year. Don’t waste summer with a lot of boring, passive time-wasters. Have fun, certainly, just don’t shut down.


Summer writing can be fun, expressive, and skill-building (but you don’t need to tell the kids that). Give your child the confidence to be ready for school in the fall, and help her teacher get right down to business without spending precious time reviewing skills kids have forgotten in the summer.

Here are some ideas to keep your kids writing this summer.

* Collect interesting, amusing, thought-provoking summer pictures from magazines, the Internet, or your own family albums. “Prompt” your children with ideas about writing.

* What’s your favorite summer memory?

* Write a poem about summer fun.

* How do you think people kept cool before air conditioning?

* Pretend you lived 100 years ago. What’s summer vacation like for you?

* Interview older friends and relatives about their summer memories. (They’ll love talking about this.) Then write a short description or story. Together come up with a list of questions for these interviews.

* Write jokes about summer activities like the pool, vacation, games, pastimes, etc.

* Keep a family photo journal and have the children write captions for the pictures or a short story summary. A variation of this is to keep a summer scrapbook with pictures and memorabilia of your favorite things.

* Keep a personal or family “summer things I notice” journal. Every once in a while, everyone in the family contributes a short piece of descriptive writing, a drawing, a favorite poem or an original one, favorite memories, interesting observations, etc. Watch the journal grow.

* Yes, even in an electronic age, kids love getting letters in the mail. Help your child have a pen-pal and keep up a correspondence for the summer and beyond.

* Go to for cool reading ideas, and then write about the books and stories you’ve read together. Don’t call this a “book report,” even if that’s what it really is.

* Create a story with friends and family members as characters.

* Write review of the programs your family watches on TV, the movies you attend, the books you read, the trip to the amusement park or any other activity.

* Compare and contrast summer where you live to summer in other parts of the world or the U.S.


For more of Dr. Rick’s tips check out his blog, What are some of the activities your doing with your children to get them ready to go back to school?