I’ve written about this in a hundred different places, but it’s worth saying again: Parents know how to get their kids interested in reading. But in general, they don’t have a clue about math.

If you had a child in the last 10 years in the United States, you probably heard somewhere along the way how important it is to read to said child every single day. I started reading to my daughter when she was only a couple of months old, partly to establish a bedtime routine (for the both of us) and partly because I wanted her to fall in love with books at a very young age. Reading with our children helps reinforce the parent-child bond and is a super-duper easy way to spark neurons that lead to mega brain development.

And did I mention that reading to our kids is easy? And can be a lot of fun? (How many of us read Harry Potter aloud every night for a few years?)

Sneaking in some math is a little more of a challenge for most parents. But I promise, it can be as easy — and is abso-tootin’-lootly as important as reading to our kids. Not only does math help our kids understand the world around them, but reinforcing the concepts kids learn at school helps counteract the summer slide or brain drain.

But for a parent who isn’t so confident in his or her math skills, this prospect could be quite daunting. Or downright confounding. I could give you a list of ways to sneak in some math on a hot, summer day. But let’s see if you can come up with some ideas on your own. It all starts with a few questions:

1. Think about your day from start to finish. Mentally go through it bit by bit, and see if you can come up with five ways you used math. How do you use math in your everyday life?

2. Now, take one of those examples and consider the math. What process did you follow to solve the problem?

3. Examine that process even closer. What math did you use in the process? 

4. And finally think like your kid (not any kid, but your kid). How could you make your experience meaningful to your child? How would you explain the math that you did?

Try this out for a few days. Write things down if you want or keep it all in your noggin. In other words, start noticing where, when, how and why you’re doing the math that you need to function in your everyday life. Think simple, not complex. Are you estimating how long it will take to get to work? Are you reading a clock to find out how late you are to your meeting? Are you figuring out how many pounds of beef you need to buy for the cookout? Are you thinking about how much you’ll spend on your vacation?

Unless your child is itty-bitty, you can probably boil these things down to a level that he or she will understand. And now all you need to do is talk about these things.

My favorite approach is to think aloud.

“Boy, I’m late! I’m supposed to be at the office by 9:00, and it’s already 8:45. Let’s see, how late am I going to be if I leave in five minutes?”

“Do you think it will take me less time to roll down this hill than you? Let’s find out!”

My second approach is to ask my kid to help me. I usually claim being way too busy to handle everything on my own.

“Could you do me a quick favor? I need to know how many hotdogs and buns I should buy for the cookout. We’re having 10 people over. The hotdogs come 8 to a package and the buns come 10 to a package. Could you figure it out for me, while I make the rest of my grocery list?”

And lastly, I talk about math — just any old math.

“I just noticed the other day that I never can remember what 6 times 7 is. So I figured out that if I multiply 5 and 7 and then add 7, I get the answer. Cool, huh?”

I swear these things work with my kid. I’m not kidding. We talk about how we do math and we solve problems together. Sure, she still experiences some brain drain in the summer months, but I think all 12 year olds have a secret hole in their heads that allows far too much knowledge to fall out when they’re not in school. (And sometimes when they are in school.)

So tell me what you think. What daily math do you do in a day? How can you repackage that math so that your kid can practice a little in the summer? Try it, and then share your experience in the comments section. Or just do some brainstorming. You come up with a math situation, and I’ll offer some suggestions for sneaking it in to time with your kids.

P.S. If you haven’t seen Bedtime Math yet, check it out right now. Each day, three problems are posted — one for each of three age-groups — that addresses the math in a news item or a historical event. You could easily pose these questions to your kids. Ta-da! Work done for you!

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