When summer comes, it can be very difficult to get your child to focus on anything but a life of leisure. School is not just a forgotten idea, but an outright prohibited thought. Still, I have my own plan about my son getting some quality learning in on his vacation. I’m determined to squeeze in, albeit by sheer will and a metaphoric shoe horn, time to improve his math skills. He struggles at math, as I used to, so I am sympathetic to his situation. When school returns I want him to start the new school year off right. The problem is how do I get him interested?

While I could require that he do a lot of math problems from books (and I will) I want the desire to improve in math to come from him. How do you do that? Well, if handled strategically, math can be an easier sell than most other subjects. Try this: Math is money.

The idea that math is money gives you as many different applications as you can think of for using the concept. Depending on the grade level (and I am going to think about this idea for children from ages eight to 12), you can keep things fairly simple or get as sophisticated as your child can handle. Take this idea anywhere you want. First things first though. For some children you may need to address math anxiety.

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Math anxiety

Math anxiety is very common, and judging from my anecdotal inquiries, it ranks up there with dental anxiety. I once had a math teacher in college who told me that most of her students, responding to an informal poll, would rather have a root canal than have to do math. For me it’s personal. I was the kid at the chalk board in front of the class who couldn’t solve the math problem, and it left a scar that lasted most of my adult life.

Start by addressing this issue first. Here are somethings to look for: Do they put off doing math more than other school work? Do they get emotional about doing it? Visibly anxious? These could be signs of math anxiety.

Conquering math anxiety requires accepting that it exists, that you or your child has it, and then dealing with it. Dealing with it involves taking the fear out of math. My teacher gave me great advice for overcoming math anxiety: Relax and know your subject. In my case, I didn’t know my multiplication tables well enough, even as an adult. If your child is lacking in the fundamentals, then concentrate on beefing those up first. Get them down cold, and then work on application.

Don’t neglect the effect that math anxiety can have on the body either. I used to get a hot wave of anxiety, followed by clammy hands and a dry mouth anytime I was asked a math question, and that was at times in a boardroom! A reassuring hand on a shoulder with a few slow, deep breaths will work wonders before your child delves into multiplying by 12. As a parent, it’s important to remember to keep your cool and see it as a process. It will get better.

Use technology

There are a number of great math apps out there. I use three of them regularly and they have helped me and my son immensely. The apps are installed on my son’s device and I have him set a timer for about 15 minutes and tell him he can work with any of the apps until the timer goes off.

Try these apps:

  • Diamath: This is great tool for pre-algebra and it has settings for easy, medium, and hard to make it age-appropriate.
  • Brain Tuner: If you want to increase speed for arithmetic, this one will do it. It starts with addition and subtraction and the levels unlock only when your speed increases.
  • Mathemagics: Full of shortcuts and tricks for many operations, especially working with large numbers, and it includes drills as well

Use technology as much as you can and turn those tablets and phones into learning tools rather than just streaming video devices of distraction.

Application of math is money

Math is all around you, whether talking about the percentage discount on a new game or the probability that it will rain tomorrow. Time is money, distance is money, and most things you deal with involve some aspect of money. It’s just how you see them. Try some of these examples to apply math skills to everyday life situations and come up with some of your own as well.

Buying gas

You have twenty dollars. How much gas can you buy? I teach to round the gas price, so it is easier to work with, and then divide the twenty dollars by the price of the gas.

Pizza fractions

Make a real pizza. If you are not a great cook, then get a Boboli crust and some sauce and cheese. Make the pizza, and then the moment of truth. Slice it once to teach half, and so on. If you slice it into 12 slices and remove one to eat, what’s left? Looking at a real pizza and looking at a picture are two different things. You’ll get more out of this one.

Keep the change

When you pay for something, have your child figure out what the change should be and, if she answers correctly, she can keep the change. Depending on the child’s age, you may want to keep this one under five or ten dollars.

Grocery Store Gauntlet

You can use the grocery store as a resource for applying many concepts.

  • Two for one. How much are they individually? What if I buy three?
  • 10 percent off. How much is that? Should I get the big one or the little one?
  • Comparing the value of large packages of goods with smaller ones. Include this lesson: if you don’t use the product often, buying more is not necessarily better.
  • If something is “only” one dollar, but I don’t need it, is it worth getting? This teaches the actual value of a dollar with a dollar.

“Math is money” lessons really teach students that using math skills helps them make good life decisions. The other great fringe benefit of teaching these skills is that, as with anything you teach, the teacher gets better at it. Your math skills will improve as well! There are a lot of suggestions and scenarios in this article, but the most important thing to remember is that when it comes to success at anything, consistency is more important than the duration. It’s not how long you do something, but how often. Do a little every day.