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Every subject students take in school has specific facts and vocabulary associated with it. In history, students must learn people’s names, events that happened, and important dates. In literature, there are character names to learn, symbols, and literary terms. We tend to think that math is different, but it is not. If the math terminology is automatic, then understanding the problems will be easier. This is especially true if doing word problems. Summertime is a great time to review. Coming back to school in the fall with last year’s math vocabulary secure in memory and a beginning level of next year’s vocabulary already learned will likely make math much easier. Quizlet is great tool for reviewing math vocabulary. Quizlet offers review in the form of flash cards, games, or tests.

There are two approaches that will help next year in math—reviewing last year’s math vocabulary and previewing next year’s. If your child just finished taking Algebra I and will be taking geometry next year, he should spend time reviewing Algebra I vocabulary. He can go to Quizlet and search for it. Many teachers and students have posted their sets of study cards, and almost any subject is already available. He should start by using the flash cards to make sure he still knows the vocabulary. After he feels comfortable, he can play Scatter and Race which make the learning more fun.

After spending time reviewing last year’s math course, your child can begin working on next year’s vocabulary. She can search for “geometry vocabulary” to find a set of terms to begin learning. It might be beneficial to search for terms from previous years. If she is in 7th grade, she could look for 5th grade geometry vocabulary. It is important that this review is not frustrating, and that she has enough success to enjoy playing the games. Any review of geometry terms will make math easier next year.

Quizlet is useful for reviewing almost any subject. The frequently used element names and symbols will be useful in almost every science course. Reviewing literary terms, states and capitals, and historical events can help. It is, however, most helpful in math. Many students struggle because they do not remember all the mathematics terms. It is hard to find the additive inverse of a negative number if you don’t remember what an additive inverse is! It is important to have some recreation and relaxation time in the summer, but just a few minutes a day reviewing math vocabulary can set your child up for greater success next year in math.

If your child needs to drill her math facts as well as vocabulary, you should read about some math games that help drill facts while having fun.

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Summer vacation should be just that. It should be time for students to relax and enjoy life without worrying about school. This is especially true for those who find school difficult and exhausting. On the other hand, summer is also the time when math facts are forgotten. When facts are automatic, they are easily used to solve higher level problems. When students are fluent in basic math skills, their mental energy can be used to work on more complicated math concepts. So, the trick is to figure out a way to make practicing math facts during summer vacation fun so students will practice without feeling like they are still in school.

One option is to find games children enjoy. My favorite math facts game is called Math War. This card game can be played with regular decks of cards. Here are instructions to learn how to set up the decks as well as to find variations for how to play the game. The game can be set up so that two siblings of different ages can play together and both be challenged. For example, when play starts, both people put down two of their cards face up. The younger player can be asked to add or subtract their cards and the older player can also add or subtract, but for them red cards are negative numbers and black cards are positive numbers. This adds a level of challenge to make it fair to the younger child. Depending on the variation of Math War, sometimes the largest sum wins and sometimes the smallest.

There are many free apps for smartphones or tablets that are fun ways to practice math skills. The trick is to find something your children enjoy playing so that it doesn’t seem like school. In fact, a variety of math games is best.

I hope you and your children have some quality fun time together this summer. Please let me know if you have some fun learning games your children enjoy. I encourage you to play with your children so they will see that you enjoy math games, too.

End-of-the-year progress reports usually come home on the last day of school. This often leaves parents with unanswered questions about what the report really means. Parents may wonder just how well prepared their young child is for the next grade level. Before the end of school, parents should ask the teacher some important questions about their child’s yearlong progress.

Here is a list of 10 questions that should give parents some insight into what the progress report means, as well as preparation for the next grade:

  • Is my child’s reading on grade level, based on Common Core State Standards?
  • If yes, how can I continue to support their reading all summer?
  • If not, what can I do to help him improve skills?
  • Would you give me a list of recommended reading books to support her level?
  • Would you share some strategies to help increase his decoding, comprehension, or fluency skills? (Identify targets that might need improvement.)
  • Are her math skills on grade level, based on Common Core State Standards?
  • What are some strategies to keep math skills strong?
  • Would you recommend some math games to practice needed skills?
  • How can I help my child continue writing skills?
  • How does my child measure up socially and emotionally with classmates?


Answers to these questions will give you a clearer understanding of what needs to be done over summer vacation to keep skills sharp.

Make a commitment to keep learning strong and prevent “summer slide.” This will give your child an excellent base for a positive start in September!

I’ve written a number of blogs with simple reading and math games, including:

> Improving Reading Fluency With Nonsense Words
> Hands-On Math Games
> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

As well, check the SchoolFamily.com collection of math printables for board games and other activities.

Last week, I wrote about grades and what they really mean. Do they really reflect actual learning? Teacher Ron Simmons tells a story in his math classes at Hilton Head Prep School. He shares this with his math students when they tell him they’re not good in math.

He asks his students, “How old were you when you learned to walk?” He pauses for a moment. Then he randomly selects someone and says, “I bet you walked very early. I bet you walked when you were only eleven months old.” To another he says, “I bet you were fifteen months old before you learned to walk.”

They begin to talk about when they learned to walk when Mr. Simmons says, “What difference does it make? You all are really good at walking now. Does it really matter when you learned as long as you finally did learn how?”

He then relates this story to learning math. He says that some students learn it really quickly and call themselves “good at math.” Others take longer. They might even take a really long time to finally get it. Once again he asks the question, “What difference does it make how long it takes to learn it? As long as you learn it in the end you will all be “good at math.” Then Mr. Simmons and his students get down to the business of learning math.

I really love this story because it is such a great illustration of how we should be thinking about the purpose of school. It also points out that all children are not exactly alike. Some catch on quickly in history but not so quickly in science. Others struggle in English or with grammar. All children need to be encouraged to keep trying. They need to know that failure is an important part of life, and that a strong work ethic is a great predictor of future success. They also need to know that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to learn a skill as long as they eventually do learn it. Everyone can be “good at math” if they work hard enough and keep on trying.

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Understanding basic addition and subtraction facts provides a tremendous advantage to kindergarten and 1st grade students.

The more a young child can quickly and accurately make addition and subtraction combinations mentally, the greater his math fluency will be. This is important because effortlessly retrieving basic math facts allows students to advance easily to higher level mathematics.

Here is a fun mystery game to help your young child increase his mental math skills. This game can be adapted for either kindergarteners or 1st graders.


You will need:

  • Something to use as a cover: a piece of construction paper, folded piece of newspaper, torn-off magazine cover, paper plate, etc.
  • Twenty small, flat objects, somewhat uniform in size: pennies, Lego pieces, Cheerios, or M & M’s, for example.

Here’s how to play: 
  • For a kindergarten child, start with five of the small objects. Let your child count out five so he knows there is a total of only five. Have him close his eyes or turn away so he can’t see what you are doing. 
  • To practice addition facts, show some of the five objects and cover some.  For example, cover three objects and leave two uncovered. Then tell him to look. Ask, “How many do you see?”  He answers, “Two.” Then ask, “How many are under the cover to make five?” If he is having trouble, uncover to show three and let him count up from two. Do this with all addition combinations of five, in random order: show 4, hide 1; show 3, hide 2; show 1, hide 4. And don’t forget to show 5, hide 0; and show 0, hide 5.
  • To practice subtraction facts, show all five objects, then have him close his eyes or turn away. Move three under the cover. Have him turn back to see two. Say, “We had five, now you see two. How many did I move under the cover?” Do this with all subtraction facts for five, including zero.
  • Once he has easily mastered all “five” facts, gradually work up to the combination facts for 10.
  • For a 1st grade child, start with combination facts to equal 10, then gradually build up to combination facts for 20.

Who else seriously needs a break…from summer break?!

We’ve had a “goodncrazy” summer, filled with road trips, air trips, summer camps, camping-camps, and very little home time.

Parents always worry about the education “brain drain” during summer vacation. And, like us, when you aren’t home to keep up on reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, how do you keep more than a few facts from slipping out of your kids’ brains?!

That said, the Rogers family departs once again, heading out for our last vacation before summer ends. This time it’s to NJ for a beach visit to the Garden State, where we used to live. School for the goodncrazy kids starts in a few short weeks so there literally won’t be time to stuff their brains with educational catch-up once we return.

Not a problem, however.

We plan to create educational experiences and plug the brain drain without them even knowing it!


5 Ways to Sneak in Education While on Vacation!  (Shall we call it Edu-Vacationing?)

  • Before you leave, include the kids in some research. Map out the destinations, learn about different transportation options available in a large city (like subways and bus systems), help kids make any flight reservations, and include them in last minute changes to itineraries. These are all great geography lessons. Not to mention life lessons!


  • Plan to visit educational sites while on vacation. Museums, historic monuments and even family birthplaces can all be very educational! We are super excited about visiting the National Park Service's Thomas Edison Park in West Orange, NJ. We lived right next door for 3 years and never saw it. Now we’re flying 2,000 miles and we are NOT going to miss it! My little boy is a science freak so it’s a no brainer to look for science-related museums and outings while on vacation. (Surprise bonus: There’s a fabulous kid’s science play area in the San Francisco airport!)


  • Don’t tell the kids it’s good for them. I’m talking about electronic educational apps masquerading as games! It’s simple: In Google Play or in iTunes search for educational games. There are hundreds (maybe thousands?), so start with the free versions and when you like one upgrade to the paid version for more benefits. (Tip: Famigo is a family-friendly review site, so start there!) A few of our favorites include: Chocolate Fix by  ThinkFun; SuperWhy, a new app by PBS Kids; and YabberMag by Big Red Publications. Education and entertainment, all in one!


  • Learn a language together! We found out that our high school has access to Rosetta Stone (a language learning company), and for a small fee we were able to have access the Spanish software, giving our teen a bit of a head start on her language class. Since we take our laptops with us on most trips (the software doesn’t work on iPads), she can use the Internet interface during downtime. Not to leave out the younger kids we found a really great language app called MindSnacks. The first two levels are free, and the full version is $5 for 20 levels (Dad already speaks the language so we test ourselves on him!)


  • Follow up after landing back home. Help your kids write a silly version of “What I Did on Summer Vacation,” including drawings they make about the places you visited. Ask the older kids to pen a fun poem with rhyming words—Dr. Suess style—about each day of vacation. And pull out all your receipts and have the kids help tally up the cost of the trip. See if they can spot ways to cut costs for the next family-travel event!


Summer is winding down fast for us. And yet many of my friends across the country are already in school!

What did YOU and your family do for summer vacation?

Editor's note: Check these SchoolFamily.com articles about other ways to prevent summertime "brain drain"and keeping kids fit and active during the summer.

I was reading an article about the state of special education in American schools. There was a statement in the article that essentially said that schools “value the process over the outcome.” I began to wonder what that means.

The article was referring to schools that focus on compliance with state and federal laws rather than focusing on the child and what needs to happen for her. But, there are other places where we also value the process over the outcome.

For example, in math classes students are taught a specific method for arriving at an answer. I have seen teachers write the steps on the board for how to solve a long division problem (or any other kind). They then monitor their students to make sure they are following the process correctly. In truth, there are other ways to arrive at the same outcome (correct answer)!

You can arrive at the correct answer in long division using the traditional method almost all of us learned; using the double division method; or even using a calculator. The best way might be to use a calculator—but, then what do you do with that decimal remainder?! Or, the best way might be to use double division. The truth is, everyone needs to be able to get the right answer (the correct outcome), but we do not necessarily need to use the same method (the process).

But, as parents and educators we sometimes value the “process over the outcome.” I wrote an article once about how to do double division. You would have thought I suggested something completely absurd. I was accused of allowing students to be lazy and that I lacked mathematical “rigor.”

Another area where we experience this is when using the computer. For most software programs there are multiple ways to arrive at the same product. I often teach people how to use software. Invariably I will be showing how to do something, and someone will say, “You can also….” They will then tell everyone a different way to do the same thing. It really doesn’t matter how you do something as long as you are able to get the product you want in the end.

There are many examples of this both in and out of school. At home, for example, there are processes in place for when and how to do laundry, where to do homework, how to set the table, or how to put the dishes in the dishwasher.

As parents and teachers, we need to keep an open mind. If your son can arrive at the correct—or at least acceptable—outcome every time using his own process, why not allow it? His way might turn out to be better than yours! This may lead to fewer arguments, which is definitely a good thing. It also gives parents another way to allow their children to make choices for themselves. This is an important part of growing up and learning responsibility. Think about the needed outcome and stay open minded about the best way to achieve it.


Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?