Math Projects that Make Summer Count

Math Resources for All Ages

By Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D.

Lazy summer days give kids a chance to unwind, but time out of school causes kids to forget academics. The National Summer Learning Association reports students lose an average of two months’ learning during summer break, and math concepts take the hardest hit. Losses are greatest for kids who are already struggling.

The good news? Kids can do fun, at-home math projects using inexpensive supplies—and you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to supervise them. Let these easy ideas inspire you.

Activity: Scavenger Hunt
Take a hike with your child and collect a variety of items like pinecones and leaves, rocks, sticks, and feathers. “Preschoolers learn best when they explore natural materials with their senses,” says Lorayne Carbon, M.Ed., an early childhood educator. Let kids sort and display their finds. Your child might organize objects from smallest to largest or group them by texture or color. Sequencing skills take off in toddlerhood, and kids love arranging and rearranging special objects.

Activity: Sink or Swim?
Collect a box of water-safe objects from around the house, such as apples, eggs, pennies, hollow and solid toy balls, Matchbox cars and seashells. Use a large bucket of water or a backyard kiddie pool to experiment. Ask budding scientists to guess whether each object will sink or stay afloat. Record their predictions and the observed results in a simple chart to capture their learning. Take care to keep electronics and books out of reach. Your preschooler may plop your cell phone into the pool and yell “sink!” before you can rush to the rescue.

Kindergarten to 3rd Grade
   Activity: Measure Up
Teach and reinforce measurement concepts including cups, pints, quarts and gallons at the water table or in the sand box. Provide a collection of measuring utensils of varied shapes and sizes and let kids explore how many cups are in a pint and how many pints are in a gallon. See whether tall, skinny vessels hold more than short, fat ones. When kids’ interest wanes, head back inside and show them how to build a measurement man out of colored paper. Find detailed directions at Visualization helps students remember and apply measurement concepts when they’re solving word problems at school or cooking up fun in the kitchen.

Activity: Fish Out of Water
Cut out and decorate paper fish or use goldfish-shaped snack crackers as game pieces. You’ll need 20 fish for each player. Give each child a clear glass bowl or print a game board from Each player rolls a single die on each turn. The number rolled tells the child how many fish to return to the water and the first player to get all his fish back in the water wins the game. Make this more challenging by requiring players to get the exact number of fish remaining on their final roll (if they have only three fish left, they must roll a 3 to win). Ask the winner to count his fish for confirmation so you’re sure the winner didn’t nibble her way to victory.


4th to 6th Grade
   Activity: Balloon Rocket Car Race
Put engineering skills to work with some materials gleaned from the recycling bin. You’ll need plastic water or soda bottles and lids, drinking straws, wooden skewers, balloons and duct tape to make these cool rocket cars. Find detailed instructions and a video demonstration at Give kids enough materials to make several cars, using different sized balloons and smaller or larger sized nozzles. Let them test how far their cars go on a flat surface like the driveway or sidewalk, using a tape measure and chalk to mark distances. Record results on a spreadsheet and have kids calculate the shortest and longest trials, the average length traveled, and the time it takes rocket cars to travel a set distance (kids need and stop watch and some help to do this). Go all out and host a neighborhood rocket car derby with prizes for best design and distance.

Activity: Million Dollar Spending Spree
Give each kid a pretend bank balance of $1,000,000 and challenge her to spend it in a specific period of time. Kids might finance a dream vacation, build or buy a new home, or create a financial plan to address an important social issue. Set spending rules that make this project fun and challenging for your child. You might require kids to donate 10% to a church or charity, or set aside a certain percentage for college education costs. See teacher’s ideas at Post the rules and put kids to work. By the end of the project period, each child should produce an itemized spending plan with a photo of each item and an expense tally. The million-dollar spending spree gets kids excited about research and engaged with numbers. It also facilitates great family conversations about values and decision making.

Math Resources for All Ages – Online practice for basic math facts. – Loads of ideas and online games to keep math skills sharp, organized by grade level and topic. – Math challenges for middle-school students. – Curiously addictive Aba-Conundrums, a kit that includes one brightly colored abacus and 120 puzzles, is educational and entertaining.