Practicing Math Skills to Prepare for Back to School

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Updated on Aug 27, 2013

Academic skills are just like any other talent. We encourage our kids to practice playing instruments, shooting baskets, and tap dancing so they don’t forget what they’ve learned. Over the summer, we need to encourage them to practice what they’ve learned in math as well. Here are a few fun ways to help kids keep their math skills sharp in order to be ready for the first day of school.


  • Counting – Count anything you can find, such as shells, milk caps, cereal, fruit snacks, you name it. Then, separate a set of items into two groups. Ask which group has more, which has less, how many are in each group, and how many there are all together. 
  • Patterns - Arrange items to make a pattern, such as button-sticker-button-sticker. Ask what comes next in the pattern. Have your child add the next few items, or copy the pattern.
  • Sorting - Have your child sort a set of items by some common trait, such as color, size, or shape, and tell you why the items in each group belong together.

First Grade

  • Counting by 5s and 10s - Make stacks of 5 pennies, and count the stacks by 5s. Remind them that each stack is equal to one nickel, and use nickels to count by 5. Repeat using dimes to practice counting by 10. Think of this activity as a two-for-one, because it also reviews the values of coins.
  • Addition and Subtraction to 20 - Use real life situations, such as pointing out that 12 eggs come in a carton, and you will use four to make French toast. Ask how many eggs will be left. Also, set a timer for three minutes, and see how many addition or subtraction flash cards your child can answer. Graph the number of correct responses. Repeat the game each day, and challenge him to improve his score. Read the graph together and share the excitement of his progress! Another two-for-one, since this also reviews graphing skills.

Second Grade

  • Counting Money and Adding and Subtracting Larger Numbers – Help your child count out the money needed when shopping. Then, point out the prices of two items, and ask him to find the total, or subtract to find the difference in price. At home, use toy store fliers or back to school sale ads to practice the same skills.
  • Telling Time - Make a paper plate clock, using a metal fastener to attach construction paper hands. Say, “We have to leave for soccer practice at 3:45. What will the clock look like then?” Take turns setting the clock and telling the time.
  • Beginning Multiplication - Play a game similar to Rock-Paper-Scissors, but say “Mul-ti-ply this!” Both of you will use your fingers to show a number, then take turns multiplying the two numbers. Or, see who can give the correct answer first.

Third Grade

  • Multiplication - Roll 3 dice. Use the first two to create a two-digit number. For example, rolling a 5 and a 4 would make 54. Then, multiply this by the number on the third die. So, rolling 5, 4, 6, would mean 54 × 6. Write and solve the problems together. Then, use four dice to create a larger number, such as 546 × 3.
  • Division - Count a handful of pennies, then create and solve a division problem using the number. For example, 35 pennies could be 35 ÷ 7 = 5. Your child can arrange the pennies in 5 rows of 7 to help solve the problem. If the number of pennies cannot be easily divided, add or take away a couple as needed.
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