The Math Can

Summertime.  It brings longer days, campfires, real tomatoes, and raspberries fresh from the bush.  It also brings stinky feet, mosquito bites, wasps, and skinned knees.  And somewhere between these extremes, summertime at our house brings The Math Can.  Say it in a deep voice, somewhat drawing out the second and third words.  There you go. 

The Math Can (deep and drawn out, remember?) is something of institution in our house.  It’s simply a large can filled with math problems of the type studied in the preceding school year.  Word problems and other problems from Singapore Primary Math and occasionally other sources are copied, cut into individual or groups of problems, folded into quarters, and placed in the can.  The victim, ahem, I mean eager child, picks a given number of pieces of paper a week, tapes them into a notebook, and does the problems.  My youngest is the chosen math can man this year, with 10 pieces of paper a week assigned. He can do the ten whenever he wants, Monday through Friday, but they must be done.

The Math Can is a somewhat gimmicky math review mechanism.  It’s simple but highly effective.  The random nature of the draw adds an element of mystery, albeit small, but it assures a varied assortment of problems to review and eliminates the complaint that, “Mom picked all hard/long/easy/boring ones this time”.  The element of chance plays again on the number of problems on a single piece of paper.  My younger and I have reviewed the rules many times:  10 pieces of paper each week, regardless of how many problems are on a piece of paper.  Despite not starting an offical Math Can week yet, he’s already lobbying for 10 problems instead.  Good luck, kiddo.

Come on, reach in. No peeking allowed. No returning problems you don't like to the can.

Last year, I didn’t bother with The Math Can.  My older no longer needs the reinforcement.  We used it occasionally when summer broke up his year with Jacobs’ Elementary Algebra, but there was no need after that point.  My quite mathematically talented younger son, however, found himself stymied last September by problems he breezed through just a few months earlier in May.  We’d stopped our school year just after long division and multiplication and division of decimals, and I had a feeling he’d drop those skills without reinforcement.  However, our summer homeschooling plans were lost in the shuffle and emotion of my divorce, however, and The Math Can sat empty.

I wish it hadn’t, and so did my younger, come last fall.  He was irritated with himself for forgetting some basic arithmetic skills, and, for him, irritation at self is expressed as anger at those loving family members in his midst.  While it only took a few lessons to recall each skill, it took much longer for him to find his confidence in math again.  Let’s just say that he’s on board with The Math Can this year. 

The Math Can.  It’s somewhere between sprinklers, lemonade, and making snapdragons talk and poison ivy, ants in the house, and heat rash.  It may not be the favorite part of summer for my kids, but it’s ours and it’s staying.

It’s your turn.  What do you do to keep skills sharp over the summer?

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4 thoughts on “The Math Can

  1. That is a nice idea. I am not worried to keep all knowledge alive during the summer, but Math needs maintenance. We will use some workbooks. However, a math can sounds much better.

  2. We’ve always used workbooks, but this year we are deviating and using a less formal approach. The focus for us this season is language arts, but I really like the math can concept. We may need to add this idea to our mix!

  3. I LOVE this idea…can I steal it?! I just finished putting together our summer schedule. My two sons each have a weekly checklist of open-ended assignments, ie. practice an instrument, 1hr reading, BrainPop, math problems (now involving the math can!), etc. Some are daily, some are 2 times a week, others are once per week. Last year my older son did backtrack a bit in math over the summer. I also do not want to see him frustrated in the fall. Maybe this will do the trick.

    • It’s all yours! I need to formalized a few more goals for each boy, too. Instrument practice daily is a given for them (although does require reminding). My younger is supposed to be learning to type this summer, but we just haven’t moved on that yet. My older still has three short sections of Geometry to finish. Both need reading goals that involve reading NEW material.

      Hope your math can works for your family!

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