Fun Math Games Encourage Summer Learning

Fun math games prevent summer learning loss.

The National Summer Learning Association reports that students lose an average of two months’ learning during summer break, and math concepts take the hardest hit. Losses are greatest for kids already struggling with math concepts. To help your kids avoid the so-called summer slide, try these entertaining, at-home math projects. All use inexpensive or found supplies, and no worries if you’re a bit rusty yourself — you don’t need to be a mathematical whiz to supervise the activities.


Preschool Math Games

Scavenger Hunt

How-to: Take a hike and collect a variety of natural items — pinecones, leaves, rocks, sticks, feathers. Let kids sort and display their finds from smallest to largest or grouped by texture or color.
Skill strengthened: Sequencing. This skill takes off in toddlerhood, and kids love arranging and rearranging special objects.

Sink or Float

Make lemonade!
Manning a curbside lemonade stand is a great way to reinforce math skills, requiring kids to measure ingredients, make change and
count profits. Stock a cash box with change — an empty drawer organizer or egg carton provides separate compartments for each kind of coin. At the end of the day, kids can count and roll their coins
to take to the bank or make life a little sweeter by donating profits to
a local charity.

How-to: 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.
Skills strengthened: Making predictions (important in understanding probability), graph and chart use.
Caveat: 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 – 3rd Grade Math Games

Measure Up

How-to: You’ll need a water table or sandbox, plus a collection of measuring utensils of various shapes and sizes. Let kids scoop up water or sand to explore how many cups are in a pint and pints in a gallon. See whether tall, skinny vessels hold more than short, fat ones.
Skill strengthened: Measurement concepts. Visualization helps students remember and apply measurement concepts whether they’re solving word problems at school or cooking up fun in the kitchen.

Fish Out of Water

How-to: Give each child 20 goldfish-shaped snack crackers, to be used as game pieces, plus a clear glass bowl or a game board printed from The object of the game is to “return” all 20 fish to the “water.” To know how many fish to put in the water on a given turn, players roll a single die; the number rolled tells each child how many fish she should put in the bowl or onto the game board. Before you get started, have the players predict how many rolls they’ll need to return all 20 fish. The first player to do so wins.
Skills strengthened: Making predictions, computational concepts.

Lazy summer days + no formal classes = kids who forget their academics.

4th – 6th Grade Math Games

Balloon Rocket Car Race

How-to: Make cool rocket cars with plastic water or soda bottles and lids, drinking straws, wooden skewers, balloons and duct tape. ( has instructions and a video demo.) Let kids test how far their cars go on a flat surface like a driveway, using a tape measure and chalk to mark distances. Record results on a graph and have kids calculate the shortest and longest trials, the average length traveled and (with a stopwatch) how quickly the cars go a set distance.

Math resources for all ages

Skills strengthened: Averaging, graph and chart use, measurement and computational concepts.

Million Dollar Spending Spree

How-to: Give each kid a pretend bank balance of $1 million and challenge her to spend it within a specific period of time. Kids might finance a dream vacation, build a new home or create a financial plan to address a social issue. Set challenging spending rules: Require kids to donate 10 percent to a charity or set aside a certain percentage for college tuition. At the end of the project, each child should produce an itemized spending plan, a photo of each item “bought” and an expense tally.
Skills strengthened: Budgeting, computational concepts. Beyond getting kids engaged with numbers, the spree facilitates family conversations about values and decision-making.

Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a psychologist, former math teacher and mom of two. She shares psychology lessons for real life at

Categories: Early Education, Elementary Education, Play