Summer STEM Fun for Families – Math

Of all the ways we can help our children with STEM, math is probably the easiest.  What?  “Math” and “easy” are not usually words that are used together.  But math is all around us.  We use it every day, most of the time without even realizing it.  Here are a few fun and easy ways to help your child with their math skills this summer.

Count Down

This is particularly effective for younger children, but it works with older children, too.  Using a calendar or some other method, figure out how many days until a significant event over the summer – a family reunion or vacation, a holiday, a birthday, or the beginning of the new school year.  Count down the days until that event.  Every day you can cross a day off the calendar, making it one day closer.  You can use this time to count forwards, backwards, add, subtract, divide the time left into weeks or months, etc.

Our Disney Countdown


Summer is a great time to help children learn the value of money.  Assign a money value to extra chores you need done around the house or yard.  Let children choose the jobs they want to do, then pay them for the work they accomplish.  For example, my husband pays the grandkids a penny a weed to weed the garden.  The young children love to bring the weeds to grandpa and collect their payment.  We occasionally lose a plant or two, but it’s worth it.  Once the kids get their money, teach them how to manage it.  Have them put some towards a savings account (percentages can be taught here) or a vacation spending account.  Let them decide how to spend the rest.  Help them learn about taxes so they don’t run short of cash when it comes time to pay at the store.



Children love finding ways to make money.  Lemonade stands are a childhood favorite, as are mini yard sales where children sell their old toys.  I’ve had children make and sell cookies, brownies, and cupcakes.  One child would draw pictures, then go door-to-door in our neighborhood selling her signed artwork.  As children get older they can babysit, be a mothers helper, do yard work, wash cars, or teach classes to younger children.  I’ve hired teens to teach piano and trombone lessons, my 16 year old teaches underwater robotics classes, a friend’s daughter teaches art lessons.  Not only do kids learn the value of hard work, but they also have to learn how to keep track of expenses so they don’t spend more on supplies than they make from whatever they are selling.



Cooking uses lots of math.  Teach your child about temperature, using timers, figuring servings, measurements (including ounces, pounds, teaspoons, cups, etc.), and fractions.  Need more of a challenge?  You can try doubling or tripling a recipe or cutting one in half.  If your cookie recipe makes 4 dozen cookies and you want to give a dozen cookies to each of your 6 neighbors and still have some for your family, how many do you need to make?  How many cups of flour are in a 5 lb. bag?  If you make cookies once a week, how many bags of flour do you need to buy each month?



Computer Time

We use our PicoCluster for all kinds of math activities. It’s a mini computer lab for your home! Wolfram Research’s Mathmatica comes free with Raspian (like Windows for the Raspberry Pi).  You can also log onto Khan Academy for fun math games and activities.  Teaching children how to code also helps them with their math skills.  A Python learning application comes free with every Raspberry Pi.  Even when kids just play games like MineCraft, math skills are used.  But don’t let the kids know.  🙂


Summer STEM Fun for Families – Engineering

The results of the first ever national test of technology and engineering were released in a report by the US Government on May 31, 2016.  There were a few eye-opening statistics in this report that tested a sampling of 8th grade students from 800 public and private schools nationwide.  The most interesting statistic to me is that 2/3’s of students reported that family members were their primary teachers on how to build or fix things.  Another more problematic figure is that only 43% of students tested were proficient in technology.  Less than half!!!

If parents or other family members are the primary teachers for engineering skills, how can we help our children improve in this area?  Here are a few suggestions that parents can use during the summer when our children are a captive audience.


For young children, building blocks of all kinds are fun educational toys.  Some ideas are wooden blocks, Legos, MagFormers, K’Nex, Lincoln Logs, and many others.  If these toys aren’t in your budget, consider shopping at a thrift shop or yard sales where you can purchase these at a major discount.  You can even make your own wooden blocks, providing yet another engineering learning opportunity.  Blocks encourage imagination and ingenuity as well as fine motor skill development.


Build Together

Build something together.  It doesn’t have to be big or expensive.  Patterns for things like bird houses, bread boxes, water rockets, and doll houses can be found for free online.  Use extra pieces of wood you already have at home, collect pallets from neighbors or businesses, or purchase new wood or other materials at a local lumber store.  Many of these items can also be made from kits.  Kits are a bit more expensive, but usually contain everything you need for the project.  Building things encourages working together, creativity, learning how to use and care for tools, and gives kids a sense of accomplishment when they produce a useful item.


Home Repairs

Is your faucet leaking?  Do you need to change your oil?  Is your fence in need of repair?  While it may take longer to do these things with a child or two “helping”, the rewards for your child far outweigh the extra time spent working with them.  Teaching a child how to replace a plug or fix a leaking toilet not only helps with engineering skills, but gives them life skills as well.

Robotics 003

Extend Your Skills

For kids ages 12 and up, teach them how to build things that will extend their learning.  Instead of buying a microscope, build one that works with their smart phone or tablet.  Instead of buying a computer, buy a kit and let them put it together themselves.   Not only do they learn important engineering skills while building these projects, but they also learn how and why these things work, giving them invaluable information that will help them in all aspects of engineering and technology.

If we want our children to succeed in an increasing complex and technical world we need to help them learn the skills that will propel them past the 57% of students who are not prepared for the modern work place.