Plenty of summer math learning programs are available to assist kids who need or want stronger math skills. Comparing them, though, is like comparing apples to bananas: They’re in the same category but aren’t at all the same. They may all sound great in their advertisements, but how do you choose which summer math program is truly the best fit for your child?
Simple: It’s a matter uncovering the differences among the programs by asking the right questions. Just as you might “interview” a potential doctor or school for your child, ask the staff of any program you’re considering the questions below.
- Can this program determine the root of your child’s issue? If your child has been struggling in math for a while and you’ve tried different after-school programs or tutors, to no avail, it’s likely because no one has truly determined which fundamental knowledge gaps are causing them problems in math class. Traditional private tutoring services, for example, rely on kids to say, “I need help with this,” but this is a very unreliable way to pinpoint problems. There could be numerous reasons that a child has issues with fractions or algebra, for example—reasons that need a math education expert to identify them. The vast majority of tutors and programs can’t assess exactly where your child needs help and where they are ready to progress.
- Is it fun? Most kids don’t think of math as fun, but a summer program must have some fun elements to work. Are the instructors trained on getting kids to engage with the math on a higher level and to motivate learning by making math more interesting and stimulating? Do they do fun activities during the summer? Do they give rewards for working hard and reaching milestones? Do they build some fun into what they do each week? Remember, the more enjoyable it is, the more your child will want to attend and the more they will gain from it.
- Does it fit your child’s level and pace? The summer is all too short, and it’s tempting to try to accomplish too much before school starts again. You don’t want your child pushed so fast that they won’t learn to truly the understand math concepts. Be wary of programs that over promise. If a child is a year or more behind in math, it will take more than one summer to bring them fully up to speed, but a good program will include goals for key topics that your child can master during the summer.
- Does the staff teach face-to-face or to an entire group at once? Even children in the same math level at school can be on wildly disparate levels in their actual understanding. When a teacher teaches to a group, he or she can’t address those differences. The best learning is done face-to-face, with an instructor who interacts directly with the individual child: probing for where there might be a disconnect in understanding and encouraging the child to discover the joy of “aha!” moments.
- Is there a learning plan designed just for your child? Too many summer programs use a one-size-fits-all approach, with a curriculum that is designed for an entire “level” rather than the individual child. Look for a program that will make the most of summer months by tailoring the curriculum to what your child—and only your child—needs.
- Can it work with your family’s schedule? Summer months mean camp, vacation travel , and other activities for children. Will the program be able to accommodate your schedule? What types of summer packages are available?
- Does it demand homework? Some learning programs give worksheets to children to do at home. That’s truly discouraging to a child during the summer time, and during the school year it burdens a child who is already swamped with homework. (Instead, look for a program that can assist your child with homework assigned in class.)
Of course, some parents hope to keep their child engaged with math over the summer by buying a math workbook. It’s the cheapest option, but most likely, the book will sit unused. Workbooks aren’t fun. There’s no personal engagement or instruction to help struggling students, and there’s nothing to motivate them. Workbooks might cover topics a child has already mastered and not focus enough on knowledge gaps. And workbooks seldom encourage children to use mathematical reasoning or creative thinking, which are critical to support future learning.
Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to get to the heart of how a summer math program works. The right program, with individualized instruction, will set up your child for higher math achievement for years to come.