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Early Numeracy: Five fun hands-on activities to practice skills this summer



School is out for summer, but learning happens year round, especially in early childhood. More than 90% of brain development takes place in the first five years of life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Developing key skills, including logic and abstract thinking, continue into adolescence, but summer learning loss is a major concern for children of all ages.

Known as “the summer slide,” the tendency to forget grade-level material during time away from school equates to losing approximately one month’s worth of school year learning, reports The Brookings Institution in a review of related data.


Learning outside the classroom through hands-on play is an excellent way to reinforce learning concepts. Summer reading programs are often the hallmark of reward-based learning this time of year but practicing early numeracy skills is just as important as those defining literacy experiences. Find additional tips to prevent the summer slide.


Reading together is an obvious choice for reinforcing ABCs, but 1-2-3s may be more challenging.

Knowing how to get started with early numeracy skills is key for parents and caregivers. Although science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) camps and kits abound, simple activities can serve a similar purpose. If you are looking for materials, including age-appropriate toys and games, check out Rainbow Fleet’s Resource Center. A $40 membership gives parents and child care providers access to items that can be checked out and returned for a new assortment all year long to beat summer boredom and beyond.


Rainbow Fleet CEO Carri Hicks has been an elementary school teacher since 2007. Although her point of view is now overseeing early education classrooms at Rainbow Fleet Early Education Center, that perspective has informed her ability to evaluate what’s working in early childhood and offer suggestions. A parent of three, she also knows firsthand how suggested activities are more likely to be successful when they are fun and easy to implement.


Five teacher (and mom)-approved suggestions for teaching early numeracy:


  • Host sidewalk chalk math sessions: Trace numbers with sidewalk chalk. Start a pattern and encourage children to fill in the blanks with missing numbers, counting by twos, fives or 10s.

  • Try hopscotch arithmetic: Trace a hopscotch grid but leave the numbers blank. Play jacks and/or use dice to allow children to fill in the blanks on the grid by hopping to the number indicated. Addition and subtraction take on a visual element through kinesthetic play, especially when writing skills are also involved.

  • Trace shapes: The ability to visualize and identify shapes lays a foundation for geometry, depth perception and even driving skills later in life. Trace shapes in shaving cream or sugar free whipped topping for less of a sticky mess. Keep it contained by using baking sheets or a hosable picnic table for outdoor use. A stick and sandbox may work better for older children.

  • Cook together: Life skills happen one experience at a time and using the five senses, including taste, helps students find real world applications for what they learn throughout the school year. Make a favorite seasonal treat by learning how to read a recipe, writing a shopping list and understanding how price per ounce works, where quantities are cheaper, etc. Talk through measures, freezing or baking temperatures and more.

  • Host a lemonade stand: Implement a business idea you can fully customize to teach the level of math desired, from lessons on building and planning to counting back change. A lemonade stand is ideal for sibling or child care groups with varied ages, as a task is available for everyone. Middle schoolers can make calls to your city council to find out if a permit is required, plan ahead for materials purchases and design signage. Elementary ages might calculate supply purchases, learn about cooking measurements or count back change. Supervision is key but running perhaps the smallest of small businesses can be a memorable learning experience.


Keep young minds learning one day at a time this summer. Make the most of the break by enjoying extra time together, with math, reading and all the best lessons subtly taught and enjoyed by the whole family. Get early literacy ideas with our tips, too.


Happy summer!