Summer vacation is a time for carefree fun and loose schedules. Kids want to fill the day with junk food and play while parents might want to shove in some worksheets or tutoring sessions when they start to worry about academic backslide.

Backslide is a real thing but it is my mission to pull people away from the idea of recreating a school environment. Every time a parent at our school asks me what workbook I get my kids for over the summer, I shudder. Unless your child is one of those personalities that really loves things like that, I suggest no workbooks, especially in math. Reading is the most versatile of the core educational abilities but Math is the most disguisable. Kids are so accustomed to thinking of Math as the rows of numbers and problems lined up on a paper; they almost don’t catch the calculations of “real life.”

Get Cooking

Recipes are a parent’s dream for real-life math. They come with an automatic ending reward, teach life skills they’ll need in the future, and are customizable to fit the child. For a beginning mathematician, a simple 1:1 or 1:2 part recipe like making rice can get your child counting and adding simple numbers. For the intermediate learner, you can ask them to double the recipe, which requires basic multiplication as well as a more complex number strategy to keep track of what they’ve already done. My favorite is asking my oldest, who is in high-level math classes in high school, to make a recipe and a half. She always a little surprised when she has to take a few minutes to actually figure out and write down how much of each ingredient to use.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be food your kids are mixing up. You could find simple or complex DIY recipes for things like bubbles, paint, lip gloss, or play dough. They could also reverse the process and invent a recipe for something simple like smoothies, which would require them to experiment and then be able to write down their conclusions.

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Many other highly customizable math adventures are available in your grocery store.  The most basic, and frankly easiest for mom, activity is to give your child a certain amount of money and let them create a picnic or party using it.  For example, in a grocery store, they have $20 to buy a main dish, side dish, dessert, and drinks for three people. For them, this means freedom and independence followed by a yummy meal. They’ll hardly notice the addition, subtraction, estimation, and division done in the process! Of course, smaller ones will need you to walk through the procedure with them but can still do the basic addition and subtraction as they choose or discard items.

For a more complex mathematician, go bargain hunting. In the grocery store, figure out the best deals by calculating price per ounce or the least amount of packaging used for the components you need. In retail stores, find the best values in sales by calculating percentages off or a statistical analysis comparing frequency of use to amount paid.

Travel by the Numbers

Any sort of adventuring brings with it the chance for calculation if you look for it. On a road trip, or just regular weekly driving, you can ask your kids to keep track of your car’s MPG. Have a paper where they can write down your mileage at the beginning of the trip/week then again when you fill up, as well as how many gallons the tank needed. They can find your car’s miles per gallon and also track its efficiency over the two-month period. When does it use the most gas? Or the least?

If you are buying any tickets or paying any fares or tolls, ask the kids to calculate how much you will need in total for everyone in your party. If the family find themselves at the beach, ask them to read how often their sunscreen needs to be reapplied and then decide the best times to slather it on. While touring a big city, ask them to find the total miles in order to decide if it is too much to attempt to travel it all on foot.

There is no reason that a kid needs to go without using their number knowledge through the summer, even without a notebook! Even tired moms, like me, can find little opportunities to slip math into their daily lives. In fact, once you get accustomed to finding these things, you might actually be able to pass off some of the real work of life.