How Much Do You Value After School Math Classes?

by David@MoneyNing.com · 14 comments


There’s no doubt raising kids costs a fortune, but where parents spend their money on are often debatable. Summer is coming up, and one of the options for us to send our kids is a math summer camp. Is it worth a few hundred dollars a month for Sara and Jayden to spend a few hours every week to hone their math skills? Or is it a gigantic waste of money?

Confession Time!

Ask ten people who know Emma and me and all ten will tell you that I’m the one in the family who is always saying no to stuff because of how much it cost.

Yet, being the Tiger dad that I am, I was the one who suggested that Sara go to an after school math school a few years ago. The classes weren’t cheap at roughly $200 a month per person. Now add Jayden to the mix, and we are talking about spending close to $10k already with many more potential years of expenses.

Why Did You Pay for It Then

We’ve been paying for years, and we have to work hard to convince our kids not to kick and scream about going. Obviously, we felt the money was justified. Here are a few reasons why:

1. We saw it as splitting the difference between private and public school.
One of the reasons why we didn’t pursue the private school route was because we figured public school plus after school classes were both better and cheaper.

Private versus public school deserves its own separate discussion so we’ll tackle the topic on another day, but from a purely financial and return on investment perspective, simply putting the yearly tuition in a low cost index fund earmarked for each kid and letting the sum grow will seriously challenge any potential and debatable career benefits a child can get from a private education.

The future is unknown but think about this for a second. $30,000 a year per child, even at 7% growth for 13 years (kindergarten through 12) grows to $646,514.64 at the start of college. Wait another 4 years and they get to start adult life with roughly $850k in the bank. Markets growing 10% a year and that number jumps to $1.185m. That “m” stands for million!

How much better do private schools need to be for the education to be worth $1 million dollars more before they even start earning a penny?

We felt the kids going to public school and supplementing their education with some after school classes as a middle ground. It’s a bit more work for us because we need to shuttle the kids to and from school and classes, but the savings were substantial and the kids also got dedicated academic help.

2. The public school system seemed to teach math at a very casual (slow!) pace.
It’s hard not to compare what my kids’ are taught versus what we knew when we were kids at the same age. Jayden is in first grade, and I want to be understanding because teachers are trying to make do with the lockdown situation, but his typical daily assignment right now consists of about five to ten questions of single digit addition.

There are a few more questions for double digit addition, but they are labeled as CHALLENGE and optional. Naturally, Jayden is done in about five minutes and it takes him more time to use the mouse to draw the numbers on screen than actually doing the math.

3. It’ll be very painful to catch back up if our kids fall behind in the future.
Not learning much math every day isn’t even the most problematic issue. The potential disaster is that eventually, my kids are expected to know everything at a very advanced level. After all, I can only assume that the difficulty of college level math is the same everywhere in the world.

If our kids start off slowly and need to end up at the same destination by college, this simply means that at some point, the pace at which math lessons are being taught will drastically increase in order for our kids to catch up.

This is the point in time when someone is going to raise the argument that the U.S. has the brightest minds and best technology, so surely our educational structure is at least adequate.

But a system being able to develop top scientists and mathematicians has nothing to do with how every child will turn out. What if Sara and Jayden can’t adjust quickly enough when the pace is stepped up a notch? Math concepts are built on top of one another. If they miss a step in those crucial building blocks, then the kiddos may be lost forever, and trying to make it up when they are in their teenage years will be very difficult.

4. Her improvements are obvious.
I still remember how frustrating it was when we first started Sara with the math classes because she would give me a blank stare plenty of times when I was trying to teach her math concepts.

Now that she’s been exposed to more complex math subjects, her math skills are better, but she also has an easier time understanding new concepts.

And that’s not all.

5. Math skills extend way beyond just knowing how to multiply numbers quickly.
Her decisions are more logical now and she also has a much more positive attitude whenever she’s faced with a seemingly impossible problem.

Surely it’s worth something, right?

6. Many of her classmates take extra math classes.
I’m not going to lie that competition doesn’t affect me at all. I don’t want my daughter to feel bad if everyone else seems to already know how to solve the problems. I don’t want to feel bad either. That’s only part of the issue here though. I notice that when most of the class can easily grasp a concept (duh, they’ve already learned it through afterschool programs), then the teacher just glosses over them and move on.

See how this can easily lead to some students falling behind? It’s not like you can stop everyone else from studying ahead, so we might as well join them.

7. I’m afraid of what could happen if I don’t put the kids in math classes.
I can’t help but think of some of the cashiers I’ve encountered and their confused look when I tried to explain to them why I don’t want too many coins back through the years.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say something costs $10.85. You can pay $11 and get a dime and a nickel back. Not a big deal, but you end up with two more coins in your pocket. Now if you were to take a dime out of your pocket too and pay $11.10, you get a quarter back as change. By paying that dime and getting back a quarter, you are keeping the same number of coins in your pocket. Do this consistently and you end up with fewer coins in your possession.

Simple enough, right? But some cashiers here just refuse to understand the concept. There are countless times when the person on the other side of the register simply hands me back the dime and then proceeds to give me another dime and nickel. Sometimes, they even look at me like I’m the clueless one for giving them the extra, unnecessary dime.

Interestingly, I’ve traveled all over the world, lived in four separate countries for extended periods of time and I’ve only had this happen in Canada and the U.S.

Does it have anything to do with the way math as a subject is taught in this country? I doubt I can ever figure this out on my mind, but hopefully, someone more connected in our national education system can figure this out soon. On a personal level, at least I pay mostly with a credit card these days so the frustration is no longer an issue.

On the other hand…

Driving them to classes there and back takes way more time than I originally thought.

I never thought too much about it before, but the chance to stay home all day has put a real focus on where all that time went during normal times. The math classes are usually about 25 minutes after school ends, so it doesn’t make sense to drive home because it takes between 10 to 15 minutes to get home from school and then another 10 to 15 minutes just to get to class.

And classes are one and a half hours to two hours, so we either wait for them to get out, or we drive home and drive back to pick them up. That’s about one hour spent on driving per child per week. This is on top of another hour to an hour and 15 minutes spent shuttling them to and from school each and every day. Add to the fact that it’s hard to actually concentrate on work when you are constantly having to switch focus, and the time and energy spent on transporting our kids to the classes are pretty significant.

Now let’s talk about the costs of these classes. The current rate is roughly $200 a month per kid.

$400 a month for both Sara and Jayden isn’t quite up to the private school tuition level, but it’s still a good chunk of change.

Using the same growth figures, $400 a month grows to become well into six figures by the time they graduate. The sum is not nearly as life changing as the amount of money skipping private education would provide, but it’s still an incredible gift for any recent graduate.

$400 a month is also a sizable reduction in our budget. Not that I’m suggesting I can totally control my income by the number of hours that I work, but a smaller budget means less need to work, translating to more family time.

What About Summer School?

Let me be clear that while the disadvantages of paying for classes apply year round, the advantages mainly affect classes during the school year. After all, the kids will likely still be competent if they skip math classes during two months of the year.

Also, we are still on lockdown, and there are no guarantees that they will ever go to an in-person class through summer. And unfortunately, Zoom classes are subpar to having the kids sit in the classroom and getting the instructions face-to-face.

Then again, Sara and Jayden will have nothing to do all day in the summer. Do I really want them to be on the iPad all day, every day for 60 days straight?

Plus, the summer slide, where kids lose IQ because of lack of academic stimulation during the summer break, is a real thing. Math classes would help that.

I wouldn’t really be thinking too much about spending money to further the kids’ academic skills if it wasn’t due to the pandemic potentially causing a prolonged economic disaster and taking my income along with it. But we don’t get to decide what our hand is dealt with, and here I am trying to play my hand.

What do you think? Should I sign my kids up for the summer math camp? Or should I save my money and let kids be kids? Will their future just work itself out anyway?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Kathleen Savvides says:

    Please, please continue your family’s commitment to your children’s education. Yes, this time in history is unprecedented, and the light at the end is vague at best. However, you reap what you sow, and your children will benefit in many ways, as will you!

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Thanks for providing another perspective Kathleen.

      We already signed the kids up for next school year, so we are definitely still committed to the kids’ education.

      It’s just the summer school part that we weren’t sure about. I didn’t talk about this in the article, but I felt the quality of remote learning was just OK. The kids got homework that seemed shorter, and half the time you couldn’t hear the teacher because of some technical problem. I’m not sure when everything would get back to normal, but the start of summer school would have been more Zoom meetings and I didn’t want to pay full price for half the education.

    • Paul says:

      I’m not knocking education ok. But Bill Gates a drop out. Steve Wozniak a drop out. Steve Jobs a drop out. Mark Zuckerberg a drop out.

      So, great education is NOT a predictor of success (financial or otherwise), nor a prerequisite either.

      Yes there are many well educated (however you might define that) people who have gone on to do well financially. Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jim Morrison… amongst them. Yet you also have people like Queen’s Brian May who is also an astrophysicist. Quite why I dunno. Can’t think of anything more boring myself.

  • Steven Pearson says:

    Let them have a summer vacation like most kids and just be kids. You know the one about all work and no play.

    • Paul says:

      Totally and utterly concur. Some of the brightest and successful kids I’ve seen grow up have been middle to below average in maths concepts. It isn’t all about 1 + 1 = 2… it’s about seeing what needs doing, what can make the world better etc. The late Aristotle Onassis, yes he who married Jackie O, had a very limited education, yet became one of the richest men in the world (at that time) through sheer hard work and seeing solutions to other peoples problems.

      So… let kids be kids. Don’t try and peghole them.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Duly noted sir! Thank you for casting your vote.

  • Highflyer says:

    Save the money. You build a good case for them to suffer in the school year, but it’s the summer. Let them have more fresh air!

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Ha! I don’t see it as suffering at all, but your take on it is duly noted. We don’t have any classes for them planned for now since we can’t figure out what will open anyway. Maybe they’ll spend this summer getting lots of fresh air! 🙂

  • Sannie says:

    Your family must be the only one out there where the dad wants their kids to go to after school classes! I had to practically beg my other half to let our kids go to Kumon and he still complains about it!

  • Margaret says:

    My daughters go to private school and I believe it’s worth more than the sum you are calculating. Sure the stock market may return 7 or even 10% but the return isn’t guaranteed.

    The lower class sizes in private schools are though. I find that the teacher tends to have a better handle on every student’s ability and can better suggest ways to keep my kids on track if needed.

    It’s not cheap, sure, but it’s worth it.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      I agree with you that teachers at private schools probably have a better handle on their own student’s strengths and weaknesses than public school teachers because of class sizes. However, I don’t think it’s something that can’t be overcome with a bit of oversight on our (the parents’) part.

      We are fortunate that I have flexible hours and my wife is a stay at home mom, so we feel confident that we can help keep our kids on track.

      • Paul says:

        I’ve noticed in New Zealand, and it probably is applicable to most countries, that the number of kids going to Private Schools have a disproportionate percentage who end up being anti social, petty, and not so petty, criminals etc. One has to wonder whether that is the schools fault, the parents fault, or a combination. Private school students tend to be so up themselves. Or they turn mental… in a bad way.

        Drug usage is also about double what you’d expect in a public school. That info was shared to me by a very senior member of the Police.

        • David@MoneyNing.com says:

          I’m not sure if it’s a private school issue, or that it’s the parents who tend to send their kids to a private school that’s the issue.

          I also don’t know if the statistics your police acquaintance shared with you are only in your local area or if it’s worldwide, but I don’t believe the private school system itself is to blame.

          Every parent has the responsibility to teach their kids into productive and kind citizens of the earth. Schools aren’t a substitute.

          • Paul says:

            My brother in law, who unfortunately now lives in Australia with his sons because he has dementia, frequently told me this as well. He was from the UK. He said Public Schools (which to the rest of the world are private schools – go figure coz I can’t) had enormous issues with students. Drugs. Prostitution, as in pimps. Anti-social activities. Theft. Violence. The list goes on and on and on. And this was back in the 1980’s. They have got so much more worse in the intervening years. And private schools there are segregated by sex. Boys only and Girls only. Sometimes I wonder whether that is part of the problem in the UK.

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