As a parent, you know the importance of math.
You use math every moment of the day: to tell time, to pay for gas, to gauge your health, to determine how much paint you need to cover a room, to try on clothes, and to cook, just to name a few. Yet if you’re like most Americans, you also loathe math.
Consider the following surveys.:
Would you rather do math homework or eat broccoli?
- 56% of middle school students chose broccoli (Source: Education Week)
Would you rather clean the bathroom or solve a math problem?
- 30% of adults said clean the bathroom! (Source: Change the Equation)
Although rocket science requires math, getting your child to be a math whiz is not rocket science.
But you have to start early.
Here’s a little secret: There’s no such thing as a “math person.”
There’s no such thing as a "math person," just as there’s no such thing as a “reading person.” No one ever brags, “I’m not very good at reading.” While people often boast, “I’m not very good at math.” In reality, both are basic skills that everyone should and can master. Your child has already started to use math (recognizing the round ball, requesting two more cookies, or knowing she’s five years old).
Here’s how to build on that foundation.
1. Practice makes perfect (and reduces math anxiety)
The more your child practices math, the better he or she will get at math. It’s that simple. Practice at home doesn’t mean endless drills of flashcards and worksheets. In fact, too much emphasis on these tools can have the opposite effect: make your child hate math.
Instead, help your child embrace math, by finding ways to integrate it into his or her everyday activities. Designate your child the banker or scorekeeper during card and board games so that he or she handles all calculations. Invite your child into the kitchen to measure and pour all the ingredients when making his favorite treats. Should we make them square instead of round? How many are in the batch? How many would there have been if she had not eaten three of them? Ask your child to divide the batch in half to place in the freezer for later.
Another fun activity is to let your child set up a store on the stairs or in a hallway. Allow your child to “stock” the store by gathering and pricing the items (inventory). Other family members or your child’s friends can then visit the store and buy things. Your child will calculate the total and make change. You can also reverse the game. You become the storekeeper and give your child a set amount to spend. Younger children can use pennies as denominations. Older children can use dollars and cents and even add tax if you want. There are countless ways to nurture your child’s math passion and confidence.
2. The race is not to the swiftest.
Yes. Think about it. The worst thing that we do to our children is stand over them and say “what’s 3x4? Quick! Hurry!” We shouldn’t treat math like it’s Jeopardy! or the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Again, requiring arbitrary speed, particularly with young children, just creates more anxiety around math. The reason for the focus on speed in school is for standardized testing, not because of any correlation between speed and math ability.
So don’t freak out when your child uses his fingers or writes out the problem instead of “doing it in her head.” Your child will find that as one enters into advanced math courses in college, showing the work is just as crucial as the right answer.
3. Be wary of math and science anxiety.
Math and science anxiety is a documented phobia that is uniquely American. It’s a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math (or science) performance.
The bad news is that it’s contagious. Children “learn” math anxiety from the adults around them, and it can nag them throughout their life, limiting the courses they take and even their career options. You or any other adult with whom your child interacts—teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles—can pass it on to your child.
The good news is that a person with math anxiety can actually be good at math. It’s a phobia, meaning it’s not grounded in fact or ability. It, too, can be overcome by practice.
The secret formula in a nutshell.
- Get your child comfortable with math by presenting opportunities for him or her to use it on a regular basis in practical situations without pressure or speed requirements.
- Make doing math normal. If you have math anxiety, be conscious of visual cues such as pausing or frowning when it’s time to do a math problem such as calculating the discount price of a sale item or balancing a checkbook. You’ll also want to alert adults with whom your child interacts regularly about the contagion of math and science anxiety to reduce the likelihood that it will be passed on to your child.
- And by all means, avoid negative statements such as “I was never good at math,” “I hate math,” or “math is hard.”
What other strategies seem to be working for your child at home or at school? Share your tips below, and let’s keep this conversation going.