5 ways to get kids pumped about this crucial subject
Many of us grew up hating math class or believing we aren’t good at math. And we may subconsciously be passing our biases to our children.
Math skills are required to function in today’s world, and encouraging a love of math and building your child’s math muscles at all ages can only help them better navigate their everyday lives.
So the big question is: how do we get kids excited about math? First, start young.
Dr. Jo Boaler offers advice to parents and teachers in her book, What’s Math Got to Do With It? How parents and Teachers Can Help Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject.
She said math is a skill that requires a lot of brain power. Children experience this as “hard work.” One of the keys to ensuring a love of math is to make sure you start introducing mathematical concepts at a young age.
Things that appear obvious to most adults often fascinate young children. Counting, sorting, puzzles and pattern recognition all inspire a child to become mathematically curious.
“I believe we are all born with a certain curiosity towards mathematical concepts and ideas,” said Dr. Joseph Khoury, professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Ottawa.
“Exposing your child at an early age to games involving numbers, counting and logic can make a big difference in making your child become more mathematically inspired and increasing his or her chances to succeed in math.”
Boaler said children begin to understand the idea of numbers around the age of three and parents should expose them to simple math activities, including:
- Building blocks, interlocking cubes, jigsaw puzzles,Rubik’s cubes to help develop spatial reasoning. Anything that involves moving, rotating, or fitting
- Exploring patterns in nature
- Reading counting books or singing songs like 10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
- Recognizing and sorting shapes
- Learning simple addition
As your children get older, be systematic about exposing them to math on a daily basis. Here are five strategies to help make math less daunting for your children.
Don’t let personal bias make a monster out of math
If you hate/hated math, be careful you don’t communicate that attitude to your child. Demonstrate confidence when completing tasks like
counting money, balancing your chequebook, and completing your tax return. Point out the importance of math in different professions, including computer programming, architecture, medicine, graphic design, and accounting.
Make computers your ally
Like it or not, our children are growing up with technology. They enjoy almost anything more when it involves a computer. Games like Minecraft allow children to explore math concepts and learn through play. Kids get to try their own ideas to see if they work. They learn by doing. They are solving multi-step problems, thinking several steps ahead, and having fun. There are also many educational apps and math podcasts created especially for kids.
Bring math to life
Nigel Nisbet was teaching at an inner-city school with very poor academic scores, particularly in math. In his TEDx Talk, The Geometry of Chocolate, he talks about how he was teaching the kids the same way he’d been taught. “I wrote on the board, walked through the exercises, then asked the kids to solve the problems in the book. I was telling them how math works instead of letting them learn by doing the math.”
Inspired while on a trip to the grocery store, Nisbet decided he would relate math to their daily lives. He would attempt to make the link and show them that learning math is essential.
He purchased a bunch of candy and created a new type of math lesson to challenge students to figure out why a manufacturer would choose to produce a triangular prism-shaped chocolate bar. Nisbet didn’t offer solutions. The students came up with them on their own, learning that math is more than just numbers.
“Math is the language used to describe the world around us,” he said. After his initial success, he developed a series of lessons using other hands-on problems with real-world applications.
Khoury reinforced this point. “Students must actively do mathematics in order to learn mathematics. The goal is to keep them engaged and to constantly be questioning and challenging their own understanding of the subject.”
Point out real math problems to your child as you go through your day: money, measurement, time, checking and comparing prices, doubling a recipe, estimating a total bill, including taxes, before checking out.
Games teach math
Dominoes, chess, cribbage, checkers, Yahtzee, backgammon, and Sudoku are examples of fun math games that cultivate strong logic and critical thinking skills, which are an important part of solving real-life math problems.
Let books help
Read books with mathematical themes like Big Fat Hen by K. Baker (number comparison, object grouping, addition, and subtraction), How Many Bugs in a Box by D.A. Carter (measurements), and Mrs. McTats and her Houseful of Cats by A. Capucilli (multiples).
Or introduce books in which the main characters solve a problem using math or logic, like One Hundred Angry Ants by Ellinor J. Pinczes, The King›s Commissioners by Aileen Friedman and Socrates and the Three Little Pigs by Tuyosi Mori. You’ll not only be encouraging math skills development, but hopefully a love of reading too.
There’s no one-size fits all approach to fostering a love of math. Try incorporating some of these strategies to increase your child’s skills and confidence in working with mathematical concepts. Make math part of your daily routine and support and encourage your child’s curiosity. Before you know it, you and your child will be excited about math.
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