If you, as a parent, have difficulty with math, you’re not alone. The U.S. ranks behind 38 other countries when it comes to math skills. A national survey found that 82 percent of adults couldn’t calculate the cost of carpeting when given its dimensions and price per square yard. (If you’re curious, it’s length times width in feet, which gives the square footage, divided by 9—which is the number of square yards—times the price per square yard.)
Arguably, math is one of the most important subjects children learn in school. Unfortunately, because learning new math skills often requires mastery of previously learned skills, those who fall behind early on will probably stay behind for the duration of their academic years.
Children and adults often use the excuse that it’s possible to go through one’s entire life without ever needing to know algebra or geometry. That sounds reasonable, but it’s not true if you consider the above example of figuring the price of carpeting. Of course, there’s someone who will figure it out for you. Or, if you work in a store, what’s the point in learning how to make change when the register will do it for you?
The real purpose of math, however, isn’t for buying carpet or giving out change; according to Big Think, math, “is a way to speak and manipulate the world in a logic- and reason-based system.” So when students learn to solve story problems—“Two trains leave different stations at the same time…”—it’s not about the trains; it’s about looking at the world in a logical, orderly way.
Many children are prevented from learning math due to math anxiety, which is defined as a negative emotional reaction to math. Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist at the University of Chicago and president of Barnard College, says that math anxiety starts young and may last a lifetime. Beilock’s research shows that 50 percent of students in first and second grade say that math makes them anxious. That anxiety causes poor performance on math tests, which creates more anxiety, escalating as the years pass.
Math anxiety is not imaginary. Stanford professor Vinod Menon, who co-authored The Neurodevelopmental Basis of Math Anxiety, says the part of the brain stimulated by math anxiety is the same part “that responds to fearful situations, such as seeing a spider or snake.” Plus, children who experience other difficulties—organizational, language, attention, visual, spatial or ordering difficulties—will find those difficulties transferring to issues related to their math skills.
What can parents do to start kids off right in learning math, and how can older kids shake their math anxiety? Great Schools has the following seven tips to not only take the fear out of math, but to get kids excited by it:
- Set an Example – Math anxiety can be contagious, and many children contract it when they hear their parents talk about their own dislike for math. Parents should try to not make disparaging or negative comments about math. Instead, help children see the pervasiveness of math by pointing out how math is used in various fields such as architecture, medicine, fashion design, restaurant management, and computer programming.
- Help Your Child Use Math Every Day – Show children how math is used in everyday situations. In the grocery store, ask them to figure out the price of four cans of tuna fish. In the car, ask how long it will take to travel to your destination based on your speed. In the toy store, ask your student to calculate the price of a discounted toy and how long it will take to save up their allowance to buy it.
- Familiarize Yourself With Learning Standards – Parents should know what skills are being taught in each grade. The more parents know about what students should be learning, the easier it will be to complement those skills with activities at home.
- Monitor Math Homework – Does your student’s math homework involve only memorized items, or does your child’s teacher include more creative problems that test your student’s understanding of mathematical concepts? Talk to your child’s teacher and learn which techniques will be used to help students become more comfortable with math.
- Pay Attention to Details – Set aside time in a quiet place for daily math homework assignments. Be certain your student shows all their work when solving equations and have them explain to you the path they took at reaching each answer.
- Play Math Games at Home – Many common games involve math. Start in the early elementary years by playing games such as dominoes, cribbage, Set, Monopoly, and Yahtzee. Older kids can be taught backgammon, chess and go. .
- Read Books Which Incorporate Math Into the Story – As schools try to make connections between subjects, parents can help at home by reading books in which the main character solves a problem or uses math or logic. Great Schools suggests 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.
Business Insider has other ideas such as giving kids music lessons or learning Origami.
Getting kids excited about math will benefit them, not only throughout their academic careers, but throughout their lives, as they easily solve problems that have the rest of us stymied.
So … if you were charged $27 for this blog, and you were so incredibly pleased with the information it contained that you want to leave the author a 26-percent tip, what would the total be? (Round up or down to the nearest dollar.)
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