Parents vs. Math: Volume 1 – Don’t Let Your Kid Stink at Math
Delia comes home from school with a backpack full of homework to tackle. She takes out her writing assignment and completes it furiously. She loves to write. She puts it neatly in her binder then grabs her social studies assignment, studying for the end of chapter assessment. She spends about twenty minutes quizzing herself and realizes she has one more assignment: math. She saved the worst for last. She looks over the homework and feels instantly frustrated before she even begins. She goes to find her father and asks for help. He looks it over and doesn’t know what to do.
The scene may be similar in your home. Math anxiety has taken hold of our students across the nation. Young adults begin to place themselves into one of two categories; the “I am good at math” people or the “I am not good at math” people. It’s an epidemic stirred up further by standards upgrades and high stakes testing. But there is hope.
Articles have been written about how parents can lessen the math anxiety our children have. Children do not have to be raised to be another generation that stinks at math. But what can we do?
First, we have to listen. Ask your child to explain his thinking so that you can understanding where the misconceptions are. Don’t rush to tell them they are wrong but rather help find their errors and correct them. This includes communicating your own thinking. Since we all use math on a daily basis at home and work, explain the math you do out loud for your child, including the errors, so that they understand the process as well as its usefulness in real life.
Understanding mathematics is the underlying theme of the recent standards revisions including the Common Core. Applying math to real life situations and representing those situations in pictures gives meaning to the concepts. Memorizing facts and algorithms don’t allow children to make sense of the mathematics. Allowing for your child to use a picture of a two by three array to solve 2 x 3 does not mean they will be relying on this strategy for a lifetime. It is the first steps in a deeper connection to the math.
And finally, don’t be afraid to introduce your children to challenging concepts. This isn’t to say that a typical six year old will be ready for calculus, but kids are ready for more than we think they are. For example, kindergarteners can begin “decomposing” numbers to ten at a young age and are ready for vocabulary, like quadrilateral, typically reserved for upper elementary students.
How can you start today? Begin by asking your children how they solved a problem rather than tell you the answer. Ask your child to help you solve day-to-day problems involving time, money, and calculations. And don’t forget to show them that you are a “good at math” person!
Hollie Hartford-Karaban lives in New Jersey, the lovely Garden State. She is a life-long learner who enjoys solving problems and helping her three children with their homework. She has two masters in education from the University of Pennsylvania and hopes someday to get two more!