As a teacher, no parent ever entered my room saying “I hate books.” But again and again, parents would share their hatred of math. When adults say they don’t like math, these feelings are often related to the way they were taught– through methods that emphasized getting the right answers through seemingly foreign algorithms rather than fostering true understanding.
When kids hear their parents talk negatively about math, they internalize those feelings, and when that happens, you run the risk of them adopting that same view point. They might even show signs of enjoying math, but it will end up feeling like a chore.
Let’s turn this cycle upside down and start to talk positively to our kids about math. Begin with the message that math helps to make sense of the world, not confuse it. Then try these tips to simultaneously build number sense and an appreciation for math:
Adjust Your Attitude
Begin by making yourself aware of how you talk about math. Stop negative talk about your math abilities and instead approach math with curiosity. If you had a bad experience learning math, this is your chance to learn and grow with your child. Model how to persevere when learning challenging content.
Play Counting Games
Engage kids in low-stakes math practice by playing counting games. For younger kids, this can be counting the number of noodles on their plates or comparing who has more/less books. For older kids, practice counting by twos, threes, or fours when playing with toys. When in the car or while your child is falling asleep, practice counting together. Find ways to work together with your child to have joyful experiences around numbers. As your child gets older, this routine can turn into practice solving addition or multiplication problems.
Make Real-World Connections
The first step towards encouraging a love of math is to simply talk about numbers. See numbers on home addresses? Talk about them. Find yourself doing math when comparing prices in the grocery store? Explain what you’re doing. The more kids can see math as being useful in everyday life, the more they will learn to appreciate it.
When talking about the math you encounter in the world, be sure to share how you solve math problems. Don’t be shy about sharing strategies that go against the traditional algorithms. For example, when adding 13 + 18, I think about how 13 + 17 = 30, then add 1 more. Thinking flexibly about numbers is the key to developing strong number sense. Show your child that there is not just one way to solve a math problem by talking through your thoughts out loud.
Math for Math’s Sake
Though it’s incredibly important to see the real-world value of math, I also think it’s important to appreciate the beauty of math. It may seem like a stretch if you consider yourself “math phobic”, but working with numbers can be a joyful experience. In my time working with kids on math problems, I’ve seen how solving equations and realizing how numbers fit together can be an extremely satisfying, even meditative, experience. Teach your child that math is not only useful, but that it can also be fun.
Whatever your personal feelings about math, try to create entertaining, math-filled experiences for your kids. When kids talk about numbers with their parents, they’re more likely to appreciate and feel confident in math.
Let’s kick fear of math to the curb!