I hate math. I have always hated math. I manage to do enough to figure out my bank balance and calculate how to cut a recipe in half, but the finer points of advanced math remain beyond my grasp. When it came to the sciences that required some tricky math, I managed to memorize my way through, but I am the first to admit that abstract mathematical thinking is not my strong suit.
Having lived without this skill for my whole life, what’s the problem with the attitude conveyed in my first sentence? The problem is that such an assertion from parents could well sour the thinking of the kids around us. Researchers say that even mathphobic parents can raise kids who enjoy and excel in math, but that requires stopping the negative talk about math and mixing math games, questions, and observations into daily life, in the same way that they do reading and spelling.
Current research continues to indicate the importance of math to children’s success. A recent study indicates that math skills when children enter kindergarten are even stronger predictors of later school success than reading skills or even the ability to pay attention. And yet the most recent results in international student assessment show that American students continue to lag behind global peers, performing below average when compared with children in more than thirty other
So, besides avoiding the negative personal attitudes about math, there are many simple things that parents can do in the early years to foster understanding about numbers and spatial relationships. Very young children can learn to recite number by rote. Many a four-year-old can rattle off a string of numbers all the way up to fifty, but is flummoxed when asked to put a cookie for each of her friends on the plate. Table setting helps with this one-to-one correspondence, needing a plate, fork, and knife for each member of the family.
Helping children make connections between numbers and sets of objects—like giving five Cheerios for the number five—is far more meaningful in establishing math concepts. (How about saving an egg carton, marking a different numeral in each of the cups, and asking your youngster to put the corresponding number of Cheerios in each cup? That’s a fun, math-rich snack!)
Simple block-building games, encouraging children to replicate your stack of blocks, can teach spatial skills. Learning spatial relationships (like bigger and smaller or light and heavy) is linked to math skills. Think about all the items in your kitchen cabinets that could support this kind of learning play, like nesting measuring cups or lining up different sizes of packages.
Help your kids find the patterns that are embedded in picture books, like the red-stripe, green-stripe, bluestripe on the snake. Patterns are basic to math concepts. Make a game of finding geometric shapes around the house or when out in the car.
Here’s a fun outdoor game full of math. Draw a number line with chalk on the sidewalk and ask your child to hop to the number 4, and then to hop to the number that is two more, and then to the one that is three less, and so on.
Before long, you’ll forget that you hate math, and your youngster will be well on the way to math proficiency!
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