Does your child believe he’s just not good at math? We’re not born good or bad at math. Learn the techniques to teach your child to love math and numbers.
In high school, I got a C- in Chemistry and Calculus. The odd part? I was in honors classes and getting As on other subjects. But I had convinced myself I wasn’t a math person and accepted my fate.
It didn’t improve in college. The “I’m not a Math person” label was so strong, I didn’t even try to score well during freshman orientation placement. I figured I was destined to be in beginning math—no point in trying to prove otherwise.
Maybe it’s because I enjoyed art growing up or because I majored in Graphic Design. Somehow, I convinced myself I was more of a words and art person than a math one.
I don’t want my kids to fall for that trap. I don’t want setbacks in any subject to label them moving forward. Struggling in math, English, PE or any subject doesn’t mean they’re not cut out for it forever.
6 techniques to teach your child to love math
I’ve found ways to make math exciting for my kids. Last year, my kindergartener’s teacher gave us a handout by Jo Boaler, a math educator. Below is what I learned about encouraging kids to love math.
1. Play math puzzles and games
Most of us assume math is all numbers. You might think of math games as flashcards of 2+5 or pictures of 10 ducks in a row.
But math is more than just numbers. Think spaces, amounts, logic. Playing math games with your child encourages skills to make sense of these concepts. And presenting math as games makes it that much more fun.
Below are a few math games to check out:
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2. Focus on logic, not right or wrong
Do you find that when you check your child’s work, you focus on the wrong answers more than anything? This seems to make sense, especially when you want her to improve and learn from her mistakes.
But only correcting mistakes focuses on having right answers. And sure, a great test score is fantastic. But that can only came from tons of practice and focusing on logic.
In fact, when my son breezes through a worksheet and gets all the answers right, I apologize. I say sorry for wasting his time and promise to find something more challenging.
We’re not aiming for perfection. Instead, shift your focus to logic instead. Be more interested in how she got her answer than showing her the correct one.
It almost doesn’t matter at this point whether the answer is right or wrong. Try instead to get your child to come up with one or two strategies to get the answer. Explain your own strategy without focusing on who got it right.
3. Math isn’t about speed
We’ve heard of math savants and geniuses who can calculate crazy problems in their heads. Glamorous, but unlikely. For the rest of us, especially our kids, it’s not about speed.
We shouldn’t praise speed as if it’s a skill we want them to learn. Mastering logic is more important than speeding through problems. Don’t force your child to finish a worksheet or problem within a set time. This only makes her more anxious.
If you do have to work against time, have her solve as many problems as she can within that time frame. If she needs to finish it all that day (such as homework), then carve out more time in your day so she can.
Just as a writer can take a long time to craft words, so too should your child play with math and logic.
4. Don’t admit you did poorly in math
My kids won’t hear how I had scored a C- in high school math. They won’t even know (at least from me) that some people think they’re a “math person” or not.
Admitting you did poorly in math already defines a person—incorrectly—as someone who doesn’t get numbers. Doing so convinces your child that she might also be innately terrible with numbers.
There’s no such thing as a math person. Instead, there’s a person who put effort into math and excelled. Anyone who has done poorly in math in the past can master and love it with enough effort and perseverance.
Don’t let your child think she’s destined for one way or another.
5. Use number sense, not memorization or tricks
Memorization and tricks like “carrying over” get the problem solved. But kids don’t learn number sense or the logic behind it. It’s inflexible.
So, what’s a typical number sense? Let’s say you told me to add 17 + 25. Using math tricks would mean adding the 7 and the 5, then carrying over 1. It’s a trick and doesn’t use logic.
Instead, one way to add 17 + 25 is to round up to the nearest 10s. I would take 3 from 25 and add it to my 17. Now I’m now adding 20 + 22, which is much easier to add in my head.
Play this game with your kids using props, games or drawings. Don’t force this strategy on them if they’re not ready. But explain your reasoning and how it’s one way to get to the answer. And explore several ways to add numbers instead of sticking to just one.
6. Encourage a growth mindset
Some kids believe they’re innately good at something. That they’re born with the skill to play golf, or play piano, or understand math.
This “fixed mindset” (coined by Carol Dweck from her book, Mindset) can hold a child back from trying hard or making mistakes. She’s afraid of falling short of her “smart” label and will protect it even if it means not challenging herself.
Instead, encourage a growth mindset. No one is born being good at math. Even math geniuses wouldn’t achieve all they do if they didn’t try. Just as we exercise our physical muscles, so too can we grow our brains through effort.
How can you encourage a growth mindset?
- Don’t call your child “smart.” This makes her think she’s born that way. Over praising can hold her back from reaching her potential. And don’t praise speed or perfection, either. Those aren’t skills that will nurture a love of math.
- Praise learning and effort instead. Focus on the effort it took your child to get to where she is. Praise her for not giving up, for trying a new strategy, and for her interest in math. These are valuable traits worthy of praise.
- If your child says it’s hard, tell her that her brain is working. Hard work is difficult and awkward, yes. But we shouldn’t avoid it. Instead, look at it as an indicator of her brain hard at work and growing.
Your child isn’t destined to hate or love math. Focus on important things like strategy and logic over speed and memorization. Play fun math games to emphasize that math is more than just numbers. Don’t admit that you did poorly in math or that you don’t like math.
And talk about the growth mindset and how anyone can be good at math through effort and hard work. After all, a person who got C-s in high school can learn to love numbers and finance later in life.
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- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- How to Teach Our Kids to Embrace Mistakes
- How to Create a Math Rich Environment at Home
- What Every Kindergartener Should Know before the Year Ends
- How to Raise a Smart Child
Tell me in the comments: What are your top techniques to teach your child to love math? What are your favorite math strategies for parents to use at home?
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