Making kids love math is a challenge to most parents. Math is a skill that takes a lot of brain power to master, and this can be experienced by kids as hard work. A University of Chicago and Western University 2012 study even shows that for some people, doing math is similar to experiencing physical pain. Also, parents tend to tell their kids that “math is hard”, as they relive their own experience as kids struggling with formulas, exponents and equations. Consequently, kids pick up this attitude and live their lives believing that math is a horrible monster that they have to face in their academic lives.
Yet being skillful, or at least, competent in math is necessary to survive in modern life. We use math to figure out personal finances, construction projects, as well as doing everyday chores such as cooking and shopping. Engineering, high technology, finance and other in-demand careers require above average math skills. Even non-math careers require that employees have sharp analytic and reasoning skills – skills that are acquired when brains are trained in math.
Many studies suggest that early math training in kids give big benefits. It create changes to the kids’ brains so that the kids become adept at problem solving. The kids’ brains are primed for learning advanced math concepts. Also, a 2007 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology reveals that math skill at kindergarten is a stronger predictor of later school achievement than reading skills or the ability to pay attention.
The kids’ first teachers, the parents, play an important role in kids’ attitude to math. According to Susan C. Levine, a professor of psychology and comparative human development at the University of Chicago, parents who engage in “math talk” provide their kid with a solid math foundation for later math achievement. Those who explain to their kids about numbers and spatial relationships by way of gestures and words tend to instill better math skills at age 4.
Since kids are more receptive to learning when it is associated more with play than with work, it is a good idea for parents to expose kids to math in fun ways. The challenge to parents is to figure out ways on how to create simple interactions and early learning activities to serve as foundation for their kids to enjoy math.
Making math enjoyable help kids grow to associate math with fun, pleasure and parental love and attention. Instead of being afraid, the kids will be excited about the subject throughout their school years. The secret to successful math education is to make it so much fun that children don't even realize they are learning something that will help them later in life.
Here are some tips for you, the parent, to make math fun for your child:
- Start your child young – You can begin teaching your child math concepts as early as his toddler stage. The toddler stage is the best time to introduce your child to math games as play because his brain is developmentally ready for it. Importantly, anything that you do with your toddler is fun for him. Below are basic mathematical concepts that you can help your young child learn through play:
- Patterns – Pattern is important in math and science because the ability to discover and recognize patterns help us understand how our world works in logical and predictable ways. You can jump start your baby in experiencing patterns through fun games such as patty-cake, peek-a-boo, singing, dancing, touching of the nose and toes, and feeling different textures.
- Sequence - Sequence is the organization and order of successive events and experiences. Recognizing sequences helps your child develop a sense of order, logic, and reason. An example of a play activity with your child that involves sequencing is playing with building blocks in a step-by-step way with a goal in mind, such as building a tall block tower. Reading to your child with emphasis on how the story logically unfolds builds a mind-set for rational and logical thinking.
- Seriation – Seriation is a math concept that involves ordering things in a logical way, in other words, making them a series. Play with your kid using toys that can be manipulated, such as different sized stacking rings or blocks. Explore nesting them together. Do this in creative ways such as telling stories about the seriated sizes of the toys.
- Spatial relationships – This concept involves making your baby aware of her physical self and her relation with the world. It lays the foundation for more math concepts involving directionality. Games that teach spatial relationships include navigating through a play tunnel, and climbing on structures. For your older kid, playing with jigsaw puzzles, Rubik's cubes, and anything else that involves moving, rotating, or fitting objects together teach this concept. Doing puzzles together or using gestures to help describe spatial relationships such as "taller" and "shorter," can instill spatial abilities in your child.
- Sorting – This is when things with similar attributes are grouped together. Play with your toddler by sorting different toys.
- Comparing – Here, your child identifies and examine specific properties of different objects or ideas and then make judgments about how they are similar or different. Play with your child games that involve comparing objects’ size, number or properties. With your older kid, you can compare ideas with him, such as dark vs. bright, apple vs. carrot, etc.
- One-to-one correspondence - This is relating one item to another one item, and is the foundation of counting. You can play with your child a game that involves associating, giving out, or partnering one object to another object like each of his toy (“This one block is for this toy, one for this toy , one for this toy, etc.”) . Soon (at about age 3) your child learns to relate the concept of one-to-one correspondence to rational counting, which involves keeping track while reciting a stable order of numerals to their one-to-one count.
- Make math a game – Make your child consider math not as work but as a game that can be played like computer games, sports or fun board games. Use digital games, apps and numerous websites as resources for making math a game. There are numerous activity books that make math fun, as well as websites where you can download fun, early learning printables. See a list of free math websites here. Non-digital games are also fun. Encourage your child to play card and board games that involve calculations (For example, Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly). A 2009 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Maryland found that preschoolers who played Chutes and Ladders improve math skills significantly compared to those in the study who played a different board game or did non-math tasks.
- Integrate math into fun activities – Find out what games or activities your child enjoy, and integrate math into it. If your child loves to bake or cook with you, for example, you can have your child measure ingredients in wholes or in parts, or count and estimate objects such as number of chocolate chips. One way to integrate subtraction problem, for example, is to ask your child, “We need to put five eggs, we already placed two eggs, how many more eggs do we need?” In road trips, you can play math games. You can ask travel math problems such as “If the GPS says we will arrive at 5:30 and it is 5:13, how many more minutes before we reach the destination?” or “If we are traveling 60 miles per hour, and our destination is 120 miles, how long before we reach the destination?”
- Make math real and meaningful – We are surrounded by real math problems in the form of money, measurement, time and others. Point this out to your child as you go with him through life. This includes checking and comparing prices at the grocery store, driving down the street counting mailboxes, reading recipes, calculating coupons, or even measuring food or drink at the dinner table. Encourage your child to solve real-life problems outside of school. For example, in the toy store, ask her to calculate the price of a discounted toy and how long it will take to save up her allowance to buy it. For more ideas, download a copy of of Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics, which has dozens of activities for parents of elementary school students.
- Encourage “mental math” so that your child learns to appreciate “number sense,” which is defined by the University of North Carolina’s School of Education as “an intuitive understanding of numbers, their relationships, and how they are affected by operations.” Children with strong number sense are better problem solvers; they can approach solving a problem in different ways, identify errors in their work when they occur, and be more confident and interested in math because they understand that math is more than just a series of operations to be followed. Teach "mental math" as a game.
- Give a reward when your child masters math skills like counting, doing addition or multiplication. The reward does not have to be expensive. It could be a special dessert or an extra hour watching TV. Make sure rewards are attached to a specific goal or accomplishment and not used inconsistently or inappropriately.
- Make math a fun competition – You can play math games with a group of kids of similar ages, making a quiz show with points given to the kid who is first to say the correct answer to a math problem. The overall winner can win a prize such as a toy or a chocolate.
- Read books with mathematical themes to your child such as Big Fat Hen by K. Baker (A hen lays eggs in quantities that increase by two, up to a total of ten. This book features number comparison, object grouping, addition, and subtraction.), How Many Bugs in a Box by D.A. Carter (a book about measurements), and A. Capucilli’s Mrs. McTats and her Houseful of Cats (Mrs. McTats welcomes cats into her home, often in multiples, until she has a total of 25. Using good math vocabulary, this book encourages young children to think about adding more than one item at a time.) More list of books here: http://www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/MathbookslistSchickedanzexcerpt.pdf . See also the benefits of reading books to children.
Importantly, never say negative math sentiments such as “Math is hard” or “You’re like me, I’m not good in math” to your kid. Avoid unconsciously impressing on your child that he should fear math and that it’s the hardest school subject to master . You should show the attitude that learning math is a natural thing, and in fact, can be fun.
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