Parents are keenly aware of the importance of reading to their children, but what about incorporating number-sense into the family routine? With a positive attitude and an emphasis on math in our every day world, parents can get their kids off to a great start.
As a child advances in grade level, the whining about math is likely to increase while your confidence in being able to help him decreases. Patience and creativity are in order if parents want to stay positive. The truth is, learning math skills develops our ability to reason, think creatively and make good choices as we solve any kind of problem.
The best place to start is setting aside our own experiences with math – unless they are positive. When a parent relates nightmare stories about learning trigonometry or states “I’m not a math person,” they are reinforcing a negative attitude and give the impression that math is not important. Parents can reinforce math skills with a sense of fun and the natural incorporation into everyday events.
Hold two cookies in one hand and one cookie in the other, open your hands, then ask, “Do you want one cookie or two cookies?” As they say “two cookies!” you can answer, “Oh, you
want the hand with more cookies!” Do the same with longer or shorter, bigger or smaller. To help with the estimation of time, ask if they want to take a long walk or short walk? “Do you want 15 or 20 minutes of screen time?” Parents often unintentionally skew a child’s sense of the passage of time when they say, “We are leaving in five minutes” and then stay for 20.
But it’s hard!
Learning to walk is hard. Learning the rules of a game is hard. Kids don’t mind; they have a natural affinity for learning and growing and moving ahead. Just like learning to walk or throwing a football, we learn math in increments and will eventually master skills. If parents start with the basics and make math fun, the process will occur naturally.
Even before they can count, children can visually identify which is “more.” Make bar graphs of items around the house. Get a piece of graph paper with large squares (or make your own.) Make sure each item gets an equal space on the graph. If you are counting and graphing cereal, make sure each “krispie” and “O” gets it’s own box on the graph. Another creative opportunity to count and graph is to collect those annoying stickers on produce. Every time you peel off a sticker, stick it on a square of graph paper. Make different bars, such as apples, pears and bananas or any item that winds up in your cart. You can use the data you collect to plan on how much produce to buy on your next trip.
Out in the world
Our children may begin to ask why they need to learn math. Help them to see that we use mathematical skills every day. Even if you are using a calculator, you still need to decide which numbers to enter. Pull out your phone, find the
calculator app and let your kids do the work.
Give an upper elementary school student $10 (or another amount according to where you are eating out) and have him figure out all of the combinations on a menu he can afford. Always ask older students to check the bill for mistakes and calculate the tip. When you get home, calculate approximately how much the same meal would have cost if you made the meal at home.
Have your child clip coupons for items you usually purchase and calculate how much money you will save. Put that money in a jar to save up for a special family treat and watch how it all adds up.
Experiment in the grocery store aisle. Sometimes buying in bulk pays and sometimes it doesn’t! Pull out the calculator and figure out the cost per ounce for the 12-ounce jar of peanut butter versus the 36-ounce jar. Once kids get past basic mathematics and into more abstract concepts and processes, it will be more difficult to see how math applies to every day life. Parents may also struggle with this question. Start by really paying attention! Have you ever wondered what size pizza to buy? Which is the best deal? Just calculate the area of the circles and calculate the price per square inch so you can compare using geometry.
Get out the newspaper and different colored highlighters. Go through the whole paper and mark every time math is used, including graphs and tables, and see who can find the greater number of examples. The purpose of a newspaper is to communicate. Figure out why math can sometimes be the most effective and efficient way of communicating information.
The real reason
It is true. Many educated people with advanced degrees never directly use trigonometry or calculus in their job or home life. Why did they need to learn math in the first place? Using the “you need math to get a good job” argument often flies right past a reluctant teen who has dreams of being a professional football player, writer or fashion designer. Learning math for math’s sake does not cut it, but think of it this way: people generally do not lift weights, walk the treadmill or practice yoga because someday someone may stop them on the street and ask them to do “tree pose.” They do these things to be healthy and strong and better able to do the things they want to do. This thinking is applicable to learning math.
“Mathematics is food for the brain,” says math professor Dr. Arthur Benjamin. “It helps you think precisely, decisively, and creatively and helps you look at the world from multiple perspectives.”
While some people may be more wired for mathematics than others, the truth is people in general are not good at math because they are “smart.” They are “smart” because they practice and learn math. Enhancing concrete, spatial and logical reasoning, building math skills is exercise for our brains, allowing us to be able to make good choices and solve problems that do not even include numbers.
Jennifer VanBuren is educator and Georgetown mother of three. Jennifer uses math every day without fail.