For many children, learning math can be a frustrating and difficult process. As a result, some may try to separate themselves from the subject as much as possible in their day-to-day lives. This can make learning and retaining math concepts in school a struggle, and can take all the enjoyment out of a skill that has many practical, real-world uses.
Luckily, if you’re a parent who wants to help your child better understand math, there are several different ways to make the subject more accessible. The more you combine math with things your child loves, such as games or sports, the more relatable and enjoyable it becomes. And it doesn’t have to be hard! In fact, here are five different ways you can help your children get better acquainted with this seemingly foreign language.
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This is a guest post from Tiffany Young at HeyTutor.
Make Your Home a Math-Rich Environment
Children of every age find it easier to connect with the relevance of math when it is part of their everyday environments. When they can see, touch, and play with mathematical ideas at home, classroom activities will make much more sense and won’t seem quite as intimidating.
The first things we might think of are counting books on the bookshelf, counting mats on the wall, and times tables posters on the back of the bathroom door.
While these resources can be helpful for reinforcement, children first need to develop a strong concept of what these numbers actually represent. We refer to this as “number sense,” and according to research from Stanford University, this is the foundation of all learning in math.
How to Develop Number Sense at Home
Children develop a good grasp of number sense when it is connected to something real, like weights, lengths, time, quantities of cooking ingredients, the number of people, and so on. To encourage your child to start counting and measuring at home, make the following tools accessible:
- Rulers, measuring tapes, pedometers, and family height charts
- Kitchen and bathroom scales
- Clocks (digital and analog), stopwatches, calendars, and timetables
- Measuring cups, spoons, and containers
You can also give them toys and games that provide visual pictures of math, including:
- An abacus
- Sticker charts
- Playing cards
- Building blocks
- Connecting shapes (such as Magnatiles or Geometiles)
- Dot flashcards and puzzles
Once you have created a math-rich environment with everyday items, some magnetic numbers on the fridge or a colorful counting poster on the wall will be the icing on the cake!
Talk about Math in Your Everyday Activities
If your child is surrounded by math and measuring tools, it will become much easier to make mathematical learning part of everyday life. How do you connect their toys with learning? By talking about it and asking questions.
Children who are still learning to count can benefit from counting anything and everything in their environment. You can ask them to find out how many steps from the house to the park, how many stairs to reach the top of the staircase, how many blocks they have of each color and shape in their building-block collection, and so on.
Measuring with Height Charts
The family height chart is an easy starting point for talking about lengths, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
You can use this visual tool to discuss with your child:
- How much they have grown in the past year
- How much taller/shorter they are than other family members
- How many times taller they are now than when they were a baby
Fractions with Food
When cooking together, talk about fractions of pounds, ounces, and pints.
When baking something round like a pizza or cake, calculate the fractions of the finished slices and enjoy the result!
Focus on Problem-Solving Strategies
When it comes time to solve equations or word problems, help your child focus on the strategies rather than the answers.
It is helpful to emphasize that there are many different ways to solve a problem, as this encourages the child to really understand what they are doing rather than focusing only on the memorization of answers.
To help with this understanding, you can help your child draw a picture of the problem.
For example, for the problem 5+7, your child could draw this as one row of 5 in one color and another row of 5 with a “partial” row of 2 underneath in another color.
Alternatively, they could start with a row of 5 in one color and add the 7 in another color, completing the row of 10 and continuing onto the next line with the 2 over.
The more they arrange numbers in rows of 5 (for smaller numbers) and rows of 10 (for larger numbers), the more quickly they will be able to recognize numbers as combinations 10s and 1s (and later adding in 100s, 0.1s, and so on).
Once your child is ready to use mental strategies, they might suggest these two main strategies for solving 5+7:
- 5 plus 5 is 10, plus two more equals 12
- 5 plus 10 is 15, minus three equals 12
Encourage a “Growth Mindset”
When children start to realize that they have the tools they need to solve each problem, the fear of “getting it wrong” starts to disappear.
Praise your child for their effort and strategies in solving the problem rather than rewarding them for pages of correct sums.
This will boost their confidence and encourage them to keep attempting harder problems. There are even specific math tasks that promote a growth mindset – seek those out to empower your little learner.
Have a Homework Routine
In addition to the spontaneous, everyday math conversations, it’s helpful to set aside a time for math every day and have a dedicated place where this happens.
It could be a desk or on the couch, or even in the car. In your daily “math spot,” your child can explain their math homework to you, do some work with flashcards, or you can take turns giving each other written and verbal problems to solve.
Their teacher will be able to tell you what they are learning in math and which aspects need more practice at home. There are lots of cheap and free math resources that your child can print out or use online, such as these Pre-K Math Activities and Corbett Maths.
The publishing company of your child’s math textbook might also have activities on their website that you can use.
Seek Outside Support
If you have done all you can and your child is still struggling with math, it may be time to get additional help.
Start by speaking with your child’s teacher about their strengths and weaknesses, and consider hiring a 1-on-1 tutor to work on the areas that need strengthening.
Related: How to Find a Math Tutor for Your Child
You might even like to take a math class yourself to learn the current teaching methods and refresh your skills.
Above all, make math an activity that your child enjoys and have fun learning together!
Tiffany Young is a freelance writer, content strategist, and former graduate assistant. She frequently writes about the latest developments in teaching, public policy, testing, and educational technology for sites like HeyTutor.
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