When it comes to school subjects, math is probably the #1 nemesis for kids and adults alike. Parents assume they can’t teach their kids because they remember their own struggles with it. Children stress because of concepts they can barely grasp, missing out on the patterns found in math. Most have had math struggles at some point in their lives. No one likes it and everyone feels incompetent. It’s a lose-lose situation.
We all know it’s important, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the hassle. Math is everywhere, unavoidable. But can it ever be something enjoyable, or at least less stressful? The answer is yes, if we change the way we see it.
Knock Math Off Its Pedestal
It’s not fun because there’s a do-or-die mentality. Intelligence and long-term success tend to be linked to math prowess. The emphasis on SAT scores and college entrance exams only further elevates math into a force everyone must master (or at least know somewhat well).
Instead, view math as one of the many tools that can help us do what we need to do. Math concepts can be learned quickly when they are necessary for real life situations. They are more difficult to grasp when forced and seem inapplicable.
Changing The Way We Teach Math
Alan White, an elementary math specialist, said, “…the subject matter itself isn’t hard. What’s hard, virtually impossible, is beating it into the heads of youngsters who hate every step. The only way we have a ghost of a chance is to hammer away at the stuff bit by bit every day for years. Even then it does not work…..”
Math educator and curriculum designer Maria Droujkova believes there’s an underlying principle that could change how math is taught. She says, “The complexity of the idea and the difficulty of doing it are separate, independent dimensions. Unfortunately a lot of what little children are offered is simple but hard—primitive ideas that are hard for humans to implement.” Memory, attention, precision and other cognitive functions are taxed, making it difficult for children to comply.
1. Use It In Playtime
Older kids and adults use (or understand) higher-level math on a consistent basis. You’d be surprised by how prevalent Algebra, Calculus, Physics and even Trigonometry are in our day-to-day life. (Those links provide excellent and simple explanations.)
Most people still want a curriculum or guide, but it doesn’t have to turn into a tearful battle. Taking a few extra steps can help ease the situation.
2. Find Math In The Real World
Help them learn their curriculum by harnessing what they’re already interested in, or by finding ways to make it applicable to their life. They’ll be more eager to learn and their brains will file the information away in the “useful” box.
Watch for math to pop up naturally. Casual explanations can make more sense and be more fun because it’s not “school.” For example, my 7 year old son found a coupon and asked about the cost. That led to a conversation about percentages. In less than 15 minutes he had caught on to the basics and could tell me simple percentages when I asked him questions (“What’s 10% of 150?”). He was jumping on the trampoline saying, “This is fun! Ask me more!” Of course, it’s not always so obvious or easy, but opportunities are there if you look for them.
3. Learn With Your Kids
If you have a personal hatred for math, try to overcome it by diving back in. The concepts you struggled with years ago might come easily now. A renewed excitement could be contagious. Maybe you’ll find a better way to explain it to your kids, or feel more comfortable temporarily skipping it.
Regardless, learning alongside your child can reduce math struggles and be a great way to break through the hatred of math. Remember that the things a child struggles to understand or retain now will be easier in a few months…or years.
Life of Fred math – K-College level, taught through stories and life application.
Ray’s Arithmetic – Oral math program from the days of one-room school houses.
Saxon Math – a textbook approach to math for those who need the structure.
CLT Math – another online program that is better suited for younger ages.
If you have busy boys here are some ideas to save your sanity.
Basically, relax. Look for the ways your kids already use math, be willing to learn it, and talk about it as it comes up naturally. Math can be fun again.