If your child frets about doing math homework or spends too much time staring at math problems without being able to process the work, he or she may be math anxious. “Once a child has math anxiety, a parent may need to work closely with the classroom math teacher, a math tutor, and perhaps a therapist to get past the problem,” states Karen Asofsky, a former middle school teacher and now a math tutor, who has carefully researched math anxiety and has seen it up close. But, Asofsky feels that it is far better to instill a love for math in children at a young age to circumvent children from becoming math anxious in the first place. The more parents expose kids to math in a fun, nonthreatening way, the less likely they are to develop a desire to avoid math or become anxious about it. When doing math is simply part of everyday activities, it becomes second nature, and that, in turn, nurtures a student’s appreciation for the subject. This simple habit can prevent math avoidance and anxiety provoked meltdowns.
So what is a savvy parent to do to develop a natural appreciation and fascination with math?
Here are some of Asofsky’s ideas to pull math into daily routines:
If your child loves to help you bake, then measure out ingredients together…but don’t stop there. If you are adding 1 cup flour, ½ cup baking soda and ¼ cup sugar, ask your child to guess the total amount of dry ingredients being placed into the bowl. If he or she is unsure of the process to figure it out, this is a teachable moment. You can draw out the solution with colored pencils, take out paper and pencil and get common denominators the old fashioned way or show the addition of dry ingredients by literally pouring each one into a glass measuring bowl, observing/discussing the “sum” of the ingredients. The best thing to do is to show a concept many different ways to maximize understanding.
Another idea is to show a child an interesting sequence, such as this Fibonacci Sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21… and then just ask your child what pattern he or she notices. (In each case, the previous two numbers sum to the next number.) By having the student mull over the sequence without telling the child the connection between the numbers, you are supercharging all-important critical thinking skills and making problem solving a game. Then, if you and your child do a bit of research on the Fibonacci Sequence and how it is found in nature, art and even in the human body, you are sure to wow your child, introducing them to the beauty of math.
Yet another way to introduce math naturally is by rolling math into a discussion of money. The fact that four quarters makes one dollar means that 1/4 + ¼ + ¼ +1/4 = 1 and that 4(.25)= 1. When you double the number of quarters you have two dollars. You can use the quarters as tangible manipulatives to show the addition or multiplication. Let the child keep the small sum of money and soon they will be begging you to play math games with every combination of coins imaginable. This is a great way for children to earn their favorite new app or video game! (For older children, ask them how many combinations of coins total one dollar. This is a nice activity to teach perseverance in math! There are 293 ways to make change of one dollar, if you include a one dollar coin.)
The bottom line, says Asofsky, is that when students are exposed to math- often- in a nonthreatening way, it becomes second nature. Then, math anxiety is sure to be absent in your home and your child will be present and excited to think and learn in math class!
Karen Asofsky, a former middle school math teacher, has been teaching and tutoring math for 12 years and holds a Master’s in Education. She can be reached at [email protected] or (516) 652-1982 and is now accepting tutoring students.