November 6, 2013

All children can learn math, and all parents can teach it

Many parents do a great job of getting their preschoolers excited about reading, which gives their children an important head start on their education. By setting aside a special time each day to read together, they send a signal to their children that reading is important as well as fun. In addition, the enjoyable experience makes their children eager to read more and learn more.

Some parents don’t realize, however, that their children need the same kind of early boost with their math skills.

A parent who struggled in math may feel he isn’t capable of helping a youngster in the subject. Another parent who is a great mathematician may feel she can’t translate her knowledge to a preschooler’s level.

The truth is, all parents can be great math teachers, and their children will benefit from their help. As technology becomes more and more central to our lives, children need to understand mathematical concepts if they are going to succeed in school and in a career.

Most important is that children enjoy their early experiences with math and become confident that they can solve problems. Parents can set up these experiences by making math a game.

For the youngest children, math is not something that is done with pencil and paper. Recognizing shapes, for example, is the basis of geometry. A parent can say, “I see a plate; it’s round; it’s a circle. Can you see anything else that’s a circle?”

At lunch, you can make a game of recognizing a round plate, a square napkin, or a triangular half-sandwich.

Children can have a great time, and learn a great deal, by sorting ordinary household objects. You can help them sort small spoons from big spoons, toys with wheels from toys without wheels, or blue toys from others. While out walking, you can take a break and sort stones together, arranging them from smallest to biggest.

The California Mathematics Council, which offers many resources for parents, emphasizes that recognizing differences and similarities, and how things are related and not related, makes a powerful foundation for understanding many math concepts.

While helping young children master these skills, it’s important for parents to remember that they are not only their children’s first teachers but also their most important role models. Even if you struggled with math, don’t tell stories about how hard it was for you, or how much you hated the subject in school.

Instead, talk to your children about the importance of math, and show them how you use it every day. If you’re cooking, talk to them about quantities and measurements. When you’re shopping, ask your child to count the number of coins you received in change, or ask an older one to add the total value of all the coins. When starting a garden, you can talk about how many rows you think will fit in the available space, and how far apart you intend to plant the seeds.

Most important, make math fun and instill a sense of confidence in your children. When they get frustrated, assure them that they can solve the problem, help them work it out, and then praise them when they do.

Just as you do with reading, make time together each day for math. Young children who feel that math is fun, and are confident they can master it, are much more likely to succeed in school and in life.