(Written by Noelle Eberts and Edited by Elle Yi) It’s not that kids hate math. It’s that kids hate the drudgery part of math: the endless practice problems and timed drills and weekly quizzes. Mrs. Kerri Bianchi who is the assistant principal of Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary school in NY indicates that some children understand the mathematical concepts but struggle with fluency.
Kids also get math anxiety because math is so often a right answer/wrong answer system. A slip of the tongue during a game of Around-the-World or an accidental error on a test makes kids extremely anxious about making math mistakes. Even a student who knows how to multiply and divide will fear a division quiz if he’s worried about wrong answers.
If your child experiences math anxiety or talks about “hating math,” here are some tips to calm your child’s anxiety and make math fun:
- 1. Integrate math into everyday life
Children need practice with mathematical concepts in order to memorize and use them effectively. However, don’t try to solve this problem by giving your child extra math worksheets on top of his or her daily homework. Instead, start working math into your everyday interactions.
Ask younger children how many cookies to serve for snack if every family member gets two. Ask older children to help double a recipe for dinner, or to help estimate the cost of groceries. Most household activities, from sorting socks to counting change, have a math component.
As you do this, be careful not to quiz your child. Your math queries should be phrased as a natural part of the activity you and your child are sharing, not as a sudden “right or wrong answer” question that must be answered immediately.
- 2. Play math games
Pull out familiar games like High Ho Cherry-O for young children needing counting and addition practice. Play tabletop games like Cribbage, Blackjack or Settlers of Catan with middle-grade children to improve arithmetic skills. There are specialized math games that you can buy for your computer or for consoles like the Nintendo Wii, but many traditional games also involve math and feel less like a school mathematics drill.
In addition, many young children enjoy the chance to play “adult” games like Gin Rummy or Texas Hold ‘em, especially when you use wrapped candies or pennies as betting chips.
- 3. Talk to your children about math anxiety
If your child shows anxiety before math tests or complains about missing answers in math class, talk about anxiety-eliminating skills like taking your time and checking your work. If your child knows arithmetic facts but does poorly on timed tests, talk about looking carefully at each problem, breathing slowly and focusing on one question at a time. If your child gets nervous about wrong answers, build confidence by doing a quick times tables run on the drive to school or by talking about the Three Test Steps:
- Read every question carefully
- Check your work
- Know that it’s okay to make mistakes
By integrating math into your child’s daily life, playing fun games that involve math concepts and talking about how to reduce math anxiety, your children go from math haters to math enthusiasts. An arithmetic drill in school is no big deal after an evening spent beating your parents at Blackjack. A math test is less stressful after you talk about taking your time and checking your work. Give your children the skills to handle math in day-to-day life, and they’ll learn to love math both at home and at school.
About the author: Noelle Eberts has a passion for connecting children to the possibilities that math can unlock. She writes independently for MathNook and is a great resource for math games for kids. Noelle is a part-time math tutor and a full-time Mom!