Whenever I tell anyone that I'm a math tutor, there's a 70% chance they will tell me they could never do my job because they dislike math. I don't take offense that they're bashing one of my favorite subjects (heck- I used to say the same things!), instead I listen closely to what they have to say. If I have the time, I ask WHY they hate math. Most people have a pretty good reason. Many tell me they just never "got it" when they were a kid. Some have traumatizing experiences of strict teachers or timed math fact tests. Others were scarred in college when forced to do hours of proofs. I've met very few people who don't have a moment, or collection of moments, when they decided that math wasn't their thing.
As a math tutor, I see part of my job as helping math students learn to love math. Many students come to me after having discouraging or even embarrassing experiences in their math classes, and many of them have already declared that math just isn't their subject. Instead of just helping students pass math classes, I try to help students re-discover how fun math can be, and realize that they can be successful with math with a little practice and the right support.
I envision a generation that makes conversation about their love of math instead of their loathing for it.
Has your child declared that math just isn't for them? Try some of the methods that I use in tutoring to help them fall in love again.
1. Focus on problem solving
Math isn't meant to be endless drills and book work (though many schools still think it is). The true core of math is problem solving. Instead of drilling with flash cards, introduce your child to fun and challenging math problems. Choose tasks that are more like riddles and less like the word problems your child gets on their homework. Problems like the jar problem are fun to present to the whole family and can be mulled over for a few hours or a few days. You can also introduce your child to real life problems that must be solved using math (think hanging pictures, building shelves, etc.). Solving problems as a family can show your child there's much more to math than what's being taught in class. Click here for a selection of math riddles and puzzles.
2. Show them the money
Even kids who claim to hate math LOVE money. Lucky for us, this is one of the most common ways we use math in our daily lives. Letting your child handle cash is a great opportunity to get them interested in numbers. When your child needs to figure out if they have enough money to buy the toy they want, or tries to save up for a special video game, they will become interested in learning how to count up cents (decimals) and how to add and subtract the amounts they need.
Want to get your child interested in more complex math and problem solving? Have them help you plan out the budget for a vacation or even for a grocery store trip. Charge them with deciding what will be spent in each category and making sure the family doesn't go over.
3. Play number games
Most board games are good for math and reasoning skills, so I encourage you to play any game your child is interested in. You can also take it a step further and introduce your child to games that involve numbers. Trifecta is one of my favorite games of this type, and it only requires two players. You can also introduce your child to sudoku or other puzzles that are fun and challenging but also sneak in some math and logic.
4. Let them count on their fingers
Contrary to what many believe, counting on your fingers doesn't mean that you're bad at math. In fact, most mathematicians aren't super fast at computing (they're more known for their problem solving skills). Many students begin to think they're bad at math when they get the side eye from adults when they use their fingers to count. Be the adult in your child's life that doesn't look down on their finger counting. If you feel like finger counting is keeping your child from being efficient, gently remind them of more efficient ways to compute.
5. Stop the badmouthing
The biggest thing we can do to help students love math is to not badmouth it. Just like any other aspect of life, children will absorb the negativity the adults in their life have toward math. It can be so tempting to break the tension during math homework to make your child feel better by telling them math troubles run in the family, or that you aren't a "math person" either. These phrases can affect the way that your child sees themselves as a math student and the subject as a whole. Try re-thinking the way you speak about math to your child. Instead of telling them you're bad at math- tell stories about times you've used math in your real life, times you struggled with math and overcame, and reasons you love math now. When in doubt, an encouraging word is always a great way to go.
How do you foster a love of math in your family? We would love to hear about it in the comments!