Many parents are unsure how to best support their child’s math learning. The math children are learning looks different than it did 30 years ago, which can be intimidating. The good news is that all parents can support their child’s math learning! The best thing parents can do is help their child believe that they can be successful in math.
I like to think of this as creating a positive math environment. Here are five concrete things you can do to create a positive math environment and build your child’s math confidence.
1. Send positive math messages.
What you say to your child matters – a lot. Avoid saying things like I’m not a math person or I’ve never been good with numbers. If you feel like you’re not math a person, you are not alone! Many adults have math anxiety. However, do your best to avoid sending negative math messages. While unintentional, your child can internalize your anxiety and start to think that they aren’t math people either. My advice – fake it until you make it!
For more about how parents’ mindsets about math can impact their child’s achievement, check out this article.
2. Emphasize the process over getting to the right answer.
Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset tells us that rather than being born with a fixed amount of intelligence, we can literally grow our brains. Having a growth mindset means seeing mistakes as learning opportunities. It means that in order to grow our brains, we have to work hard and overcome challenges.
Help your child develop a growth mindset by emphasizing how mistakes are part of the learning process. You can even model this during daily activities. Did you accidentally double the amount of salt instead of halving it? What a great learning opportunity!
3. Emphasize understanding over speed.
Contrary to popular belief, math is not just memorizing facts. That is something computers can do, and we aren’t trying to raise computers. Math is about solving problems and thinking logically. If you can, avoid quizzing your child on math facts. Instead, check out these great activities for building addition and multiplication skills:
Not sure about this one? Read this article from Jo Boaler for more on developing math fluency in a meaningful way.
4. Make math visual and tactile.
Neuroscience shows that when people do mental math, areas related to visual processing light up. Help your child develop strong connections across multiple areas of their brain by making math visual and tactile.
There are so many ways to represent numbers beyond the numerals (i.e. 1, 2, 3). Help your child see and touch numbers by having them draw pictures or model numbers with household objects. For example, you can use a number line to help your child visualize the relationship between numbers, or you can have your child use Cheerios to show the number 5.
Check out this Atlantic article for more about the amazing power of making mathematics visual.
5. Ask math questions about daily life.
Math doesn’t just live in the classroom and on a worksheet. Help your child see that math is all around them by asking math questions about daily life. For young children, when you set the table, ask how many plates you will need. For older children, ask about halving or doubling a recipe or predicting a sports game score.
Check out the Math Talk for Early Learning blog post for more about incorporating math talk into your daily routine.