Learning Without Borders

 I love math, but my kiddo doesn’t. You are not alone.  

Of course, when we love math, we want others to share our enthusiasm with others, especially our children. Though sharing enthusiasm is often an excellent way to spark curiosity, when a kiddo doesn’t like a topic, this can backfire. Often when math is easy for someone, they quickly see the patterns and enjoy mental math. Unfortunately, for many learners, the early years of mathematics instruction focus a lot on arithmetic and learning algorithms, which is all about being able to find the correct answer instead of seeing patterns and asking questions. 

So, when math is easy for a parent, it is especially important to see math through the lens of the child.

Does math seem irrelevant to their life? What is getting in the way of enjoying math?  

From Neuroscience, we have learned that our brains are most receptive to learning about a topic when there is a clear link between that topic and something relevant to the child. And that before learning can occur in math or any other subject, learners have to feel that the learning environment is safe. Loosely translated, that means it’s okay to go slow, and it is okay to make mistakes. It helps to adopt one of Jo Boaler’s famous quote: “your brain is growing when you make mistakes.” Too often, kids who don’t like math have gotten the message that making mistakes is to be avoided at all costs! In recent years, there has been a shift in thinking; many teachers are becoming familiar with the concept of the “growth mindset.” So, when they hear a student say: “I can’t do it.” they have been interjecting the word “yet” to the end of that phrase. It’s a small but powerful word in learning. 

Jo Boaler illustrates this well in her video course. “How to Learn Math” Invite your child to check it out with you.  

It is for students of all ages who don’t think they can learn math 🙂

Also, it can help to take some hints from exceptional teachers who teach math by solving problems in the context of kids’ interests and real-world projects or issues. Useful examples are: doubling recipes in cooking and baking, building structures to scale, creating origami art projects, and playing board and card games. Games are often a particularly good entry point because they have an element of novelty, which is very helpful. Remember to stop while it’s still fun! Avoid workbooks with page after page of problems.

Being flexible in our approach and keeping it fun go a long way to encouraging reluctant math learners. Traditional games such as Yahtze, Cribbage, Mancala, Chess Othello, Go, Quirkle, Blokus, Racko. Card Games such as SET,24, Blackjack,War, Rummy. A newer one I found in the past year is Clumsy Thief available from Amazon. Below are some of my favorite resources from two of my favorite math teachers, Peggy Kaye and Denise Gaskins

For Elementary Students

“If you play these games and your child learns only that hard mental effort can be fun, you will have taught something invaluable.”

Peggy Kaye

 Games for Math

Middle School to Adult

“Mathematics is mental play, the essence of creative problem solving. This is the truth we need to impart to our children, more important than fractions or decimals or even the times tables. Math is a game, playing with ideas.”

—Denise Gaskins

 Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It

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