Interesting young children in mathematics

Understand your own experience and attitude towards mathematics. Parents are transparent to children and your attitude will be passed on to your child. If you have a negative attitude, as your child gets older, explain it.


Math is in the air – use the environment

Kids are natural mathematicians – they count, put items in order, compare, see shapes and patterns, they wonder why and they ask what if. The environment of daily living is rich with opportunities. Use these by letting your young children see how math helps us organize and understand what is around us: count socks and silverware and match sets and pairs, stack cans, pack boxes, measure and time while cooking, schedule activities, talk about the weather, … . Encourage their play with everyday objects as well as simple toys like blocks, beads, marbles, coins, cards, dice, chips, pegs and pegboards, string, etc. Show them the basics of these simple toys, but don’t inhibit their explorations. Let them take things apart and reassemble them.

Math is interactive – interact!

Mathematics requires strong social and verbal components. Talk math with your kids and let them see and hear you using math with other adults. Even with the youngest children, think out loud: verbalize the math you are doing in your head for everyday activities. Encourage sibling interaction, because kids love to teach their siblings and often learn better from them than from adults. They also learn a tremendous amount by trying to explain or show something to a sibling or peer. Finally, listen seriously to what your child wants to show or tell you – let them be your teacher when they have made a discovery.

Be the parent

If kids develop a negative attitude about math, it is usually due to something done by a sibling, peer, teacher or you. If it was recent, catch it and correct or counteract it. If it is long standing, start working on it, but expect any corrective action to take a while.

Don’t go overboard

Math is everywhere, but it is not the only thing there is, nor the only way to look at the world. Math (or anything else) shouldn’t become a “job” or a burden for a child. Also, too much, too soon is discouraging.

No pain, no gain

Like every other art, science, and sport (math is all of these), math is rich with challenge, pleasure, reward, and satisfaction. But to get these requires serious work. It takes practice to play the piano or sing opera or hip hop, to be an 80% free throw shooter, to play the lead in a school play or do the stage lighting. Kids usually get this, but sometimes need to be reminded or have it articulated so they know that you get it too.

Don’t fake it

If you can’t or won’t model math for your kids (because you feel that you are “not good at math”), don’t fake it but don’t ignore it. Find someone who can stand in for you. Instead of being a math coach for your kids, be a fan and supporter. Mathematics at the elementary level is not trivial. It can be harder to teach than college or graduate level math. Think about how you would explain to a child or even an adult, why “A negative times a negative is a positive” or “What is  and why does it work for any circle but not a square?”