Encouraging Children to Like Math

Question: I always dreaded math classes and quit taking math courses as soon as possible, but I want my children to be successful in math. Can you help? -- Struggled

Answer: Parents can definitely contribute to making sure that their children develop math skills. One of the best ways to do this is by helping them develop and keep a keen interest in math.

All young children start out being interested in math. They love to count objects and line them up in groups, like putting two ducks and three bears together to get five. They also love to play games where they are throwing the dice and counting the number of squares that they can move.

Parents need to encourage this almost automatic interest in math. According to Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University, the best encouragement comes from providing a setting in which children's mathematical thinking is validated and encouraged. When parents give children a set of pattern blocks or Cuisenaire rods, they will do all sorts of mathematical things with them. This is the time for parents to marvel at the shapes or repeating patterns that the children have created.

Besides providing a setting that fosters mathematical thinking, children should be given puzzles and problems to solve. Then parents and children can work on them together. This does not have to be a nightly ritual, but it can be done at the dinner table from time to time. It is important for parents to ask questions about how children are trying to solve a problem, and for children to get in the habit of asking questions as they talk over how they will solve a problem. Children will gain enthusiasm for math through solving challenging problems. If parents can't think of any to share with their children, they can search online for "classic math problems."

There is one "no-no" in encouraging children's interest in math. Parents must not share their own negative experiences.

Visit our Dear Teacher website, www.DearTeacher.com, and you can find under "Math Skill Builders" ways to introduce mental math to your children. You will also find on the website a list of children's books with mathematics themes that will let them enjoy and learn math while reading interesting stories. There are also intriguing and challenging math riddles and puzzles.