How To Help Your Child Love Math

Jul 30, 2015 | Southlake

Okay, so maybe they won’t love it, but at least they should not hate math class. As a kid, I loved math class. The thought of any child being frustrated in math to the point that they hate math is sad to me. With the right attitude and techniques, our children can see and learn math from everyday situations with a little help from their parents, no worksheets or times tables necessary!  We just have to find the math in day-to-day and routine activities to make it practical and fun for them.

There are many daily situations that we can use to boost our children’s math skills without them even knowing it. Money is a great math tool for kids of all ages. Do you think your kids are good with money? Most likely they are great at spending it! Think about how much cash we actually use on a regular basis. We pay for almost everything with credit cards, gift cards, and checks. It’s convenient to use instead of cash but one downside of not using cash is that we lose exposing our children to lots of math by not using real money. (Not to mention that when the kids don’t see the real money, they lose perspective of the value of money.)

Do you remember when you were in elementary school how much your lunch cost? I remember it was 35 cents. (Okay, so I’m showing my age a little here!) One quarter and one dime. My older brother’s lunch was 85 cents and my younger brother’s lunch was 25 cents. My parents set out 3 neat piles of coins every morning before school for each of us on the kitchen counter and we grabbed our lunch money as we hurried off to catch the school bus. Sometimes the coins would change, but we each knew which pile was ours and how to count the coins at a very early age. Can your kids do the same? Today, with lunch cards, our children get very little exposure to real money, whether coins or bills.

Think about all the opportunities as a child you had using real money. I suspect you didn’t even know you were learning any math when you were using it, but you were. If we take similar opportunities with our children, we can boost their math skills and they might not even notice either. Here are a few easy ideas to help your children boost their math skills

Elementary School Age

Pre-school and elementary age children needs lots of practice with counting. Counting means so much more than 1,2,3…! It can mean forward, backward and skip counting. Using your coins, count pennies and then group the pennies in 2’s or 3’s and practice counting by those groups (skip counting). Then practice more skip counting (counting by nickels, dimes, quarters). Why? Skip counting is actually early multiplying. As a child, did you ever take your piles of change, sort it and put it into rolls to take the bank? That was a very practical exercise in counting, grouping and multiplying. If you have a pile of change, that is a great project for you and your child!

When you are out shopping, there are plenty of math opportunities. A great area to have some math fun is the produce department. How much does a pound of bananas cost? Ask them how much 10 pounds would cost. What about 2 pounds? Half a pound?  Also ask them to estimate things. They need to learn estimation for the TAKS test in elementary grades. Since many prices in the store are priced ending with $0.99, have them estimate that to the nearest $1.00. Or have them estimate the total grocery bill for a really big challenge! If you let your child have a treat at the end of the shopping adventure, let them buy it themselves with cash. They will have practice counting money and estimating if they have enough to buy what they want. This can also initiate the whole issue of sales tax. This introduces the concept of percents. What is a percent? It is how much for each one hundred.  So 8% sales tax means 8 cents sales tax means you have to pay 8 cents for each $1.00 (100 pennies).

Look around your house at the clocks. Are they all your clocks digital? (I was surprised to see that all of mine were!) If you look around our schools and on our cell phones, etc, they are almost exclusively digital. Many of our young children have a hard time telling time on analog clocks. An analog clock really helps your child count by 5’s and learn some basic fractions. What does “quarter-after two” mean? And what does counter-clockwise mean if you never use an analog clock?

Intermediate School Age

By this age, your child should have mastered their basic math facts because they need it for more difficult computation and problem solving. If they are having trouble at this age, it is very important to make sure they do not get behind.  They are learning fractions, negatives, decimals, and exponents and other critical skills that they need for their mathematical foundation. The math skills they are learning are cumulative so make sure they understand these concepts well. They will need to master these skills at this level to do well at the higher grade levels because they will use these skills again and again, including the SAT and ACT.  It can really be a snowball effect if they start to get behind, so don’t let them struggle or think that it is not a big deal if they have a few bad grades. They eventually need to learn what they missed on that test! And it is much easier to fix it now instead of later.

An example of every day math for students of this age would be a dinner tip. When you go out to dinner, have them figure out how much you should leave for a tip. If you want to leave a 15% tip, teach them how to do it mentally. First, have them figure out 10% of the total bill (easily done mentally). Then, add that number (10%) to half of it (which is 5%). Those two numbers added together give them a 15% tip (10%+5%=15%). (e.g. If you have a $42.00 dinner bill, 10% of $42.00 is $4.20. Half of $4.20 is $2.10. Therefore a 15% tip on $42.00 is $4.20+$2.10=$6.30.)

Encourage students of this age to study math to understand the concepts. In elementary school, the focus has been learning math facts, now they are applying facts to new concepts. This year’s concepts will be needed to solve next year’s math and so on. So as soon as they start to struggle, help them with the math and encourage them to learn the material well, not just to “study it for the test”. If they struggle with the concepts, get someone to help them before or after school if you are unable to explain the math to them. 

Mathematics is a language and it is learned in stages. First there is awareness. You hear about it, learn of its existence. Then there is action, you learn to work with it. Finally, there is application, using it in the real world. Give your child the gift of a mathematical language by showing them that math is used every day and letting them know it is important no matter what career path they chose. And if your child ends up loving math, all the better!