Helping kids be math-motivated instead of math-phobic

Remember the Pythagorean theorem? What about limits or polynomials? Whether we work in a math-centric profession, or not, we’re all surrounded by math every day. It might be adjusting a recipe, calculating a tip, managing personal finances or watching a sports game; regardless, math is a life skill that will last a lifetime. In April, educators and math professionals mark Math and Statistics Awareness Month, a time to boost awareness and understanding of the importance of math.

We’ve all heard a kid say it – or maybe we’ve even said it ourselves: “Why do I need to learn this? I’m never going to use this.” But with many top-earning professions centered in math, it’s hard to say what a youth might use in the future. Accountants, chemists, engineers, health care professionals and computer scientists all use math in their work. And learning new math concepts can develop analytical abilities and build critical thinking skills – something in-demand by employers.

Setting a strong foundation in the early years will prepare students for more complex concepts in later grades. But it’s never too late to improve. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Start young. Even kids who are too young for school can do activities that will help with future math concepts. For instance, practicing sorting items by color, matching things with similar shapes and recognizing and continuing simple patterns are great ways to start. This is also a great time to introduce numbers and counting.
  2. Practice at home. Much like reading, math is an everyday skill that should be practiced regularly in the home. Parents should seek out practical opportunities, such as counting or tax calculations at the grocery store, sports statistics deciphering, and fractions in special family recipes. This is especially important to remember over the summer, when kids can forget month’s worth of learning.
  3. Stay positive. Youth are especially impressionable, even when they don’t seem to be paying attention. Those who often hear parents and other adults lamenting their own challenges with math are likely to follow suit. Parents should stay positive and help kids to overcome these challenges to develop resilience.
  4. Keep in touch with teachers. A child’s educator is the best judge of how well they’re learning the material. Caregivers should not rely on a single test score to assess a child’s learning – instead use teacher feedback, homework and regular test scores. Teachers will also be able to explain what kids are learning and how to help them practice at home.
  5. Be inspiring. It’s no surprise that kids are more interested in sports, video games and their pets than they are in homework. By finding ways to tie math into existing interests, parents can inspire them to continue practicing.

In Arizona schools today, only a fraction of eighth grade students are learning the math skills they need to be successful. But to be well-prepared for life beyond the classroom, they’ll need a strong understanding of mathematical concepts. It’s never too soon – or too late to get them on the right track.

Expect More Arizona is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan education advocacy organization working to ensure every child receives an excellent education every step of the way. For more information visit ExpectMoreArizona.org.

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