Friday, February 14, 2014

Students Who Don't Like Math

I can't even believe I'm writing this. Raised in a family of math geniuses, it is hard to admit that the words, "I hate math!" ever fell from my child's mouth. They did. I was shocked.

When my son was in kindergarten I remember working on math with him and how he would sometimes come to an answer really quickly. He wasn't guessing, but he knew the answer. I asked him how he got the answer and he couldn't tell me. This drove me nuts. I learned in college that children should grow up learning how to communicate about math, and here I was, his kindergarten teacher and I was a total failure! Why couldn't he tell me?!

Now my son is 12 and over the years I've realized that sometimes the "experts" were wrong. While I couldn't figure out my son's methods, I didn't necessarily have to understand it in order to teach him. At this point, he is figuring out the answers much quicker than me. And still, he does a LOT of it in his head.

Usually I heard, "I hate math," when something got a little hard and required extra brain power. Sometimes kids are lazy and just don't want to do math RIGHT NOW. Adults are the same way, aren't we? But what if your kid NEVER likes math? What do you do then?

First, don't ever tell your child that you were bad at or did not like math. They will grow up thinking they will be the same way. If you have already done this, undo it. Get excited about math and act like it's all the rage. If your kid looks at you funny or asks you what's wrong, just say you have discovered how much fun math is and work the problems with him. If you had mediocre math teachers, it's possible that looking at math from your adult perspective will make the work easier to understand. If you are still intimidated by the numbers and calculations, make sure to enlist some help in the math area. There are lots of videos online that can help you both. You don't have to know everything all the time, you just have to have a learning spirit and excitement about working with numbers.

Second, figure out what your child really doesn't like. It could be that he is really struggling with a certain concept. Just because addition was a piece of cake doesn't mean subtraction is going to come easy. Help him climb the obstacles rather than struggle, fall, and give up. Imagine coming to a difficult concept, realizing there are only more difficult concepts behind it in the future. Not fun. Most kids like riddles or puzzles. I've always viewed each math problem as a riddle to figure out. If you are excited, even if your child is struggling, he will plow through if he has your help. The benefit of schooling at home is you can spend as much time as you need to get the concept down. Don't rush it! Let him get comfortable with a concept before jumping to the next "obstacle."

Third, make math fun. Some things are just going to be work, like learning math facts. For this, we use Try to take something your child enjoys and incorporate it into math. Now that my son is older, we try to see who can come up with the answer first. There are some things I will never beat him on, but other things I can. He gets a kick out of the times he beats me, and works harder to beat me on the others. If you don't have a competitive kid, this won't work. But maybe he is very active and likes jumping on the rebounder, bouncing on a ball, or getting M&Ms. Yes, bribery works, too! You know your kid, figure out what works and make math the most fun subject of the day. If you are really creative, make a treasure hunt, lasting over the course of a week. Each day's assignment provides another clue. Each clue takes him to the next location of the "riddles" to solve, eventually leading to the treasure. I bet he will want to start with math each day!

Your child will learn to like math if you provide the environment that makes math exciting. That doesn't mean that he will be good at it, but it will be easier when he is willing to do the work. Although we have met our own obstacles, I don't think my son will ever say he hates math again. However, we are just in pre-algebra now and I've still got high school to go so I'm not going to hold my breath! Good luck teaching parents, and have fun!

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