From the moment our daughters and sons arrive in the world, we begin educational lessons emphasizing communication and listening, and the exposure to illustrations and printed words. In the first few years, children have a rudimentary understanding of letters, symbols, numbers, and key words. While reading is required in all disciplines, how often is math and its purpose in our world explained? Similar to witnessing a child become excited by each newly turned page of a book, he or she can also become wide-eyed by realizing that branches of math surround them in any direction and location.
When sitting in the living room, children can identify shapes by being asked one question, “How many rectangles do you see?” Children will become fascinated with naming window panes, picture frames, ottomans, and chair cushions, rugs, the television screen, and even walls. A scavenger hunt outside can be an exciting time to take a walk, while discussing the unique shapes of leaves, blades of grass, trees, big and small rocks, and the formation of clouds.
Tip: Play the “I Spy” game when a child enters a new building, kitchen, or restaurant. This game teaches children to become aware of their surroundings, and to practice identifying shapes.
Tip: Take a leaf, for instance, and have your child draw it free-handed; then, fold the paper in half, and discuss how the use of symmetry and individual shapes can create a likeness to the actual object.
Tip: Use blocks to make a pattern; afterward, encourage your child to build the same pattern. This activity will develop spatial awareness.
Beyond the recognition of numbers, children become instantly fascinated with learning number patterns, double digits as well as the value of one hundred, a thousand, or a million. Encourage your child to read speed limit signs, restaurant and grocery store prices and, of course, discuss the purpose of the decimal point.
Some children view math as an overwhelming task of memorization; yet, there are ways to help elementary students learn how to approach math facts.
Tip: First, fold the computation sheet in half, and ask your child to complete all the facts that are considered easy. Remind children that double numbers can aid in learning other facts; for instance, if 7+7= 14; then, 7+8 =15 and 7+6=13
Tip: The rule of 9 is a quick tool to help empower young children. The number 8 added to 9, would result in subtracting one less than eight (equaling seven) and adding one group of 10; therefore, 9+8=17. This “trick” works for subtraction, too. In 16-9, the child would only have to add one to 6 to arrive at the answer of 7. Once understood, children with a visual learning style will be able to grasp a firmer concept of adding and subtracting one less or one more.
Playing Board Games
Words such as division, multiplication, and geometry can be intimidating. A non-threatening way to increase children’s love of math is to have a family game night. Beginning in preschool, young children can learn how to move a pawn until they are able to count the dots on a die. Every game which emphasizes a skill to enhance counting, learning patterns, understanding techniques and strategies, or deductive reasoning will build both confidence and an excitement about mathematics. The same games you loved in youth, such as dominoes, checkers, Yahtzee, Monopoly, and backgammon are still valuable today, especially if played as board games. Children need to observe parents and older siblings take their turn, and learn from their “play” and “mistakes.” By allowing children to talk through their turn, they, too, can benefit from making choices and taking risks.
Tip: Any board game which includes dice can promote a child’s confidence in adding two numbers together. Board games are a non-threatening way to teach basic computation. Out of cardboard, consider making larger dice with numbers greater than six. It will be a unique way to practice adding, or even subtraction.
Encourage children to tackle the hardest subject first. The emphasis should be on talking through the directions and problems, and praising the child for reaching the answer. If answers are incorrect, it is important to guide your child by asking questions. But the child needs to arrive at answers him- or herself. Mathematics is a process, and with practice and patience, the excitement and confidence will grow.