17 December 2009 02:33 PM

Promoting Math for Kids of All Ages

by Dr. Rick

Math is in the news again.  The White House is promoting math education with superstars like Sesame Street’s Elmo, and in Maryland, the state where I live, the University System is developing new math requirements for students headed to state colleges and universities. Those new requirements include four years of math studies in high school instead of the current three.  Other states are no doubt doing the same.


Many students complete three years’ math study by the end of their junior year and don’t bother with math in their senior year.  That’s a one-year hiatus until college.  You can forget a lot in one year.


Four years of math study will better prepare students for university or work in our increasingly science-technology-engineering-math oriented economy.


Do we do enough to get kids interested in math at an early age?  Probably not.  Here are some thoughts and tips.

  1. Look for numbers all over.  For the youngest learners, look for numbers all around the house and the neighborhood.  Just as we look for letters and words as our youngsters are learning to read, why not “explore” for numbers, too?  There they are in magazines, on the addresses outside our homes, in road signs.  Combine words and numbers in “searches,” and see how fast children catch on.

  2. Use numbers.  Let your child punch in the numbers when you’re making a phone call, read the quantities in a recipe, dial the oven to the necessary temperature (with your supervision, of course).  Let her set the alarm clock, set all the clocks at spring-forward, fall-back time, and help you monitor number-exhibiting gauges like thermostats, speedometers, odometers, tire-pressure gauges, and the like.

  3. Count.  There are lots of things you can count with your youngsters.  Stairs, birthdays, family members, cars in a small parking lot, toys on the floor, toys on the shelf, “sleeps” until a happy occasion, pets in the neighborhood.  Sing counting songs.  “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” can be changed to “Ninety-nine bottles of juice.”  It’s a better message, but – fair warning – it’ll drive you just as nuts in the car.

  4. Look for shapes and patterns.  Helping kids recognize and notice shapes and patterns gets them ready for the rudiments of geometry.  Rectangles, squares, circles, ovals, triangles, and other shapes surround us in our homes and neighborhoods.  Patterns are organized, repetitive, and predictable – and they’re all around us.  “Old MacDonald had a farm, E, I, E, I, O.”  Odd and even numbers.  The seasons of the year.  Rituals at church, temple, or mosque.  Morning routines.  Exercise routines.  Recognizing simple patterns help children to predict what comes next.

  5. Know about STEM .  Science-Technology-Engineering-Math courses are more important than ever.  For your middle- and high-school students, encourage them to explore these courses.  Learn about them yourself so you can be a knowledgeable advocate at home.

  6. Be a role model .  Talk about the role of math in your life and job.  Let the kids see you doing math.  Point out your math when you’re filling the car with gas, following a recipe, paying bills, examining sports statistics, figuring out the route for a vacation, building a tree house, figuring out a pool shot.  If you “hated” math when you were in school, keep your mouth shut about it.

  7. Advocate for good math teachers.  Yes, all teachers are important, but math teachers are among the teachers hard to come by, more’s the pity.  So, let your principal know that you’re interested in math education and you’re willing to lend a hand when it comes to recruiting and retaining a new math teacher.  If you have a college aged child who’s good in math, encourage him or her to consider teaching .

  8. Bone up on the curriculum.  No, you don’t have to master the higher math courses, but you should know about the math curriculum in your child’s school.  What are the requirements?  What’s the progression?  Are the texts and materials up to date?  Is special tutoring available?  (The company I work for, Sylvan Learning, has an excellent math record for kids who want to catch up, keep up, or get ahead.  Check us out at www.SylvanLearning.com.  Participating Sylvan Learning franchisees also offer SchoolMathPrep.com, a new, FREE, online math resource for grade 7-12 teachers and students to use at school – for remediation, enrichment or test prep.  To learn how your family can use SchoolMathPrep.com’s sister site, SylvanMathPrep.com, during your family’s homework time, visit www.SylvanMathPrep.com.)

  9. Have fun.  Kids don’t need to know they’re learning math.  There are many, many games that enhance math skills.  Card games, Scrabble (good for math patterns and vocabulary), puzzles, Sudoku, brain teasers, fun workbooks (www.sylvanlearningbookstore.com), and Monopoly, to name a few.

  10. Engage girls.  Don’t let girls fall for the old math-is-for-boys canard.  It’s not true, and it affects many girls’ confidence in school and beyond.

Readers, share your math success stories with us.  Just click on “Comments” below.




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