Running the numbers: help kids find the formula for math success

For too many kids, at some point in their education, math simply does not add up. What better time than April, which is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, to celebrate math, multiply the fun and creativity in it, and reduce the tears and tension that can keep math mastery at a fraction of what it could be.

A year ago, math teacher Michelle Russell posted “What Do We Do When Kids Don’t Like Math?” to a blog from MiddleWeb, which is “all about the middle grades.” She says that in her experience, kids who don’t like math tend to fall into three categories: “Students who have struggled in the past and think they are not ‘math people,’” “students who don’t see the relevance or importance of math,” and “students who are very focused on other areas and just not interested in math.”

She says, “I think it’s important for students to leave my class with the best possible impression of math that I can give them.”

While even Russell notes that some kids’ interests simply lie in other areas, it’s crucial to establish math as a natural, doable, important part of everyday life. And of course, most kids take a stance on math well before middle school. That’s why it’s essential to start early.

Laura Lewis Brown, writing “Instill a Love of Math,” for PBS Parent, says, “We may take for granted that our children will inevitably learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but early math lessons establish the base for the rest of their thinking lives.”  

Because so many kids deem math irrelevant, Lewis says, “The goal should be to make math ‘real’ and meaningful by pointing it out in the world around you.” She continues, “That could include checking and comparing prices at the grocery store, driving down the street counting mailboxes, reading recipes, calculating coupons, or even measuring food or drink at the dinner table.”

The post also says, “Just as you encourage your early reader to look for familiar letters, ask your child to watch for math, regarding math as highly as you do reading.” The key is early.

Giant Math Readiness for ages 5-6 is packed with fun-filled activities and simple directions for hours of learning and math prep. Math fundamentals unfold in creative adventures: Bedtime at the Zoo; Subtracting Ocean Friends, and Runaway Chicks. Tackling the same skill with more than one activity helps reinforce the learning. For example, kindergartners and first graders can color by shape, practice tracing and drawing shapes, and find and match shapes. Color-coded sections highlight specific skills and concepts for easy, at-a-glance focus and review. It all adds up to a great start in math.

Boxed sets that include multiple gameplay options are a great way to instill the idea that math is fun. The Counting Money Learning Set, Telling Time Learning Set, and Making Fractions Learning Set, all include 4 double-sided Lotto game boards and 72 cards, press-out pieces for use on 28 double-sided quiz cards, and a 48-page learning pad for pencil-and-paper learning. Use the set at home, travel with them, or keep more than one child busy in the classroom as a reward or while others are finishing their work.

The Math 1-2 Flash Card 4-Pack and then the Math 3-4 Flash Card 4-Pack continue guiding kids in their journey through math world, with lots of options for drills and gameplay.

For good information and activities for mid- and upper-level math and its foundations, Math Is Fun website offers games, puzzles, and worksheets as well as instructions in “ways to show data.” They charmingly describe basic algebra this way: “With computer games you play by running, jumping or finding secret things. Well, with Algebra you play with letters, numbers and symbols, and you also get to find secret things!”

Similarly, “Probability and Statistics Activities for Kids,” posted to tackles an important statistical concept with a light touch. Though we are a bit past St. Patrick’s Day, one of those activities is the Lucky Leprechauns game. The website says that “’luck is not just a folk idea. It is a math question, too! In fifth grade and beyond, one important strand in math standards is a fancy word for luck—‘probability.’” It further explains that “The concept is a building block for later work in a variety of math and science fields, and now’s a great time to start getting comfortable with it.”

From early preschool 1,2,3s to algebra, geometry, and beyond, never underestimate the power of practice and enthusiasm when it comes to math. Reward exploration with exponential encouragement, and measure success with a generous yardstick.