Mathematics is a challenging subject in any grade. When leaving behind the basics of the subject and heading into the more theoretical territory, many children get curiously lost. I know that my youngster had the toughest time making the leap from numbers to also including letters into the equations. What is it that turns off pupils with respect to mathematics and how can parents run interference successfully? Are there parenting tips for the mom who might have some problems with math herself? Actually, once I discovered the secret behind my child’s math disconnect, resolving the problem was surprisingly simple.
Apples or oranges? Contact the child’s teacher and get a copy of the math curriculum. Know what the students are currently learning and how the material is being presented. Do not rely on your memory of how you or another sibling learned the same skills. Curricula are constantly updated to stay in compliance with federal guidelines and what may have been the height of scholastic understanding a couple of years ago may be considered hopelessly outdated today.
Chart the benchmarks. Find out which tests the kids are taking in school. For example, the early elementary school years are notorious for endless repetitions and timed tests of subtraction, addition, multiplication and division facts. Rote learning trumps a deeper understanding of the mathematical laws at work and while the children may be able to solve 100 math problems in less than three minutes, they will be hard pressed to explain just exactly what multiplication really tells them.
Discover the disconnect. My child excelled at the timed tests but was helpless when presented with a simple word problem that featured the same equations. The solution was obvious: although the answers were memorized, the way of getting there made no sense. In this classroom, real life math applications had no bearing on the benchmarks the students had to meet. The odds are good that if your child is having difficulty in math, there is a very real disconnect between memorized facts and life application. Addition and subtraction disconnects are simple enough to solve with a few apples, candy bars or peanuts. Multiplication and division are a bit harder to tackle but with a few handfuls of sunflower seeds or nuts they, too, can be tackled.
Break it down! Whether you use Lego blocks, sunflower seeds or candies, break down the mathematical equations. Make each equation an object lesson that involves a little story. For example, you might say: “Pete the parrot had three peanuts; he ate one.” Concurrently, place the three peanuts on the table. Use a stuffed bird to pretend-eat one; ask the child how many peanuts are left. Put the equation in words: three minus one equals two.
Capitalize on the child’s learning style. Too often parenting tips focus on one learning style to the exclusion of others. If you do not know whether the child is an auditory learner and does best with a conversational presentation or a visual learner who must have pictures, find ways to include all teaching tools. Do not discount the kinesthetic learner who needs to ‘look’ with his hands and manipulate the peanuts and perhaps even the parrot toy to really ‘get’ it.
“Thingy” is not a technical term. Teach the child the proper words to describe each part of the equation. Talk about addends and sums, products and divisors. Never dumb down the math for the sake of making it easier on the child. In fact, you’re just making the learning more difficult. Besides, kids love to learn new words — the bigger the better.
Parenting tips that involve academics usually suggest a chart or other way of keeping track of the child’s achievements. This approach may not work in this case. Math is a way of thinking rather than a new skill that can be learned. Positive reinforcement of this thinking style goes a lot further than charts that frequently highlight missed opportunities.
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