Math anxiety — a fear of getting math concepts and problems wrong and the resulting avoidance of math because of that — is something I’ve seen many times over my life and not just in children. It’s just as prevalent in adults and, believe it or not, despite my PhD in math, I experienced math anxiety as a child, too.
While some children allowed their math anxiety to grow into a lifelong avoidance of math, mine fueled my competitive spirit and led me to push ahead of my peers, learning advanced math concepts even when I wasn’t able to get into the advanced math classes my middle school offered.
That’s a big question mark in the math anxiety experience and one that can greatly impact your child’s future. Will they choose to avoid math for life? Or will they use math to their advantage in not just their elementary education, but also their higher education and later career? Will they have a growth mindset, or a fear mindset? Will they avoid the concepts they fear, or use their fear of math to get better at it? In many cases, these are the big questions you ask, not whether or not your child actually has math anxiety.
See, most of us have some sort of anxiety around math or another subject. The anxiety might not even be about the math itself per se. Instead, it’s the anxiety around being perceived as a bad student or as “stupid.” It just so happens that many people don’t learn math easily via the curriculum used in most schools and our society in general tells us it’s okay to not be a “numbers person” — and so, math anxiety continues.
But if your child latches onto that growth mindset and they overcome their fear of math, the opportunities are endless.
When our children are encouraged to pursue math, not when they’re told that being “not a numbers person” is perfectly fine, but when they are empowered to overcome their math anxiety, everyone benefits. It’s not just about your child and their elementary school grades. Beyond that, your child and their peers could be the catalyst for a better future for the world.
Math skills are analytic and reasoning skills. Students who do well in math usually do well in everything else. Studies have proven time and time again that children who do well in math early on, do better in all their subjects later. A math literate society is a more successful one.
A math literate society can produce more scientists, technologists, engineers and more who are equipped to solve the world’s problems. Math-literate entrepreneurs, politicians and creatives add their own value when they’re able to discuss the world’s issues with math-focused professionals.
Some parents worry that their children are simply incapable of learning advanced math concepts or even basic math concepts, due to a learning disability. But I feel that nearly every child can learn math regardless, and here’s why.
Every student seems to have the capacity for learning language. At Elephant Learning, we work with math as a language and if your student, regardless of learning impairment, is able to speak and understand language, then our system should be able to work for them (as it’s language based).
Similarly, just as we use language learning methods to teach math within the Elephant Learning app, the same methods we use to teach math (and the same teaching methods discussed all throughout the Elephant Learning blog) are applicable to any subject.
For example, one of the key ways we tell parents to help their child overcome math misunderstandings is to, when a child gets a math problem wrong, instead of telling them the answer is wrong, ask them why they think that’s the right answer. When a child explains, the parent can generally pinpoint why they’re getting the concept wrong and remedy the situation. This same practice can be used when helping a child learn anything.
Through methods like this that children learn through math, children can then learn to be aware of their obstacles and adapt to overcome those obstacles. But the first obstacle you as their parent have to be aware of in order to help them adapt to overcome it, is math anxiety. Once they’re empowered and go on to becoming aware of obstacles on their own, the sky’s the limit. They can encounter a problem and rather than letting their anxiety tell them to head in the other direction, they can devise a way to solve the problem.
The empowerment children need in order to do so is possible through the Elephant Learning app and through working with your child hands-on, on a regular basis, and getting involved with their education.
With awareness and adaptation, your child can accomplish anything — from overcoming their math anxiety to changing the world.
Math anxiety — a fear of getting math concepts and problems wrong and the resulting avoidance of math because of that — is something I’ve seen many times over my life and not just in children. It’s just as prevalent in adults and, believe it or not, despite my PhD in math, I experienced math anxiety as a child, too. While some children allowed their math anxiety to grow into a lifelong avoidance of math, mine fueled my competitive spirit and led me to push ahead of my peers, learning advanced math concepts even when I wasn’t able to get into the advanced math classes my middle school offered.
It is never too late to understand math. At a young age, many of us had the experience of being told that “we are just not a numbers person.” Books have been written on this social phenomena, and half of all Americans report Math anxiety. As it turns out, mathematics is really about learning jargon, a jargon that is so fundamental to humanity that we consider it vocabulary.
At the end of the day, algebra comes down to these three steps: define, recognize and produce. No matter if your child is in middle school or a PhD math program, it’s all about defining (can you understand it?), recognizing (can you identify it?), and producing (can you use it to produce results or new research?). If you can help your child with these three aspects of algebra at home, they’ll be better set up for success in the classroom and the future.
Most students learn to multiply in school by memorizing their multiplication tables. There’s nothing wrong with memorizing multiplication tables, but a child must know what the multiplication tables mean. If they’re multiplying seven by six, they need to have that picture in the back of their head of six groups of seven or seven groups of six. If not, they don’t have a true understanding of what multiplication actually is and it won’t serve them later on in life.Take, for example, a child who knows that five times four is 20. She can solve the multiplication problem with ease.
In early elementary education, the first concepts that we work with are counting and comparisons — that is, quantity comparisons versus what's bigger and smaller. We might show a child an image of four objects and an image with 12 objects, and ask them to identify which has more or fewer. It's important for children to know the difference because it sets the stage for addition and subtraction.
Making math fun for your child within the confines of your everyday world is easy. Let’s say you’re walking down the sidewalk with your child and they say, “Oh, there’s a train.” That’s an opportunity for you to ask how many train cars they can see. How many engines are on the train? Even if it’s just their toys sitting out on the floor, you could ask them, “Can you give me three toy dogs right now?” Then your child has to identify what’s a dog, what’s not a dog and how many of them equal three.Take whatever your child can identify and formulate a math lesson that’s on their level.