When They Love Math Like Dessert
When it comes to getting kids excited about math, we parents are smack on Square 1. Kids are eager, curious learners by nature, and in that mode they do best when we, their parents and role models, dive into a subject with enthusiasm. As one oft-quoted saying puts it, “Children might not listen to you, but they will never fail to imitate you.” If there was ever an instance where this held true, it’s math, and on this front our culture gets mixed reviews. But we can turn this around.
No confident, educated adult would ever say, “You know, I’m just not that good at reading.” But in our society it’s perfectly fine to say, “I just can’t do math!” When we say this, we stigmatize math in earshot of our kids. Whereas if we view math as a playful activity, kids will sense that, too, and imitate our playful approach. That’s the whole idea behind the book Bedtime Math. If kids like frogs, flamingos and cookie dough, then let’s do math problems about frogs, flamingos and cookie dough!
We also need to roll math into our everyday lives, so our kids will do the same. If your kids love exercise, work some numbers into the scene. Count how many kicks it takes to kick a soccer ball down the field, or how many frenzied jumping jacks they can do in one minute. If your kids love food, they can be your prep chefs for dinner. Have them weigh the vegetables, then weigh themselves to compare. Let them measure ingredients, and figure out how many tablespoons of rice or corn or sugar each person will eventually eat. When the hotdogs come in packs of ten but the rolls come in eights, have them figure out how many of each you’d have to buy for everything to even out.
Even if you want to practice addition or times tables, these activities can be made into fun games. Write out math problems on a sheet of paper, then put a Lego piece or a chocolate chip on top of each one. As kids solve the questions, they get the item on top as a prize, and then get to build a car from that Lego or snack on those chocolate chips. Throw in a stopwatch to make it a speed game – not to see if they can finish a certain number of questions in time, but rather to see how many they can do and how many goodies they can win.
In short, math can and should be playful. That’s a big ask for tired, overworked parents, but the more we can turn math into playtime, the more it will feel like play for us, too.
Laura Overdeck, Author, Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, 2013)