Raising Kids Who Love Math — Even If You Don't Up to 93% of American adults have some degree of math anxiety. The problem often starts in elementary school, but parents can do a lot to fix it. We talk to experts to get some unexpected strategies for children of all ages, with a little bit of help from Sesame Street and, of course, the Count.
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Raising Kids Who Love Math — Even If You Don't

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Raising Kids Who Love Math — Even If You Don't

Raising Kids Who Love Math — Even If You Don't

Raising Kids Who Love Math — Even If You Don't

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/723182826/723345761" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Teaching kids math doesn't need to involve a textbook. LA Johnson/NPR hide caption

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LA Johnson/NPR

Teaching kids math doesn't need to involve a textbook.

LA Johnson/NPR

By some estimates, up to 93% of American adults have some degree of math anxiety. The problem often starts in elementary school, but parents can do a lot to fix it.

Sesame Workshop's Rosemarie Truglio and Sudha Swaminathan of Eastern Connecticut State University give us some unexpected strategies for children of all ages, with a little bit of help from Sesame Street head writer Ken Scarborough and, of course, the Count.

1. Your own math anxiety doesn't have to hold your kids back.

If your child is struggling with math, don't bond by sharing your own history of math worries, Trulio says.

"Children are not born with math anxiety, all right? It's passed on to them," she says. "So I think that's why we have to check ourselves in when we're talking about math."

2. Talk about math when you're sharing everyday activities.

Whether making cookies, playing baseball, enjoying music or just cleaning up, try to weave math concepts like numbers, shapes, sizes, ratios, into the conversation, says Swaminathan.

"You ask them to put their books away and then say, it doesn't fit in the shelf," she explains. "So why doesn't it fit? Maybe the book is too tall, too big."

3. Play math — with board games, card games, puzzles, and more.

Find ways to keep math in mind when you're playing with your kids. Swaminathan says you may already be doing this.

"Research has shown that when parents just play, they're actually really, really good at pulling out these deep concepts from children — much better than even teachers," she says.

4. Forget about right and wrong answers.

Children learn by trial and error, and there should be no fear in making a mistake, Truglio says. Also, every now and then, make a mistake and give your kids a chance to correct you.

Keep things open-ended — life, and math, are more fun that way. You can ask your child, what shape is this table, but ask more questions: How do you know it's a circle? Why does a circle make a good table?

"That gets us talking about shapes. It's a real conversation," Swaminathan says.

Resources:

Special thanks to Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Julia DeLapp and the team at the Center for Early Childhood Education.

Here's a good overview of the science behind playing math.

Thanks also to the math learning researchers Jo Boaler, Manuela Paechter and Ann Dowker.