As a parent I have found one of the most difficult things to help my child with is math. I have never been “gifted” in math so when E’s school held a workshop to go through the new ways math is taught I jumped at the chance to hear their methods. However, as I went into the classroom I felt a cold lump in the pit of my stomach and Chevy Chase’s impression of President Ford kept running through my head. (“I was told there would be no math…”)
As I have mentioned, in the States my children have gone only to Montessori schools. One of the reasons we chose Montessori is because it emphasizes working with the natural mathematical inclinations of children. They naturally tend to understand their environment through manipulation, classification, order, sequencing, and patterns. All basic math concepts.
I really like this hands-on approach, but I also wish that more people would teach math like we teach language. Not a second language, but our “mother tongue” language. The language we speak to our children. Let’s think about how our children learn to speak. We immerse them in a controlled environment. We consciously chose the words we use with them. We chose words that we know are easy to imitate and understand. We encourage their first efforts and endlessly repeat the vocabulary in fun games and songs. It’s only after they have had practice at speaking that we actually sit them down and start teaching them to write and read.
Sounds, letters, words are the language of the mental and emotional world. Math is the language of the physical world. It is what let’s us play catch, bake cookies, and walk through the woods.
Think if we did this with math. If we spoke about and pointed out the math in our everyday life. It’s more than playing boardgames, although they are awesome tools. It’s cultivating real-world math experiences. Immersing children, with conscious intention, in the places where math lives — in the realm of the physical.
Playing catch, kicking a soccer ball, shooting hoops is all physics. Plus you can play with the concept and most basic of physics equations Force = Mass x Acceleration. “If I kick it harder will it go faster?” “I am 50 pounds and Dad is 175 pounds; who can make the ball go faster/farther?” “How far can I throw this small baseball and how far can I throw this larger basketball?” “How far will this rock slide on ice?”
When you go for a hike you notice nature. Nature is biology, botany, and even geography. The child can notice plants and animals; rocks, minerals, and fossils; and changing seasons. I can’t tell you how many rocks and sticks and other “treasures” my children have brought home for us to look at and compare to past hiking finds. And don’t even get me started on how many pictures I have on my refrigerator of animals they have seen or imagined.
Baking cookies or brownies or even making pizza is chemistry, fractions, and scientific method. And, special bonus, it’s fun and you get to eat the deliciousness at the end!
They key is making the experiences intentional, yet keeping it play. Just like with language.
Math shouldn’t be scary and boring. We have to use it everyday. And we do. Every time we open a bottle of beer, make a pizza, run up a hill, and check the weather we use math. We just don’t realize or acknowledge it. I have discovered that as I bake and play and hike with my kids with the conscious intention of showing them math I have become less math-phobic. Hopefully, as we all become less math-phobic we can foster a whole new generation of STEM experts.