My Relationship with Math
I know you will find it hard to believe that I am about to celebrate my fourth year of working for Demme Learning and I have still not fallen in love with mathematics. True statement. To this day I would still prefer to diagram a sentence than work on mathematics problems.
What I can say with total honesty is that I no longer have an adversarial relationship with math. I don’t hate it anymore. Since this rather sour attitude has colored most of my life, I knew I wanted something different for my children. Is that not a succinct definition of parenting – we want our children’s education to be better than ours?
How Can We Make Math Better for Our Kids?
How do you make mathematics part of your children’s lives without torturing them? I have the t-shirt for mathematical torture. I have driven my kids totally bananas with flash cards. I have been “that mom” who rolls her eyes in exasperation at the child struggling with math facts.
I can also honestly say that I have repented. It took me a number of years to realize that in the presence of stress, no one learns much of anything. Being on the receiving end of mom’s exasperation with your mathematical performance was surely a stress inducement for my children!
I do have to say that over the years I have become wiser, so if hindsight is 20/20, let me share some tricks that will help you incorporate mathematical facts into your day that don’t seem “mathy”.
Sneak Math Into Your Day With These Tips
1) Practice Math Facts On the Road
This is my favorite way to sneak math into my day.
Until my 12 year old was at least 10, he honestly thought that traffic signals were called “math lights”.
When we were stopped at a traffic signal, it was fair game for me to ask anyone in the car math facts – as long as the signal was red. It also prevented my kids from seeing my oh-so-expressive face if they failed to answer properly. (Mom’s exasperated expression problem? Solved!) The value here is small increments and mathematical thinking. My 18-year-old’s best friend still fondly remembers my doing this.
2) Do Math Before Something Fun
Here’s another “sneaker”.
As a your child gets ready to do something fun, perhaps outside, stop them and say, “Before you go, give me three math facts,” and ask them “What’s 2 + 3; What’s 5 + 9?; What’s 17-8?” Right or wrong, three and you’re free!
3) Involve Your Children When Spending Money
As my children got older, I would take them in to pick up pizza. Whatever the price of the pickup, I would say to the children as I handed over money, “If you can tell me the change the clerk is going to return to me before he gives it to me, then I will let you have the change.”
For example, let’s say the total was $16.80 and I handed the clerk a $20 bill. If the child accompanying me could tell me the change was $3.20 before the clerk handed it to me, they could keep it. Some of you may say that is bribery – call it what you want, I would prefer to refer to it as “motivation”.
4) Use Shopping Trips to Practice Math
How about this one: Shopping with a teenager and there is a 20% off sale on the jeans they want to purchase – “Tell me what the discount is before we get to the checkout and I will give you the 20%.”
5) Have Your Children Plan the Grocery Bill
Another way that we accomplished sneaky math with my teenagers was to have each of them be responsible for a portion of the grocery bill. This takes a little planning and coordination, but you would be surprised at the motivation a child has if they know they get to keep the savings they produce.
I would divide the grocery list into four parts. (The trick to this one is that I have to know what the divided parts are going to cost.) I would send a teenager, with cash and the list, to each part of the store to procure their portion of the list. They would go through the checkout on their own, with the cash I had given them. If they spent less than the “budget” I gave them, they were entitled to keep the change. If they went over, I would pay the difference, but they had no “reward” for their time.
6) Do Math When You Eat Out
For years we have played “guess the total” in restaurants. What purpose would that serve you say? Several mathematical purposes actually – it makes your children pay attention to the price of items on the menu.
It also provides an opportunity for them to apply estimation and rounding skills. Further, it gives them the opportunity to learn how to calculate a tip. My father-in-law, despite being an accomplished mechanical engineer never mastered the mystery of calculating a tip and he truly thought it was magical that his grandkids could calculate a tip in their heads.
Why Do We Try to Sneak Math In?
Why would you do all of this with your children?
Well I will tell you for sure – I could do NONE of this when I started homeschooling – but I knew I was weak mathematically and I was determined to create something different for my kids.
Where is the reward in all that hard work? My eldest daughter got a $53,000 SBA loan at the ripe old age of 19 and bought a coffee shop. You know what? She would only hire kids who could calculate change in their heads if the cash register failed them. My eldest son started his own business as a college student and paid his way through college. My “sneakiness” paid off in a myriad of ways.
My prayer for you is that you will be sneaky too.
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