On helping children to love math

Some version of the following comes through my email Inbox every so often.

My daughter does not like maths. How can I ignite the passion for maths? She’s 8 and I feel she’s got to learn the importance of maths but how can I do it?  A teacher told her Maths is not for everyone and she believes it. Help!

Here is a version of my standard response.


Your story strikes close to my heart.

You may well know that girls are much more likely to get these kinds of messages from teachers than boys are, and they are much more likely to internalize these messages, as their teachers are much more likely to be same-gender role models.

It is all heartbreaking.

And I’ve seen these forces first-hand this year with my 9-year-old daughter. Her teacher said to her in a parent-teacher conference, “Your mind is better with words than with numbers, isn’t it?”

This, despite extensive evidence that she is a super creative mathematical thinker. A significant fraction of that evidence is documented on my blog, Talking Math with Your Kids.

With my own children, I have taken the perspective that “loving math” or even “appreciating its importance” may not be reasonable goals. Instead, being able to see math in their lives, and becoming competent mathematicians is.

Of course I would love for my children to love math, just as I would love for them to love reading. But I can’t enforce those emotions. What I can do is infuse my children’s everyday world with shapes, patterns, and numbers just as I infuse their world with words and stories.

This blog is full of concrete examples of opportunities for this. The post about hot chocolate is probably the simplest and clearest example of how parents can make simple changes to support their kids’ developing mathematical minds.

I would also recommend spending some time reading the research posts. There’s a lot of useful and interesting research work going on in math education right now, especially as it pertains to elementary-aged children, parents, and math.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if there is anything further I can do to support you and your daughter.

I wish you both the best!

Christopher

[Readers write] Talking math with high schoolers

Reader Virginia wrote in via the About/Contact page recently, but must have had a typo in her email address. So I will reply to her question here. She wrote:

Intrigued by your blog and will purchase your ebook. Why not write about how to have math conversations with a high schooler? We could really use help in that arena. Many thanks.

My reply:

Thank you for reading, and thanks for writing.
I will be honest and say that the reason I haven’t written about high schoolers is that I don’t have regular access to them. Almost all of my examples come out of my experience at home, filtered through my professional knowledge. My little ones are now 7 and 10. I have been keeping track of these conversations since the older one was about 4, and in more earnest when the younger one was 4.
I will keep your request in mind and post to the blog when resources occur to me that may be helpful to you.
In the meantime, you may have fun with a website called Math Munch. There is lots of fun stuff to explore there, that would be appropriate for having conversations with high schoolers, even if that isn’t the explicit aim.
Best wishes and thanks again for writing!