Math Doesn't Have to be Scary

Dear Dr. Linda,

Our daughter is entering fourth grade and the last thing her teacher said to me at our spring conference was, “Emma is still struggling in math, so be sure to do math with her over the summer so she won’t struggle in fourth grade.” Did she ruin our summer with that advice? Yes. As a student, I hated math. I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying and when my parents tried to help me it made everything worse. My husband and I don’t know what to do—and my daughter ends up crying if I mention the word “math.” Any advice?


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Dear Vicky,

Unfortunately, many people hate math. And it’s not because math is so hard to understand—it’s that math is personal. Some children understand numbers and enjoy playing with numbers. They’re our future mathematicians. However, even these children sometimes struggle in school with math because the teacher is told to follow a particular program and some children simply don’t do well with that program.

For example, Andrew loved basketball and was able to figure out scores and make predictions by doing math in his head. Yet, he was unable to succeed following the school program because it had multiple steps and he struggled with anything in which he had to follow multiple steps. Because of this, he was failing math and had to go to school at 7:30 a.m., an hour and a half before everyone else, for math help. Obviously, it didn’t help him because he was still following the same program, a program that didn’t account for Andrew’s needs.

Then today, many children need to count on their fingers when they first learn how to add and subtract. Yet, as I mentioned in a previous column, many program-following teachers don’t allow these children to use their fingers. (As a result, the only thing they learn is how to hide their fingers.)

One more example is the child who loves math, but is told (because of the program the school is using) that he needs to write and explain what he’s doing. For some children this is fine, but for one fifth-grader I worked with, this was a disaster because he had trouble with writing. He started failing math. If not for his parents and teacher who decided together to let him do the math his way, he’d still be failing math. Instead, he’s now entering eighth grade with an A+ average in accelerated math.

The point is, teachers need to find the method that fits each child, not find a method and then try to make each child fit the method. When this happens, the child usually becomes frustrated and anxious and math becomes a negative thing.

To prevent math from becoming even more negative for your daughter (and you), play age-appropriate math games that require the learning of addition or subtraction or the times tables, etc., to win. This will help your daughter and you change the way you both think and feel about math.

Here’s one you might start with: First make a tic-tac-toe design. Instead of putting in Xs and Os, put the numbers 4, 9 and 2 across the top row. Then put 3, 5 and 7 across the center row. Now put 8, 1 and 6 across the bottom row. (If you add any three numbers across, down or diagonally it always adds up to the same thing—15.

Visit my blog——for more free ideas. There’s still time to save your summer!

To fun with math,

Dr. Linda

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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