At home with math

What the way you live is telling your child about math.

Learning Stages

By Dr. Merilyn Buchanan & Dr. Sharon Sutton

Dr. Merilyn Buchanan is Coordinator of the Primary Mathematics Project, Royal Institution of Great Britain and Cambridge University. She is the former mathematics coordinator at Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Sharon Sutton is Coordinator of Technology and Outreach at the same school.

Your house sends a message about your attitude toward math. This message is carried throughout the school years by your child and influences her feelings about and performance in mathematics. You can create a home environment that is math-friendly by supplying a few simple elements.

  1. Designated workspace. Create a special workplace for your child. The area should be welcoming, warm, well-ventilated and somewhere she chooses to be. It should be quiet to reduce distractions while working. Depending on your child's learning style, she might be more relaxed with some background music.
  2. Math tools. Learners, like good craftsmen, rely on tools. A calculator, measuring cups, ruler, measuring tape, scissors, protractor, kitchen and bathroom scales are important math tools your child should have in her math tool box. Computer programs can also be helpful if you are clear about their purpose. Many improve speedy recall of basic number facts while others give practice in mathematical problem-solving or reasoning. Specialized math materials will enrich your child's experiences and allow her to connect with class work.
  3. Math manipulatives. Create special “math bags” to add an element of curiosity for your child to investigate new mathematical ideas. Beans, toothpicks, shells, buttons, pennies and dice are ideal for creating puzzles and number problems to solve. Playing cards and homemade flash cards are excellent for practicing number operations, and a tangram set builds spatial sense for geometry.
  4. Math games. Simple card sets or more complex board games can be a rich source for bringing math enjoyment to the entire family. As you play, emphasize the math skills being used. Ask questions about winning strategies, the fairness of the game and probable outcomes. Challenge your child to analyze her play and consider different strategies, or to think of new rules for the game. Your child will become clearer about different ways to problem-solve, you will become better informed about your child's mathematical thinking, and you both will practice mathematical language.
  5. Math activities around the house. Kitchen activities can easily include weighing ingredients, finding out which items float or sink, checking or converting temperatures, or figuring out the cost of groceries. Have your child draw up a scale plan of her bedroom, including measuring spaces and drawing a scale plan. Remind your child: math is all around the house, and in everything you both do.
  6. Math routines. Schedule a regular time for both you and your child to do math work. Give suggestions, ask questions and offer assistance to guide your child in thinking through and developing strategies for herself. Check work together and use mistakes as tools for learning.  For difficult problems, make up a similar but simpler problem. Reward effort as well as achievement.

The most important resource of all in the home environment is you. You have a unique opportunity to give well-deserved, undivided attention to your child and to show joy in math activities, build confidence, and develop and extend mathematical thinking. Display your child's math work on the fridge to show you are proud of her efforts. Set high expectations but make them attainable. Make only positive comments about math activities. Remember, attitudes are infectious; make yours worth catching.