Have a child whose homework mantra is “I hate math”? This mom’s been there — and formulated some smart solutions that you can use to put the “fun” in the fundamentals of math.
By Rachel Stamper
If your child’s daily after school mantra is “I hate math” or “I just don’t get it,” you may be facing an uphill battle. When kids are struggling in a particular subject, they may close down and it can be tough to convince them that they can succeed. We had this experience with our older son and the subject of math. When he was in elementary school, he was routinely brought to tears by his math homework. We tried to help him, but soon realized it wasn’t enough. We had to change up our approach to math in general.
After some research and experimentation, we found that incorporating math into our everyday activities was the best method to reinforce skills and get our son excited about math. Over the course of a few weeks, we found opportunities to practice math in real-world ways — in playing games, making recipes, and participating in other fun activities. This built our son’s confidence while honing his math skills and, within a few weeks, there were no more tears and much better grades. By the time our son hit the more complex course work of middle school and, later, high school, he was more open to math in general.. Here are some of our best ideas to try at your home.
#1 Add Math into Family Game Night
Family game night is a fun and subtle way to reinforce math skills while spending quality time with your child. Some of the best math games are those that your child will not realize are math games. Here are three of our favorites, which are available online and in retail stores.
Set. This card game for ages 6 and up can be played on a small surface and teaches pattern recognition and logic that are core to mastering math skills. Players make sets of cards with patterns and colors. On the surface it won’t seem like a math game, which is why it’s perfect to reinforce skills. When you can no longer make sets, you can ask your children to explain why there are no more sets to make. This is more of a math thinking game than a math computation game.
Sumoku. This tabletop game is perfect for kids in elementary school through middle school, and it’s played with numbered tiles that come in a totally portable cone-shaped vinyl bag. This fun and fast game reinforces both addition and multiplication. You can choose from five levels of game play, from easier to more challenging.
Monopoly. The classic game of real estate property ownership — for kids 8 years and up — is a perennial favorite in most homes and, if you play the original version, you can help your child reinforce a number of math skills, specifically those related to money. The more recent version that comes with a credit card is not helpful since it does the math for your kids — not good!. Have your child act as banker or let your kids take turns if you have more than one child. (There’s also a Junior version for kids as young as 5.)
#2 Download Some Appealing Math Games and Apps to Get Kids to Like Math
Let’s face it, our kids are all about their devices, whether it’s a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. So it’s natural to use your child’s favorite tech to get them crunching numbers. Here are some free and low-cost resources that we’ve used with success:
CoolMath-Games.com. This website serves as a treasure trove of free, interesting games that your kids will love to play for hours at a time. Alongside it consider CoolMath4Kids.com, a site with fun and easy-to-grasp tips and tricks for addition, multiplication, fractions, and more, as well as CoolMath.com, which includes pre-algebra, algebra, and pre-calculus options.
Math vs Zombies. The lite version of this fun app is free and the full product costs just a few dollars. The plot: You are a scientist who uses math to save the world from zombies … while building addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills. Your kids will know they’re doing math, but they won’t want to stop for a moment.
DreamBox. This high-quality product is used in schools across the country but is also available affordably for use at home. It auto-adjusts in difficulty as your child grasps concepts. It is pricier — and comes with a monthly fee — but it’s well-reviewed and proven to work. Plus, there’s a 14-day free trial, so there’s no risk.
#3 Try Hands-On Math Crafts and Activities
Your child treasures face time with you, so find a time to engage in math activities without actively teaching or instructing. Some examples include cooking together to review measurements and fractions. Work on craft projects like counted cross-stitch, which requires counting threads and grids. Sewing projects can include measuring fabric and considering proportions. Building with Lego blocks can reinforce spatial concepts. Origami teaches geometry and proportions. The ideas are endless, and most any hands-on activity can use some sort of math.
#4 Take Math on the Road
To help reinforce how math helps everyday life, demonstrate rather than lecture. Take your kids along to the grocery store and have them keep a running tally of purchases — then let them figure out how much your coupons will save. Set a budget for holiday shopping or a birthday party and have your child check flyers for sales. If you have a coupon for a percentage off, let your child calculate how it impacts cost. When planning family road trips, put your kids to work to calculate mileage between locations. For bonus points, show them how to estimate gas consumption and cost … then compare actual fuel consumed to their projections.
#5 Inject Math into Their Interests
Math can make the most sense when it relates to your child’s hobbies. Is your child into model rockets? Watch October Sky to see how rocketry and math are interrelated. Is your child all about Minecraft? Ask them to how big the fortress they built in the game would be in real life. Is your son or daughter all about sports? Watch a ball game and calculate statistics, yardage, etc. Again, the possibilities are endless.
Math is everywhere in our lives every day. If you can demonstrate (rather than instruct) how people use and need numbers, you can help establish a life-long love and acceptance of math. This adds up to tear-free homework in the short-run… and expanded academic and career opportunities in the long-run.
Multiply the Fun with Math-Based After School Classes and Activities
Trained instructors who love and use math are particularly adept at teaching kids and teens why numbers should be a source of wonder — not fear and loathing. You can find math and STEM classes that overtly help kids build skills, or look for a class in another subject that uses math, such as art, science, and kids’ engineering courses.