If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that comment…well, I’d have a pile of dollars, and we could get mathy with it. But if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say “I’m not a reading person,” I wouldn’t have many dollars at all.
It is decidedly uncool and socially unacceptable to admit to not being a good reader, much less to being illiterate. Yet it’s totally fine to admit to being innumerate. In fact, advertising your mathematical difficulties may even lift your social standing! What?!?!
Let’s undo that. Please. If you fall into the camp of people who lay claim to not being a “math person,” stop doing that. If only for your young childrens’ sakes, keep mum about your math anxiety. If your kids are older and you think sharing your scary math experiences as a student will help them face their own hurdles, by all means go for it, but don’t let them adopt that “not mathy” identity. If at all possible, do not speak ill of math. (Or any subject for that matter. Why set the stage for your kids to dislike something before they know it? I am always bothered by adults who suggest to my kids that they should be dreading school. Why plant the seeds for negative feelings before they even exist?)
I am not trying to diminish what is a legitimate feeling of discomfort that many people have for math. I’m going to lay the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of the curriculum you were taught, and, unfortunately, on the well-intentioned teachers who presented it. Math is traditionally taught as an inflexible sequence of facts and processes to be memorized. It also gets abstract quickly in a traditional curriculum. Inflexible abstract spaces are not welcoming to children, so if you couldn’t adapt to that as a kid, you likely felt out of place in math class.
And if you actually did quite well in your math classes, enjoyed them, and have never experienced math anxiety, that’s awesome! But, it’s likely (though not guaranteed, you lucky few) that those classes were still inflexible and abstract and, alas, uninspiring in ways that they didn’t have to be.
The happy secret that we can let our kids in on is that math is actually a crazy creative space! It is much broader than the narrow memorization of addition/subtraction and multiplication/division facts. It is much deeper than the practical processes you learn to simplify an expression, balance an equation, and solve for X. And YOU don’t really need to be comfortable with all the ins and outs of those things in order to be a math positive person for your kids. Just start by NOT being math negative. Then build on that by being curious and coaching your kids to be curious, too. (FYI – apply this method to anything, really.)
Next post will be about more things you can actually DO besides just singing the “I Love Math” song to your kids. (You ARE singing that song to them, right? It’s just three words and any tune you like! Very flexible and not abstract.)