Five Ways to Help Children Who Think They Can’t Do Math

July 2, 2014

We have all heard a child say, “I can’t do math” or “I’m not a math person.”

Two children working on computer
Teamwork can also help children overcome math anxiety.

These statements may indicate something more. According to NYU teaching and learning professor Dr. Rose Vukovic, children as young as first graders are affected by anxiety surrounding their abilities to solve math problems. And it doesn’t necessarily go away; a different study from 2012 found that negative feelings and apprehension towards math can persist throughout a lifetime.

How can we get children excited about math and STEM careers from an early age? Here are some strategies to combat math anxiety:

  • Think trial-and-error, not failure. Reframe math in terms of “trial-and-error” experimentation instead of “right-versus-wrong.” This helps children can develop creative problem-solving skills, viewing “mistakes” and “failures” as necessary steps to a better understanding.

  • Embrace space. Give children enough time and space to reason through a problem instead of rushing to step in with the correct solution.

  • Ask why. Explore beyond the confines of the original math problem by asking questions. Why is this theorem true? What are some real-life examples? By expanding upon problems and imagining new scenarios, teachers help learners apply their skills rather than just memorize algorithms or complete tedious worksheets.

  • Encourage a growth mindset. Emphasize progress. According to research by social psychologist Carol Dweck, intelligence and learning ability can be developed. Focusing on children’s improvement can motivate them to succeed by persisting trough challenges.

  • Stay Positive. Leave negativity about math at the doorway! Brain scan findings indicate that negative thoughts and emotions about one’s math ability dramatically harm math performance.

Simply changing the way we discuss math can help soothe anxious children. Reasoning Mind aims to foster a love for learning mathematics through a coherent curriculum and an animated, engaging environment. Learn more about our program and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

Post by Stephanie Li, Communications PRIME Fellow


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