Overcoming the Fear of Math: How Do You Teach Your Kids This Valuable Life Skill?

posted by Preethi Chandrasekhar, May 03, 2018

My fear of Math probably stems from the fact that we had really strict teachers who had zero tolerance towards anyone who did not understand a concept right. Let alone clear a doubt, submitting the homework was a task. Truth be told, I am one of those people who still has that nightmare about turning up unprepared for a math exam till I wake up and realize I gave up that subject more than 25 years ago. Overcoming the fear of math was something that I never thought of!

Luckily for me, I have a husband who loves math and it is not a dreaded subject for my boys! For me, trying to figure out how the Pythagoras theorem fits in my life is still a mystery. But then the truth is out there -- many people do fear math.

Overcoming the fear of math

Why does one fear math? Numbers, numbers, numbers. Math is one subject where there is no grey area. You can be right or can be wrong. And when you develop an irrational fear of numbers, that can be detrimental in you learning math. A foundation that helps to love math can help to eliminate the fears and anxiety over the subject.

"Nowadays, schools and teachers are too busy trying to finish the syllabus rather than enjoying the subject. If they enjoy the subject, the kids will automatically pick it up!" says Chaitali Pal Chowdhury, a mum of two, who overcame her fear of math when she started her own after-school program called iMath.

One of the most commonly asked questions is probably how does math fit in my everyday life. I asked myself the same. How on earth would measuring something help me in my life! Or mugging up the theorems? There had to be a way of overcoming the fear of math!

"We use math in our everyday life, from measuring the spices to add in the food we cook, to the quantity of flour you need to bake the cake, to catching that 8.12 local to be at work on time! Isn't that all about measurements and calculations we learnt?" adds Chaitali.

Jonathan Patterson made a very valid point in one of his articles published in the John Hopkins newsletter, "You see, being mathematically ignorant doesn't make someone stupid -- it just robs them of the opportunity to fully understand and appreciate math as a whole field, rather than just as a tool for working with numbers." (Source: John Hopkins Newsletter)

Then, what is the best way to teach math?

What would you prefer? Understanding how to solve the equation or memorizing the equation without quite understanding how it works?

When you teach too many facts at once, learning becomes a memorization technique more than understanding it. Concepts need to taught in a manner where is able to grasp and understand it. And it is best to add on to the concepts only when the previous ones have been mastered.

"Math is best taught by reasoning and not memorizing. Universally, Math is considered one of the toughest subject, and the word 'subject' is at the heart of the problem. Math is a life skill. And no life skill can be taught on a blackboard." says Manan, the founder of CueMath, a home-based math-learning start-up, which was founded primarily to address the 'mindset problem' and help kids unlock their full potential and make them fall in love with mathematics.

All children are different in their mathematical thinking. Their interests and strengths are different. Unfortunately the "good ones" are stereo-typed as those who can memorize well and calculate fast! And when a child does not achieve this, they think they are not good in the subject. When you belong to the latter category, overcoming the fear of math can be a task.

"We believe that great math learning can have a transformative impact on a child's life, because we believe in math being a life skill and not something needed to pass an exam." adds Manan.

How do we retain the love for math?

The number of people who have a math anxiety are mounting. And there is a reason for it. They've been in the rote method, where there is no scope of mastering something before you moved on. Not just math, for any subject, when a student has already learnt a set of facts at the mastery level, then adding on to it becomes easier in comparison to cramming too much information at one go.

In my quest to understand this subject now and help my kids, there are two things of utmost importance to make them love math; practice and feedback. Practice sessions can happen over the day for a span of 10 -15 minutes, anything beyond that can be draining. Feedback is important because they need to know how they are faring. Include fun activities in the practice sessions that will allow them to think out of the box.

If you have been like me, struggled with math as a child, you'll probably have a chance to support your children learning math without relying on your negative experiences. So, you do the math! What would you like to know math as? A subject or a life skill?


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