If the words “slide rule” can still make you break out in a cold sweat, take heart. It doesn’t necessarily mean your child will be math phobic too.

Your first move is to let your child know that math is a practical skill, and not to shrug it off as unimportant.

It’s a societal problem. You’ll never meet a self-respecting person who says they can’t read. But people wear their inability to do math as a badge of honour,” says Lynda Colgan, an education professor at Queen’s University who teaches student teachers how to teach math.

“Children hear this all the time. If mom and dad can’t do math, they say ‘Why should I worry about it?’ ” Colgan says.

“If parents struggle at math they should admit that sometimes they find the problems difficult and challenging, but that they have learned that math is important ­— they use it every day in banking, cooking, shopping — and that the effort is worth it. The message is to keep trying because math is all around us and is every bit as important as literacy.”

Parents can do many simple things to support the development of number sense, says Colgan.

Start by talking casually about math. Socks and mittens come in pairs, which helps children learn to count by twos; sandwiches can be cut into triangles, squares and rectangles. Cut a sandwich in halves and quarters to help a child learn the concept of fractions; discuss the shapes of road signs while walking to school. Talk about the purpose of calendars, tape measures, clocks and thermometers, point out that houses have odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the other; a soccer ball is made up of hexagons and pentagon shapes.

One of the best and easiest things to do with children to improve their math skills is to play card games and board games, such as Monopoly and Scrabble, that use math. It gets them used to the vocabulary of math, and reinforces skills like counting and adding, says Carleton University psychology professor Jo-Anne LeFevre, an expert on mathematical cognition.

“It looks like kids who have parents who play these kinds of games with them have better math skills,” LeFevre says.

Cook with your children and allow them to do the measuring, advises LeFevre. Using recipes teaches children about proportions and fractions. Try doubling or halving a recipe to reinforce those skills.

Don’t discount the dreaded math worksheets and math drills. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are important foundation skills.

“You have to do that because they’re not getting that in school,” says LeFevre. She did this with her daughters, who are now 15 and 19. “I figured it couldn’t hurt. The vast majority of kids can learn it.”

LeFevre made math drills fun by creating a chart that tracked speed over time to show the girls how much they had improved. But she points out that there is a lot of educational software that also helps students sharpen these skills.

“Competence is important because knowing how to do something makes kids feel good.”

Point out to your child that, like anything else, math takes practice, agrees Colgan.

“An athlete practises, as does a musician. They do boring things at the beginning, drills and scales, over and over again. As they get better, things become more automatic and they learn to love other aspects of the sport or instrument.

“This is also true for mathematics. Much of elementary school math is like learning the steps. One never gets to put all the steps together in a seamless way until later.”

If your child is falling behind the curriculum, hiring a tutor can be a wise investment, says LeFevre. Math skills build on each other, so a child who is struggling is at risk of never recovering.

It is important for students to grasp the vocabulary of math. LeFevre notes that French-immersion students often have difficulty with math because of the vocabulary, and they sometimes struggle again when they move back to English from French.

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Source: Ottawa Citizen – http://goo.gl/EVxiS