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Education

Workbooks – Work = Truly Fun Math

fatherandsontangramsLet’s face it: Math isn’t winning any popularity contests these days. The way our society talks about math—in the press, in debates among politicians, on the T-shirts that say “Allergic to Algebra”—we’re made to believe that math is a serious, painful educational rite of passage.

The problem is that we aren’t playful about math for the sake of our kids. While activities like reading, art and music exist in parallel as fun pastimes, math is presented strictly as a tedious, obligatory school subject—the stuff of dry, boring workbooks.

It’s no surprise, then, that by the time kids reach elementary school, neither they nor their parents think of math as a recreational activity. Unfortunately, our after-school infrastructure reinforces this impression. Tens of millions of kids play sports. Millions play an instrument or join Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. But how many join a math or science club? The arguably most popular STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activity is FIRST Robotics, and by contrast, that has about 180,000 participants per year. That’s about 1/200th of the number playing sports.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way, and parents can steer the ship by showing their own kids that math is a blast. After all, families are hungry for fun math. It’s the reason I founded the nonprofit Bedtime Math, which helps kids develop a love of numbers so they can handle math in real life.

Here are five tips for helping your kids—and the whole family!—build a lifetime love of math.

1) Ditch the stuffy workbooks. To help curb workbook fatigue and get families and kids truly excited about math, I developed Bedtime Math books, which use humor, colorful pictures and characters, and crazy plots that allow families to enjoy solving wacky and fun math problems together. These or similar books will keep your kids laughing and having fun, without even realizing they’re learning too.

2) Start or encourage your child to participate in an after-school math club. Our team at Bedtime Math started a nationwide club, Crazy 8s, for which we send a free kit to any elementary school that can find a parent or teacher to coach. In less than a year, over 2,500 clubs have started, serving up Toilet Paper Olympics and Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry to more than 30,000 kids. It’s possibly already the country’s biggest after-school math club for elementary school.

3) Sneak learning opportunities in through toys and puzzles. Look for toys that demonstrate key math concepts while building creativity and dexterity. Some of my favorite toys include Fractiles, Spirograph and Blokus, which all show kids the wonders of geometry.

4) Infuse math into your cultural experiences. Across major American cities, chances are you can find at least one museum devoted to the wonder and mystery of math. If you’re up for some travel, check out the fairly new Museum of Mathematics in New York City, or other locales like the Boston Museum of Science, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, across from the Statue of Liberty. All of them give kids fun hands-on experiences that will lay the foundation for a love of numbers.

5) Join a national movement to make math fun. We’re incredibly excited about the first ever National Math Festival, launched by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution. This gathering in Washington, DC, on April 18, 2015, will bring together museum exhibits, toymakers, and others who believe in the beauty and fun inherent in numbers and want to share that with the public. (For more information, visit MathFest.org.)

These are just some ideas, but remember, you don’t even need to leave your own home to enjoy math with your kids. Just get a little creative. Math offers tons of playful possibilities, if we take the time to look and count them up.

 

 

 


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