If your child has difficulty with division and fractions, or still hasn't mastered regrouping in subtraction, then you've probably sat shoulder to shoulder at the kitchen table and coached him. If that hasn't worked, you might wonder if he lacks a math gene (or whether it's your own grasp of math that's lacking). The truth is, the fear of math, its jargon-y equations and language, and its ostensibly impossible relationship to real life, can cause furrowed brows among students and parents. But you can help your child make sense of math — and have fun too.
- Find a math surprise every day. Thinking creatively requires a certain basic mindset. If you train your mind to think that way, you'll help your child find novel and interesting solutions to everyday situations. Start by looking for patterns in your child's daily life: Does he organize his books from small to large, or go swimming every Monday and Wednesday? That act of searching will enable him to look for structure as it emerges, and all of a sudden, his worldview sharpens a bit.
- Look for a simple idea, and follow it as far as you can, with an open mind. You can start with shapes, proportions, or sizes of objects. Find all the round foods in your kitchen and make a meal of them, or see how many different ways you can represent your child's height (is she as tall as four rolls of paper towels or ten times as big as her favorite stuffed animal?).
- Ponder puzzles. Since uncovering patterns and applying complex math problems to real life can get harder as your child reaches the middle-school years, check out Mind Stretching Math Puzzles, by Derrick Niederman. The book is full of questions you can tailor to your child's surroundings, including: Hector can run from the train station to his parents' house in 8 minutes. His younger brother Darius can run the same distance 8 times in 1 hour. Who is faster?
- Play a math game and become a hero. In Math Missions: The Amazing Arcade Adventure, Randall Underling is trying to take over the city's stores. That's where your child comes in. He can help storeowners get back in business while reinforcing his math skills in a real-world context. Plus, he gets to open his own virtual arcade as a reward.
- Find some math entertainment. A DVD from the Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Education, "Math . . . Who Needs It?" shows viewers of all ages how math is used in real life, from skateboard design to roller-coaster construction. This one-of-a-kind comedy show answers the most-asked questions about math, including "Why do I need to learn this?"
- Brush up on your own math thinking. Typically, several years or even decades have passed since you studied higher math concepts. Prime your own mathematics curiosity by reading a book filed under both math and humor: Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas, by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird. And to refresh your memory when homework time rolls around, don't miss our math primer.