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How (and Why) to Speak Math With Your Kids

math talk, math anxiety

Reading about numbers is a start. So is everyday conversation.

You blab to them in utero. You read to them when they’re newborns. You push words at them non-stop from the time they’re conceived and you do it because it’s fun, it’s natural and you know it’s gonna make them smart.

But it’s not just vocabulary and imagination, emotional intelligence and eloquence that gets boosted when we talk purposefully to our kids. Words can also help them in math.

Several new studies are showing the benefits of talking numbers, even to little kids. One study is also a heads-up to parents who, perhaps unwittingly, include less numeracy chat with their girls than they do with their boys. (Could that be contributing to the math anxiety gender gap?)

Annie Murphy Paul, has a column in Wired Academic about the studies and also some tips on how to work in more math talk at home. (Don’t worry: you won’t need a calculator — or even scratch paper — to get started.)

First, the studies. Paul writes about several, all of which point to the important of using number words with kids, even toddlers. There’s tremendous variation among families, some, recording determined, only using dozens of number words each week while other used nearly 2,000. Number talk had a serious impact on how well kids understood math concepts — those who were exposed to math language picked up on concepts more quickly than those who had less. One study found that parents used number words nearly twice as much with boys as they did with girls, so let’s all try to consciously reverse that, OK?

Math is something you’ve probably done unwittingly, all that “oh! Look at all those bubbles! Let’s count them.” But Paul has a few more tips for getting in even more. In Wired Academic, she writes:

  • Note numbers on signs when you’re walking or driving with children: speed limits and exit numbers, building addresses, sale prices in store windows.
  • Ask children to count how many toys they’re playing with, how many books they’ve pulled out to read, or how many pieces of food are on their plate.
  • Use numbers when you refer to time, dates, and temperatures: how many hours and minutes until bedtime, how many weeks and days until a holiday, the high and low the weatherman predicts for that day.
  • With older children, math can become a part of talking about sports, science, history, video games, or whatever else they’re interested in.

I get a lot of number talking in at the grocery store. Numbers are everywhere and, as the kids get older, nutrition labels and two-for-one specials are built-in and fun math problems. Also, cooking and counting money — for older kids of course.

What’s your favorite way to bring math and numbers into the conversation?

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Is Math Anxiety a Girl Thing?

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