Q: I often hear moms say that their daughters struggle with math in later grades. I don't have the "math gene," but I never want my preschool daughter to hate math. How can I develop her interest?
A: Stop saying you don't have the math gene. There's no such thing. It's a myth that boys are destined to do better in math. Thanks to efforts that focus on girls, gender gaps in math achievement have rapidly declined over the last few decades.
The achievement gap between girls and boys isn't because of differences in innate math skills, say researchers, but because of how math is taught. Girls are often given less encouragement to develop their abilities, says Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University and co-founder of YouCubed (youcubed.org), a nonprofit that provides mathematics education resources to K-12 educators and parents.
To help girls (and boys) develop a foundation for math success, here are some tips:
-- Talk numbers every chance you get: When filling a grocery basket, say, "We need 1, 2, 3 pints of yogurt." Call out page numbers as you read books. Repeat the weather report: "It is 55 degrees now and it will be 70 degrees -- that's 15 degrees warmer -- after school." When driving, note, "On that road, we went 55 mph. Now the speed limit is 35 mph. We're going 20 mph slower."
Number talk helps develop number sense, which math educator Marilyn Burns describes as "knowing what each number represents and what its relationship is to others."
-- Read math-themed kids' books: Children's librarians can point you to many wonderful picture books that use humor, compelling characters and illustrations to motivate kids to think mathematically. Holiday House publishes many delightful math-related books for young readers, including several by former math teacher David A. Adler. Recent books of his include "Triangles" (Holiday House, 2014) and "Millions, Billions and Trillions: Understanding Big Numbers" (Holiday House, 2013).
Burns has authored or co-authored various math-themed children's books, including "How Many Feet? How Many Tails? A Book of Math Riddles" (Scholastic, 1996); "Spaghetti And Meatballs For All!" (Scholastic, 2008); and "The 512 Ants On Sullivan Street" (Scholastic, 1997). For a list of Burns-recommended math-concept books by grade, see the Chart of Children's Literature at www.mathsolutions.com.
-- Highlight everyday math every day: "When you cook, kids can't help but learn fractions," says Laura Overdeck, the advisory board chair for Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth. "When playing with Legos, ask 'How many bumps does that piece have?' to get them multiplying the width and length of a block. When kids run and jump, quantify their feats of speed and strength: How many feet can they kick that ball? How many seconds to run cross the yard?"
-- Enjoy it! To emphasize that math can be funny and whimsical, Overdeck added math puzzles and riddles to her kids' bedtime reading. She compiled them into two books, "Bedtime Math" (Feiwel & Friends, 2013) and "Bedtime Math 2" (Feiwel & Friends, 2014), to get kids into math "one puzzle at a time," she says.
Find more resources and a daily math problem at www.bedtimemath.org.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)