Many of us struggled with math as a subject in school. Even as adults, we might be haunted by awful memories of long division or algebra, and get sweaty palms when we have to figure out how much to leave for a tip. I can’t even count the number of times a parent of one of my students has told me, “Yeah, I’m awful at math. She gets that from me. We just don’t have that math gene.” or “I can’t do math, so I won’t be the one helping him with his homework.”

Much like anything else, kids’ attitudes and confidence around their math abilities start at home. The idea that one either gets math for life, or does not is common in a lot of homes. In my classroom, I noticed that often kids were most successful in math when they didn’t realize they were doing math. They had to be tricked into using everyday life situations to understand mathematical concepts. It made me think about how often adults probably don’t realize they are “doing” math. Every time you go shopping you are doing math. When you load up your cart, compare two items, decide if you can afford everything, or decide if something is worth it to you, that’s math. Every time you use your calendar or a clock to figure out how much sleep you will get if your child actually stays in bed from now until morning; math. Every time you try to decide if you have enough diapers to last you until you go to the store tomorrow or cook your family a meal, that’s math.

You also do many of these things without much effort. Sometimes I’ve noticed that math is perceived to be harder for people than it actually is. It’s a cultural monologue we keep reciting out loud. “Math is boring. Math is hard. I’m no good at it.” But the reality is, in my classroom, I did not see a major difference in children’s *inherent abilities* to do math. What I saw a major difference in was their *attitudes* about math. That’s not to say that kids didn’t have varying strengths and weaknesses across the curriculum, but I see something happening in math more than anywhere else in the curriculum – we make excuses.

Blaming something on genetics means it’s beyond our control. It means that no matter what we do, some kids will learn it and some kids won’t. It would mean then, that for those kids who “don’t get math,” nothing we do makes a difference. That’s simply not true.

As a parent, you would never say, “I’m illiterate. She gets that from me.” No parent has ever said to me, “Anything past third grade *reading*, and I’m of no use to help with homework.” It’s not socially acceptable to admit to being bad at reading, but it’s almost seen as funny or a badge of honor to be bad at math. In fact, culturally speaking, people are even made fun of for being ‘math geeks,’ and it’s seen as not cool to be too good at or too interested in math. Even if parents can’t always make the time for it, most would acknowledge how important it is to read with their child every day. They know that their kid will only get better at reading with lots of practice and support. To support a child's reading development, we sit next to them, holding their hand through the process, giving them hints along the way, and building upon what they already know about letters, sounds, and words to gain meaning from the book. I wonder what would happen if parents and schools approached math in the same way and did those same things to support their child's math development.

*Thursday on the blog I'll be giving you some practical ways to help create positive attitudes about math in your home and to raise kids who can and will do math.*

photo credit: jennifertomaloff via photopin cc