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Why Family Support for Math Learning is so Essential

We often get notes from parents like this: “Thank you for the great program! [My child] is enjoying the games and doesn’t even think of it as homework or MATH!!!!” My first thought is always: wow, it’s so cool to be working for DreamBox because we’re building an amazing product that really helps kids learn. But my second thought is: how can we do more to help change the pervasive feeling that math is a drag?

The first step is to focus on parents’ attitudes toward math, because a parent who brings negativity to the subject will color a child’s perception. I know from first-hand experience what it’s like to leave school with the feeling that I wasn’t good at math. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that math could be interesting for its own sake, not to mention a useful tool in life!

So we encourage parents to ask themselves: What is my attitude toward mathematics? Do I find it interesting? Do I encourage early math learning in the same way that I support early reading? A parent would never say, “I’m not good at reading” because it sends such a negative message. Your feelings—positive or negative—can influence your child’s.

What can parents do to encourage a positive attitude towards math?
Parents can model how a learner behaves. A learner asks questions, is able to revise his thinking, and recognizes that some problems may have more than one answer and may be solved in more than one way.

You can also look for math opportunities in everyday family activities that can make math interesting and challenging for kids. For example, asking “How tall is that building?” presents an interesting problem because it is too tall to measure. But there are ways of reasoning about the height of the building that can be explored. In this situation, helping your child think about what she already knows and how she might use this, develops resourcefulness. Don’t hesitate to share your own ways of thinking about the problem: “You know, I’m six feet tall. How does that information help us think about the height of the building?” You may not get an answer immediately, but you’ve found a way to provoke reasoning!

You can turn this conversation into a game, combining recall of basic facts (What’s 2×6 feet?) with the reasoning ability (How tall is 1 story? And how many stories are there in the building?) to consider different ways to solve the problem. As your child explores problem solving with you, knowing that you’re listening to him, that his ideas are important, and that you’re willing to explore his ideas, you will help him gain confidence and learn to enjoy math.

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