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When the Erudite Science team took to Montreal’s Science Center with a demo of Sweet Math, a fun educational tool for kids, math enthusiasts young and old gathered to play with falling fruits and talk about what makes math fun.
“It was so great to interact with kids age 5-17 for several sweet minutes while, together with their parents, they explored all the different ways in which math education can be fun, and stimulating.” Hadas, an Erudite Science mathematics educator, reported of the event.
It was exciting to observe the evident correlation between the level of interest parents had in educational tools and the amount of likability kids had towards math. Children whose parents showed a higher level of interest in math games and tools were much more engaged as well, and more frequently said that they “liked math”.
“Parents with a bad attitude towards math have a very critical impact on their kids as math learners.”
One mother at the Science Center with a PhD in mathematics education noted that it is the simplest things parents say that affect the perception of math developed by children. She cited an incident she once observed: a woman in the grocery store considering two similar products said to her daughter, “I don’t know what the better deal is, I have always sucked at math.” She went on to explain that by making what that mother considered to be a nonchalant comment, her child heard it’s ok not to be good at math.
It turns out that parents with a bad attitude towards math have a very critical impact on their kids as math learners. A meta-analysis conducted in 2005 on parent involvement showed that the expectations children perceive of their parents have the largest impact on the children’s educational achievement.
Another study linked the math anxiety of children and parents and showed that children who ask math-anxious parents for help with their math homework are more likely to develop anxiety towards math, and achieve a lower level of mathematical skill.
University of Chicago professor Susan Levine explains, “Math-anxious parents may be less effective in explaining math concepts to children, and may not respond well when children make a mistake or solve a problem in a novel way.”
But wait! Before you throw in the towel and b-line out of your child’s mathematics career, remember: parent involvement positively relates to higher levels of student achievement.
The meta-analysis, conducted by William H. Jeynes, pinpointed two key components of parental involvement at the core of these results. First, as previously pointed out, parental expectations have a predominant impact on the academic achievement of young learners. Jeynes found that over the span of 300,000 analyzed students this remained true regardless of how the outcomes of students were measured (grades, standardized test scores, teacher ratings, etc). Second, parent participation in time-intensive activities such as reading and communicating openly with each child has a positive correlation to the child’s achievement of educational outcomes.
So, if research shows that higher parental involvement leads to higher academic achievement, but that higher parental involvement from math-anxious parents leads to lower mathematics achievements, what’s the math-anxious parent to do?
Erin A. Maloney, psychology postdoc at the University of Chicago suggests that “we need to develop better tools to teach parents how to most effectively help their children with math.” Jeynes agrees, concluding his study by saying that educators need to adopt strategies to encourage and strengthen parental engagement in children’s schooling.