Math is one of the most important parts of everyday life. Even children need to use fundamental math concepts on a regular basis. When children learn math from an early age, there are numerous benefits that they can gain from it. However, it may be that some children do not like or are not particularly interested in math.
It is important to help children become more willing to learn, gain confidence and interest in math, and to more clearly understand that math isn’t just for passing exams but is also useful in the real world.
This is significant because many children suffer from math anxiety, which is a widespread, long-standing problem with serious consequences for individuals and society at large.1
So, what is math anxiety?2
According to a leading academic, Sue Johnston-Wilder, maths anxiety is “a negative emotional reaction to mathematics that acts as an ‘emotional handbrake’ and holds up progress in maths.”3
Many children feel stressed and anxious when asked any question related to math or while doing their math homework. Even many adults feel extremely nervous when faced with a situation that requires them to do some basic math. Math anxiety goes beyond feeling nervous about doing math, since nervousness is still a sensible reaction to a situation that can be scary, but anxiety may not make sense to many people. It is problematic because a person who feels anxious may feel so even when there is no reason to do so, and anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as sweating or an elevated heart rate.2
Children who have math anxiety will feel that they are bad at math. They will eventually not like math, and when they have to do math, they will try to either avoid the situation or get anxious, leading to poor math skills. Most adults with math anxiety grow up to have trouble with math in their everyday lives and careers, and they are less likely to show interest in and succeed in careers in technology, science, engineering, and anything that involves math.2
As math anxiety plays a major role in the success of children, both academically and in their lives as adults, building math resilience is crucial in overcoming math anxiety.
Read on to understand how you can help children with math anxiety and increase their interest in the subject by building mathematical resilience.
But first, let’s understand the term mathematical resilience.4
Mathematical resilience is a positive attitude toward learning that allows students to succeed in what can be a difficult endeavor: learning mathematics. It is a practical, mathematical interpretation of the well-known idea of resilience.
When it comes to learning, resilient children have a growth mindset. They are at ease with difficulty and the concept of mathematical struggle. Resilient children realize when they are stuck and know how to seek assistance when they need it. Most importantly, they believe they are capable of doing math.5
Why is Building Mathematical Resilience Important?4
The necessity of building mathematical resilience is important as many students think that they are not good at math. Children with these mindsets need to overcome any negative attributes they may hold about math, as when children hold the belief that math is tough and requires a lot of effort, they will arrive at the conclusion that they are not good at math, which will further demotivate them to keep trying.
Building mathematical resilience is important because children need to develop positive adaptive attitudes towards mathematics, which will allow them to continue learning math despite having to deal with difficulties and obstacles.
How You can Foster Math Resilience in Children
Learning math is not just a set of skills that need to be learned to pass an examination. Children need to understand that becoming numerate involves developing both mathematical skills and knowledge.
- When children learn real-life applications of most concepts they learn, they understand that their learning does not only involve developing fluency in the required math subjects but will also help develop understanding and knowledge in a variety of contexts. For example, math can help improve problem-solving skills, special awareness, growth mindset, visual literacy, logical reasoning skills, and so much more. Apart from these, math can also be used to teach drama, sports, dance, music, architecture, etc.
Real-world problems help spark interest in children and facilitate deep learning. Having regular math practice at home and during play can help reduce anxiety related to math as children will become more involved with mental math strategies without working hard to understand in a classroom setting. This will help strengthen fluency, integration, and quick grasping of math concepts from an early age.4
- The focus should be on the process and communication rather than placing undue importance on speed, as with practice, children’s speed and versatility will improve over time.5
- Children need to be presented with multiple opportunities to be involved in everyday tasks involving math and should be allowed time for exploration and self-learning as well as collaborative learning with their peers.
- As mathematical resilience focuses on encouraging engagement and persistence in math in a way that reduces the negative effects of math anxiety, tools that will support children and build confidence can be used.3 There are many fun ways through which children can practice everyday math as well as understand complex math concepts. For example, children could be involved in age-appropriate cooking sessions that involve addition, multiplication, measurements, temperatures, fractions, etc.
- As in most situations, the key to reducing math anxiety and building resilience is to move away from focusing on what is wrong and what is right and instead involve children in creative thinking.3 Math should reflect life and help children be creative and curious. Making homework and math problem solving into fun activities that help children think and learn can have a positive impact on your child’s learning and perception.
- Children can be involved in games that can help math dexterity and reduce anxiety. There are many interesting math games that could help reduce anxiety in children. For example, Bingo, Math twister, Guess my number, Hopscotch math, Prodigy, etc.
- Using visual aids and picture books is also a great way to hold interest and engage children in math.5
- Using modern technology such as embedded videos or animations that explain concepts can help children understand the concepts better.
Math anxiety is a real and prevalent issue, that most people may not be aware of. Raising awareness about math anxiety is an important step toward building resilience. Raising awareness about the issue and knowing what math anxiety means, where help is available when to seek help, knowing when assistance is necessary, learning basic relaxation techniques, teaching relaxation responses, and so on, can help children overcome math anxiety. Building math resilience takes time, as tackling math anxiety can’t happen overnight. To be successful at math, children must adopt a positive attitude and view math as an enjoyable learning experience with various real-life applications.
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- Johnston-Wilder, S., Kilpatrick Baker, J., Mccracken, A., & Msimanga, A. (2020). A Toolkit for Teachers and Learners, Parents, Carers and Support Staff: Improving Mathematical Safeguarding and Building Resilience to Increase Effectiveness of Teaching and Learning Mathematics. Creative Education, 11, 1418–1441. https://doi.org/10.4236/ce.2020.118104
- Sokolowski, H. M., & Ansari, D. (2017). Who Is Afraid of Math? What Is Math Anxiety? And What Can You Do About It? Frontiers for Young Minds, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/FRYM.2017.00057
- 3 steps to build resilience in primary maths. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.teachwire.net/news/3-steps-to-build-resilience-in-primary-maths
- Mathematical Resilience. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2022, from http://www.mathematicalresilience.org/
- Building Resilience in Math Students in Preschool Through Second Grade | Edutopia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/building-resilience-young-math-students