Developing a Math Genius (at home)

Parents often ask me about ways they can supplement their child’s math learning at home. The goal is to ensure their child is confident and excels in school. I will answer that question, but first I think it is very important to settle on what math is.

What is Math Really About?

Most people would believe math is about arithmetic, variables, and equations among other things. This view reduces math to a collection of skills, formulas, and procedures. Sadly, this is a view held by most students and adults alike and it is a direct result of how we teach math in school. (Don’t get me wrong, these skills are very important, but to focus only on these skills is to miss out on the beauty of mathematics.)

The truth is math is about investigating patterns relating to quantity, structure, and space. Mathematicians pose questions and then try to explain things simply as possible. This view of math allows for creativity, logic, reason, intuition, and inspiration. That is what makes math fun and engaging and it’s what we want our kids to discover and embrace.

The Real Tools of Teaching Math – Games and Puzzles.

Too often parents focus on how to accelerate their child through school curriculum pushing their students to quickly master one skill after another to get ahead. To reach that end, the tools of choice are worksheets, flash cards, and sometimes computer software.

These tools can be useful if you are trying to supplement math skill development and memorization because your child isn’t picking it all up in school. However, these tools are focused on teaching skills and for the most part, kids don’t find them all that fun. The worst part is they remove the most beautiful aspects of math. I implore parents to also think about how to teach the other aspects of math that make it an amazingly intriguing and rich field.

The best tools I know of are games and puzzles. Parents can show their kids the beauty of math by playing games and working to solve puzzles together. A huge added benefit is that by doing these things together you are guaranteed to share “Aha” moments with your child that neither of you will ever forget.

Develop New Attitudes

Using games and puzzles, we can cultivate several important attitudes about mathematics.

  • Perseverance – Too often students get conditioned to think math problems should be quickly solved because of the way we teach math where the teacher gives an example of how to do a problem and then students repeatedly practices that until it is “mastered”.
  • Confidence – Each time a student perseveres and solves a challenging problem, their confidence naturally grows by leaps and bounds.
  • Acting on Instinct – As more and more challenges are completed, the student hones their instinct on what will work best for a new problem. As a result, they solve problems more quickly and effectively.
  • Creativity and Wonder – When working a challenging problem, try several new solution strategies and see if they work. Once a problem is solved, think about ways to extend it. This will stimulate more creativity and wonder.

Games You Can Play

ThinkFun makes engaging puzzles that kids absolutely love.

I recommend the following: Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix, Square by Square, and Block by Block.

Gamewright makes family games that your whole family will enjoy playing together. You’ll learn teamwork, logic, planning ahead and other great skills: Forbidden Island, Sleeping QueensDuck Duck Bruce, and Loot.

Other games to try: Blokus and Qwirkle

Bonus Tip: When you play, discuss your strategies out loud. This will allow your child to learn more advanced strategies without feeling like you are explaining things to them. In addition, then they explain their strategies, you’ll get priceless insight into what they see and how they think.

Books

Websites

  • Puzzles.com – logic puzzles and much more. Try family brainstorms.
  • krazydad.com – Free printable puzzles (Sudoku, KenKen, Kakuro, etc)
  • Nrich Maths – Math puzzles and explorations for all ages

Bonus Tip: Work on puzzles and brain teasers together. When you think you’ve solved it, try to explain it as simply as possible using words, pictures, diagrams, or equations. Then extend the problem by make some new conjectures and then test them out.

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