Imagine a parent who is proud when her child can answer 3+5 = 8. Then, the parent asks the child, “There are 3 kids in the park. Five more come to play. How many kids are in the park now?” and is horrified when their child says “I don’t know.” Does this sound familiar? What about timed worksheets of math problems, and speed drills for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division? Unfortunately, this has been the way children are being “taught” math. They are forced to memorize numbers and symbols without really knowing how it is related to the world or why they have to know it.
Knowing Versus Understanding
Albert Einstein once said, “any fool can know, the point is to understand.” The practice of teaching children to memorize symbols, shapes, and number combinations is not the way children learn. Instead, children need to understand how mathematic symbols represent real world problems. This way they can understand why, if five more kids join the three in the park, there will be eight kids playing. When your child understands the basic principles of mathematics, they will be able to solve more complex problems with much better accuracy. We need to stop teaching math facts (knowing) and start teaching math concepts (understanding).
How to Teach Math
Teach young children concepts through games and toys. Simple addition and subtraction can be learned by adding and taking away colored beads or apple slices. As you play with your child, say out loud “we are going to ADD more beads” and “we are TAKING AWAY apple slices to eat.” Always follow with the question “how many do you have now?” Practice math concepts in this way and memorization will come naturally. It is important to keep the routine of seeing and understanding math concepts on their level, i.e. toys, snacks, and simple addition and subtraction.
Beyond Beads and Apples
Beads and apples are great methods to use when your child is just learning numbers, but how are you supposed to teach a 7 or 8-year-old math concepts? The answer is simple: the abacus. Abacus teaching shows math concepts to children in a way they can understand. By using tactile and multi-sensory learning, children are taught math conceptually and not by memorization or speed drills. When they use their buddies and mental abacus, they see how their numbers fit into place. By the time they start word problems, they fly through the page.
At the Math Genie, we see children as young as 5 years old who are understanding and solving 2nd grade word problems. Students who start two grade levels behind catch up and excel through the current grade level to the next. They excel significantly because of abacus learning and the philosophy we have to teach children to understand the math around them.