How to get reluctant kids to like maths

Washington - Let’s put it in algebraic terms. If X equals disengaged kids and Y equals parents who are intimidated by primary-school homework, the sum of the variables is Z: an epic maths fail.

These days, I’m Googling fractions, multiples and factors to help my son through fourth-grade maths. It’s only going to get harder from here.

Instead, tell your child that a problem looks tough, then sit down to figure it out together. Credit: WASHINGTON POST

I want my children to love maths, or at least feel confident in their abilities, which is tricky because it’s not a subject that gave me the warm fuzzies. With all of the emphasis schools and employers are placing on STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – courses and skills, though, I know that children also need to be comfortable with maths.

So how do parents get children to embrace numbers? Here are some suggestions from experts on inspiring children to love maths:

Never say you weren’t good at maths (even if you weren’t).

None of us would dream of saying that about reading. But maths? Eh. We say it all the time.

You might suffer from maths anxiety, but don’t share it with your child, said Laura Overdeck, a mom of three. By telling him that you were lousy at maths, or that you don’t get it, either, you’re sending the message that it’s okay to give up.

Instead, tell your child that a problem looks tough, then sit down to figure it out together.

Celebrate a mathematician.

Kids are taught about Paul Revere’s ride and Shakespeare’s tragedies.Few teens, though, can name a famous mathematician and tick off his accomplishments.

Suzanne Sutton, creator of, a site that offers parents strategies for making school fun for kids, suggests celebrating the birthday of a great mathematician. “Mathematicians are fascinating,” she says

Discuss Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, RenDescartes or Carl Friedrich Gauss. Read up on their accomplishments and talk about how they changed the world. Sweeten the deal with a little cake, or make a game to help your child learn about them.

“Make maths less of an edifice in clouds that only Jack and the Beanstalk can climb up to,” Sutton said. “Teach your child there are heroes who accomplish things with their brains, not just their bodies.”

Teach them that struggling is okay.

When a child is having trouble on the soccer field, parents tell her to keep at it, because practice will make her better. But when she struggles with maths, Sutton said, parents run to the nearest tutor as if there is a crisis. That creates a stigma around maths.

Instead, if your child is feeling discouraged, tell her that’s part of the process: It’s supposed to be hard. The challenges and problem-solving are what make maths fun.

Cyberchase is a cartoon show about a group of kids who use maths skills to protect the world from villains.

Executive producer Sandra Sheppard says it features regular kids rather than prodigies doing maths problems to show that everyone makes mistakes, and when you do, you can back up and figure out a way out of the problem. Struggling with maths is not the same as failing.

“Kids have different learning styles, and our cast has different learning styles,” Sheppard said. “Kids have different strengths and weaknesses, and maths is something to be approached independently, but also collaboratively. Our characters are not maths superstars, they’re just like every kid. They come across problems in the road, and they make mistakes and persevere and learn through that experience.”

Adopt a more maths-centric vocabulary.

If your child is working a puzzle, instead of suggesting he turn a piece to make it fit, ask him to rotate it, said Rosemarie Truglio, a curriculum adviser.

When you’re looking at shapes with your child, don’t just ask how many sides a triangle has, Truglio said. Also ask the number of angles, to increase their knowledge of maths vocabulary.

“There’s a lot of maths language that children don’t get introduced to,” Truglio said, adding that parents should point out to their children that they’re doing maths when they are baking or building with blocks.

Weave maths into everyday activities.

Whether you are measuring flour and sugar for biscuits (fractions!) or counting apples as you drop them into a bag at the grocery store (one-to-one correspondence!), find ways to incorporate maths in your daily life, said Rose Moore, a maths educator.

“Things we do every day have connections to s,” said Moore. “Let them see that.” Moore also likes games for demystifying maths. If your child loves Angry Birds, use it to teach him about angles, slopes and parabolas.

Let them be the experts.

Sutton suggests “hiring” your child to teach you something he is working on in school. To do that, he will have to learn the concept well enough to be able to explain it. Choose something he will be doing soon, and have him research it. Once he masters the skill, sit down for a lesson. It’s fine to pay him for the tutoring if he needs an extra incentive, Sutton said.

“The goal is to make them an expert in something, so when it comes up in the curriculum, they know what it feels like to know a lot about it,” Sutton said. “That confidence is a great thing, and they got there on their own.” - The Washington Post

CASE STUDY: She gave her children maths problems at bedtime - and wrote a book

When Laura Overdeck’s oldest child was two, she and her husband added a maths problem to their nightly bedtime-story routine.

Overdeck and her husband, John, both grew up in houses where maths was treated as something playful and fun, and they wanted to pass that on to their children.

It started with tallying the number of eyes or noses on the stuffed animals in her bed. As their daughter got older, they worked in addition and subtraction.

Some years later, the girl’s little brother began demanding his own bedtime math problem: For Overdeck’s children, maths had become as much of a treat as dessert.

She started publishing the problems in an e-newsletter, then launched an app and a website. Her first book, Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late, was published in June. Another one is coming out later this year.

“We stumbled on something that’s a pretty simple idea, but somehow it’s revolutionary,” Overdeck said, adding that she wants to see people embrace math the same way they do reading.

Each problem on the site has a short introduction followed by questions for four age groups or ability levels. Here is an example Overdeck shared:

Igloos Gone Wild

Igloos are small homes built by stacking blocks of ice or packed snow in a spiral that goes around on top of itself, not in rows that start and end at the same height.

Usually it’s plain white ice or snow cut from nature, but one couple decided to make their own multicoloured igloo.

They saved up box-shaped milk cartons, filled them with water and a few drops of food colouring, then let them all freeze into beautiful coloured ice blocks.

Wee ones: If the couple used blue, red, green, orange and yellow blocks, how many colours does the igloo have?

Little kids: If the main body of the igloo uses 100 blocks and the entrance uses 40, how many blocks were used? Bonus: If 10 of those blocks are pink, how many blocks are other colours?

Big kids: If the igloo builders saved 50 cartons of milk, and each carton holds eight cups, how many cups of milk did they have to drink to make this igloo? Bonus: If it took 5 1/2 hours for the water to freeze through and the first carton was filled at 10:30am, at what time was the first block ready for building?

The sky’s the limit: If the igloo has (roughly speaking) 10 layers, and each layer has four more blocks than the one above it, and it uses 600 blocks total, how many blocks are there in the bottom, biggest layer?


Wee ones: Five colours!

Little kids: 140 blocks. Bonus: 130 non-pink blocks.

Big kids: 400 cups of milk. Bonus: At 4pm.

The sky’s the limit: 78 blocks. If there are b blocks in the bottom layer, then the 10 layers have b+(b-4)+(b-8)+. . .up to (b-36) blocks. This is the same as 10b-4x(1+2+3. . .+9), or 10b-(4x45) (if you know the triangle shortcut formula: for a triangle with the biggest number t, the total is t x (t+1)/2).

So we now have:



b=78=the number of blocks in the bottom row. - The Washington Post

Here are some books recommended to help pique a child’s interest in maths.


Miss Lina’s Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone. The eight dancers in this picture book are accustomed to arranging themselves in four lines of two, but when a new girl joins the mix, it throws off their lines. The ballerinas have to figure out how to arrange themselves in even lines now that they are a group of nine.

Ages 4-8

Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. Humorous picture books about a boy and girl who are interested, respectively, in the math-based careers of architecture and engineering.

Ages 8-12

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen series by Eric Berlin. The three mysteries in the series focus on Winston, a boy who loves puzzles and finds them everywhere. The books include puzzles for children to work as they read.

High school

Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano. Nearly Boswell, a high-school pupil, is trying to solve a murder mystery by deciphering math riddles and other clues in the personal ads of the newspaper.