• Robert Ahdoot

Math Aversion – It can be contagious

Robert Ahdoot discusses Math Anxiety on The Scalar Learning Podcast
Beware: Math Aversion can be contagious unless you take steps to avoid passing it to kids.

This original post was featured on Homeschool Buyer's Co-op.

With increased precautions regarding the contagiousness of the new coronavirus, the public is in the midst of a crash-course on how to prevent transferring the disease from one person to another. And as schools across the country go virtual, thousands of families are now thrust into another crash course: schooling their children at home.

As this happens, another disease can pass from parents to their kids. That disease is what I call, “Math Aversion.” Math Aversion is the condition whereby someone loathes and rejects participating in anything math related, no matter what the situation, or what level of math complexity. They have no curiosity, patience, resolve, or positivity when it comes to any math scenario. For generations leading up to now, and maybe even more now in this new homebound climate, parents who suffer from this affliction are unknowingly infecting their own kids with it.

When Math Aversion settles into our lives, it’s very difficult to cure. The reason for this is that when our bodies experience panic or fear, the parts of our brain that handle numerical processing shut down. This is clinically known as Math Anxiety. For a comprehensive look at this phenomenon, I partnered with Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op to present a comprehensive webinar on it, which you can view for free here.

It makes sense that someone who has had negative experiences with math would take active steps to avoid it over time. If that same person has children of their own, then of course they wouldn’t want to pass that aversion on. So here are five ideas to bolster Math Aversion immunity for when our kids are around us.

1.) Be mindful of our utterances.

In the presence of our kids, we must be highly mindful of little utterances that escape our lips. You may be at the checkout line at the grocery store, and some mini-math dilemma crops up, to which you mutter in jest, “Ugh… numbers.” Or some math situation rears its head at home, to which you jokingly say to your spouse, “Honey, math is your department.” These wisecracks have a devastating effect on impressionable kids. Our children will associate anything math related with negativity, for no reason other than our little quips, even seemingly benign ones spoken under our breath.

2.) Model productive learning behavior

Parents who are math averse don’t realize how effective they can be as teachers. By simply modeling ideal learning behavior in the presence of kids, we can teach them best practices for when the going gets tough. For example, suppose the averse parent, who normally does not calculate the tip at the restaurant, announces that he/she wants to try this time. The spouse or the kids could help that parent with the process of arriving to that amount. Along the way, the math-averse parent may struggle and become confused, but if he/she stays calm and says with a good attitude, “ok wait, wait, back up… you lost me at ‘percent’, could you say that again?” Or, “ok I understand how you got the 8, what did you say after that?”

Remember, the answer to a problem is way less important than the process of arriving to that answer. Problems and solutions constantly come and go throughout life. Yet the process we employ to solve those problems is the connecting thread. Model productive problem solving in the presence of your kids, so that they may see how it’s done best.

3.) Remember the supreme value and effect of FUN

“That is the way to learn the most, when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that time passes.”

–Albert Einstein’s advice to his 11-year-old son, in a letter he wrote in 1915

Against my wife’s better judgement, who correctly believes that it kicks up too much carpet dust, my daughters and I love to partake in the following game. They sit on a blanket and I quickly drag them from room to room, which both gives them belly laughs and gives me a full body workout. I deeply believe in constantly seeking out fun learning moments, and this game certainly presents itself as one of them.

Because I tire out, I promise them ten rounds of the game. So before each round, I challenge them (in a fun and lively tone) “How many done?” They answer, then, “How many left?” For them to smoothly bounce from 0-10 to 1-9 to 2-8 and so on is a phenomenal multi-age-appropriate math exercise. The best part about it is that they’re in tears from laughing through their answers, not realizing that I’m “math ninja-ing” them all the while.

Find the game. Find the fun. Then informally weave in numbers and watch learning flourish. You may even notice how your own level of Math Aversion may diminish.

4.) Be candid with your story, when age appropriate