During the summer holidays, my now second grader and I had a few wrestling matches of the kind that should be familiar to many parents. “I don’t like maths,” she told me as I asked her some questions about calculating some numbers. As the dutiful parent, I tried to point out how numbers are everywhere and understanding them is really important. She is at that age where children can easily feel that they are always beginners and that learning things is always a challenge and want to give up. So, part of the trick for a parent is to try to make the learning valuable in the eyes of the child–easier said than done.
We spent a few afternoons where I tried to explain to her how to make some calculations and she would go off and try to work out the right answers. Of course, after a few more shrieks and other signs of protest, she would go off and make a really good attempt and be very pleased to have the right answers. She spent a lot of days playing with some other children a few houses away and wanted to buy ice creams some afternoons, so proudly brought some cash from a piggy bank she has. Taking what I thought was a teachable moment, I said that spending money really meant that she understood how to count, otherwise she would not have any idea of how much money she should have left after she spent some. So, we spent some time working on counting dollars and cents. That was a partial success.
Every now and again, I would try to go back to some of the simpler addition exercises, and be told by my daughter to not give any problems with too many digits. I would also try some numbers games. Funnily, these exercises came back to us when we were at the US Open tennis. I suggested that my daughter look for number sequences on the score board, like 6-5-4 or 6-4-2, and work out what numbers should come next. One afternoon, a lady sitting nearby mentioned that she had a granddaughter about the same age as my daughter and how impressed she was that my daughter was enjoying doing some maths. The compliment took my daughter aback. Trying to seize the moment, when she asked if she could go to get an ice cream, after sitting in some hot sun for a few hours, I said that would be alright so long as she could work out first how much change to get after spending her money. She did that and went off to get her treat.
She has been back at school the past week or so and I know will be having her maths lessons, and I have not brought up the topic. Young children often have great curiosity but do not understand that becoming skilled is a long and hard process. I hear myself saying to her that almost everything is hard and takes a long time to learn to do well. But she feels that knowledge and skills that she sees people applying are somehow just bestowed on them. When Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the need to do something for 10,000 hours or 10 years to become really proficient I think of how to get my second grader to understand that. More numbers!