Experts say math anxiety is a big problem in our country—and around the world. Even worse, we could be inadvertently be passing it on to our kids.
Kristin Quick loves to read with her kids, but says she and math are not exactly old friends. “I was not very good at math growing up,” she remembers, “very timid about it.”
In fact, equations and variables make her downright anxious. But now that she’s a mom, she’s determined not to let her attitude toward numbers influence her kids.
“I don’t want them to have it as a stumbling block like I did,” she says.
Researchers at the University of Chicago recently found that math anxiety can start as early as first grade and can lead to math avoidance that can last throughout the school years.
“It can involve just not engaging in the math or thinking they’re not good at math,” says Susan Levine, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors.
Experts say while most parents have no problems teaching reading, many shy away from math. And that less exposure can increase risk for math anxiety once kids go to school. And research shows when it comes to anxiety and performance, it’s a two-way street.
“People who are worse at math tend to have higher math anxiety,” explains Levine. “At the same time, people who are math anxious tend to do worse in math at any level of ability.”
So, what can parents do to raise confident kids? One study found using math apps might help. Researchers looked at one app called Bedtime Math.
“It has a problem of the day,” says researcher Julianne Herts. “And at the bottom there are two different levels of questions that parents can answer with their children.”
Researchers found the Bedtime Math app significantly increased first graders’ math achievement over the school year compared to a control group and allowed kids of math anxious parents to catch up to their peers.
While Kristin hasn’t tried the app in the study, her kids love others and she hopes the tech tools will help her kids love math for life.
“So, they just have that advantage when they go into that formal learning setting,” she says. “They’re not starting from ground zero.”
The best apps, says Levine, are ones that stimulate conversation between parents and kids. So, play with them, don’t just hand them the iPad and walk away. In addition to apps, experts say, it’s also important to show kids from an early age how math is relevant in everyday life.