for parents - math fairy

“I was never very good at math”

I know I should never admit to this… I am the Math Fairy after all…but…

I’ve said that! It is true. I am ashamed to admit it. When we make that statement out loud we give ourselves and everyone around us permission to dismiss mathematics as both unimportant and unnecessary to our lives. And the real truth is that not only was I actually quite good at math, but I use it all day, every day. It is just that I did not really realize that until recently. I, personally, didn’t attain a level of maturity to understand and appreciate my own understanding until I was an adult. Thankfully, mathematics education in America is changing. The new Common Core standards demand that children think about their thinking (metacognition) and I hope and believe that children will grow up seeing themselves as mathematical thinkers.

Making a Pledge:

In the meantime, let’s make a pledge, right now, to ban those words. Instead, we are all going to adopt the affirmation:


You might not have taken calculus (I didn’t) but I bet there are many, many types of math that you are very good at. Let’s make a list right now. I’ ll get you started:

  • I can add or subtract the money in my bank account to see how much I have and I can even do this when it goes into the negatives.
  • I can figure out how to cut a cookie or cake recipe in half, even when there are those pesky little ½ teaspoons that have to be cut in half.
  • I can figure out when to stop for gas on a road trip by calculating, in my head, how many miles I have left to drive and estimating how many gallons of gas I have.
  • I can measure my living room and figure out how much baseboard, paint and carpet to buy in order to redecorate.
  • I can budget each month for groceries. And when I’m grocery shopping I can easily figure out which brand is a better buy based on the unit price.
  • I can select a credit card or bank account based upon best interest rate and fee structure.
  • I can organize my day based upon estimating time for each task and factoring in travel, traffic and unexpected delays.

So, you do all these things, some every day. Well, I don’t know you exactly but I do all these things. And I rarely, if ever, think to myself, “Oh, I’m doing math right now and I’m so good at it!” But that’s actually the truth. I am “doing math” all day, every day, and I’m pretty darn successful at it.

Now that we have our new mantra and have established that we are all good at math, it’s time to think about having fun with math with your kids every day. If you read to your kids for 15-20 minutes each day (and I hope you do), then I believe you can also do math with your kids for 15-20 minutes each day. Start easy and make it fun for yourself. When I am starting something new that I don’t particularly feel excited about (that 5am exercise DVD comes to mind) I always think to myself, “I can do almost anything for 20 minutes. It’s only 20 minutes.” Try that and it might help. Try some of these ideas and explore the Math Fairy website. Play a game! Sing a song! Watch Donald in Mathmagic Land! See what happens…you will be pleasantly surprised! Math is part of everything and math is fun!

Sing math songs. I like folk songs that have numbers. Songs like This Old Man or The Ants Go Marching are fun. In my family, once we get really good at the original version we like to make up silly new versions. That keeps things fun and interesting. There are lots of kids music CDs out there and you can find just about anything on the internet but I will make a short plug here for the beautiful folk music of the wonderful Pete Seeger. Google him and see what you find.

Read math stories. There are lots of books about math reviewed here on the Math Fairy website. You can also get help from your local librarian or Google that, too.

Play a card game. Go Fish is great, it’s easy and you can play with any deck of cards. Talk about numbers and how they match, discuss the one-to-one correspondence of the number to the symbols on the card, and have fun! There are lots more game ideas on the Math Fairy website. You can adapt many of them for younger or older children, too.

LET YOUR KIDS PAY FOR STUFF WITH REAL MONEY! I guess I think this one is kind of important because…it is! If kids don’t understand how money works, then they will not, for example, really understand percents or rates of growth or decay. Percents are a huge middle-grades math concept that many, many kids struggle to master. By teaching your kids to really understand money right now, you’ll give them a leg up both on their higher level math learning and on their own personal financial management.

I remember many years ago when I was a nanny we were driving in the car to a park or something. The kids asked if we could stop and get a treat. I responded that I didn’t have any money. “Silly,” they giggled, “just go to the bank and get some.” “Well,” responded the poor, college student nanny “there isn’t any money in my bank to get.” They were completely and utterly flabbergasted by my response! I guess it was time to start having them earn a little money for jobs and having them pay for their own treats!

Have fun with math every day!