How to Help our Daughters Succeed in Math
by Maria Lando, TheMathMom.com
Of course girls can do math, enjoy math and excel at math just as much, if not more than boys.
But many of us grew up in a society that did not think that way. As girls, we received little support or encouragement when it comes to math – from family, teachers or mass media.
Luckily, times have changed. Hundreds of scientific studies in the US and around the world have concluded that, everything else being equal, girls perform as well as boys in math – and sometimes even better. One of the latest comprehensive studies conducted across 65 countries found that “mathematic performance of students largely reflects the academic standards and expectations of the community in which they are raised. Specifically, home environment is a primary determinant for success of children in school.”
So if the key to girls’ success in math comes down to our home enviroments, our communities and our expectations, let's see what we can do to help our daughters succeed in math.
1. Raise your and your child’s excitement. Just like reading, math is all around us. When we encourage our children to read, we point out letters and words; we share stories and books; we demonstrate that reading is important, necessary and fun. Treat math similarly. Demonstrate that numbers are everywhere: talk about how many groceries you’re buying; compare shapes, sizes and volumes; highlight patterns; count out money at the register; describe measurements while you are cooking. Stimulate your own excitement and the kids will absorb it. You don't have to be a pro and know all the answers, but you have to be excited! For additional reinforcement, science museums and children’s museums usually have plenty of math-related toys and special math or engineering programs for kids. There are also quite a few shows on TV that bring math to life. A new preschool math series, PEG + CAT, premieres on PBS KIDS Monday, October 7 – its star is a spirited young girl who saves the day through math, with help from her friends.
2. Offer a math-sports analogy. In sports or ballet, one has to practice the same motion hundreds of times to perfect it and strengthen one’s skill. It’s the same with math, except it’s our brain muscles that need a workout. We all have to “train” no matter what the activity is – soccer, dance moves, identifying shapes, sorting colors or counting to 100! Practice makes perfect, and in the end, it all adds up to one big victory.
3. Find the right context. You’ve probably noticed how a movie or a book suddenly becomes much more captivating when it matches your age, thoughts, or interests. Blend math into your daughter's favorite things to make it relevant and easier to absorb. If she is fascinated with butterflies, count butterflies outside, or make up some simple butterfly addition problems she can solve. Choose math games and apps that have girl-friendly context. The PBS KIDS Lab also offers plenty of online games and activities with kids’ favorite characters.
4. Show her some math role models. It may be your neighbor who is an accountant and enjoys her job, or a woman university professor that’s in the news for making a big discovery; a female pilot or an astronaut; or the animator of your daughter’s favorite movie. Tell her about them, Google them together, ask your child to imagine how they might use math in their jobs. My own life-math story is here.
Encouraging girls’ interest in math is in our hands, and it is not so hard. As with any hobby, encourage it, stimulate it, make it fun… hold high but age-appropriate expectations… and don't be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.