Published at Friday, May 10th 2019. by Mallory Ollivier in math worksheet.

Read-aloud a picture book with repetitive text. Pause to let child fill in the blank and continue the pattern. Make patterns with snack foods (e.g. pretzels, raisins, Cheerios) or candy (e.g. Skittles or M&M’s). Go on a scavenger hunt looking for patterns in nature (e.g. circular patterns in flowers, rings on tree trunks, or patterns on insects such as ladybugs or butterfly wings).

After observing and reflecting on your child’s thinking process, adjust activities accordingly. For instance, if a child can subitize (recognize quantity without counting by hand), but can’t identify the printed number, try playing a game where objects are labeled with the corresponding number in the set to help your child memorize what the number symbol looks like.

Parents and teachers can help kids become more resilient learners by changing how we praise children and adjusting what we think of as a successful learning experience. Math is hard for many kids, but that doesn’t mean they are doomed to never understand it. Praise them for the work that they put in, not for the grade that they get.

Early math is fundamental because children use math concepts in their daily routines. Nurturing the value of math skills in early youth may help alleviate the anxiety that an increasing number of older students experience who struggle with math. Negative self-talk in students creates a reticence to work through challenging problems in school. Children will achieve more if they are indoctrinated when young with a positive mindset that math can be enjoyable, math is not something to be afraid of, and making mistakes is part of the learning process.

These skills all require use of something called working memory. Your working memory is like the mental scratch pad that holds all the information you might need for a given task. If you need to remember the Pythagorean theorem or figure out the order of operations for a calculation or even just do a two-column addition problem, you will need to use your working memory.

“Anxiety really can impact a lot of the things that are important for learning, like attention, memory and processing speed,” says Matthew Pagirsky, PsyD, a neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Feeling anxious also makes people develop self-defeating thoughts like “I’m not good at this” and “I’ll never be able to understand this,” which increases the stress they are feeling.

One of the main goals of understanding what causes math anxiety and how math anxiety affects the brain is to find ways to help people with math anxiety and ultimately to prevent it from happening. Some researchers have created tools to help people with math anxiety. These tools are called interventions. A tool or program that is given to people with the goal of helping them improve or get better at a skill. For example, researchers have made interventions based on research showing that writing down thoughts and feelings beforehand can make people feel less nervous when taking tests. Researchers thought that if children wrote down their thoughts and feelings, those feelings would not occupy working memory while the children were completing a math test. So, the researchers did an intervention where they asked children with math anxiety to write about their math-related worries. These researchers found that, when students wrote about their math-related worries, their math test scores improved. A different group of researchers showed that if college students with math anxiety did some breathing exercises to calm them down before a math test, they felt more calm and their scores on the test improved. Together, these intervention studies provide scientific evidence for ways that we can help people with math anxiety. This research is very promising because it tells us that people with math anxiety can be helped—they are not stuck with math anxiety for life.

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