As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a HUGE fan of the growth mindset math promoted by You Cubed. I love everything I’ve ever read by Jo Boaler, the director at You Cubed. However, I’ve recently read a book that I found even MORE useful in thinking about how I want to educate my children. Let’s Play Math is full of so much wisdom and so many good ideas, I know I’ll be reading it again and again as my kids grow up.
Review: The author of Let’s Play Math, Denise Gaskins, may not have fancy credentials, degrees, or classroom experience, but personally I think her approach to math is spot on. I LOVE math. Unfortunately, in some ways, I think I’ve already ruined it for my oldest, because even though he’s pretty good at math, he says he doesn’t like it. This is because there was a time when I believed that what was best for him was to follow a math curriculum and complete a set of math problems every single day.
I’ve since completely abandoned that method. For the past couple months, his 3rd grade math assignments have been 1 “problem set” per week each with about 8 slightly challenging problems. It takes him about 20 minutes (per week) to complete his math and his attitude toward math is improving. However, like all parents, in the back of my mind I always wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Maybe he NEEDS to do all those repetitive problems and daily worksheets to really instill all the information he needs to learn. Maybe he’ll fall behind in math and end up hating math even more.
Then I found these sentences in this Let’s Play Math book: “Here is the secret solution to the crisis of math education: we adults need to learn how to think like mathematicians. Mathematicians avoid busywork as if it were an infection disease. Mathematicians always ask questions. Most of all, mathematicians love to play.”
I am not a mathematician by trade, but I feel like I could have been one. I decided to pursue engineering in my education, but I have always loved math. To me, it feels like a game. I would love for it to feel this way to my kids too.
This book is exactly what I need to supplement the minimalist approach I’m already using with my son. I’m going to use the ideas in this book to play games with him, read stories, and think about interesting problems. As she recommends, I will not leave him on his own to struggle and become frustrated. I will be his partner in learning. I’ve already purchased Denise Gaskin’s other two books which are also filled with a wealth of ideas.
Additionally, for the past couple weeks I’ve started using her suggestion of just talking about math problems with all of my older kids to help them work on mental math skills. They totally love it! I can ask my 3 year old problems like, “Okay, if you have 1 cookie and then I give you two more, how many will you have?” (“Fwee!” he says.) I give my 5 year old problems like, “Okay…I’m thinking of a number. If you double my number, you get 4.” For my oldest, I might say, “If you add 8 to me, I become 25. What number am I?”
My kids could seriously play this “game” all day. Sometimes they even make up their own problems to quiz me. Today, while we were in the car, my almost 8 year old thought for a while then said, “I’m thinking of a number. It is 50 when you add 19.” When I said 31, he said, “You’re right.” That means he must have worked the answer out in his head beforehand. On purpose.
I am so impressed by the ideas and perspective in this book. As the author states, my kids may not grow up to love math as much as I do. After all, they are all individuals. However, I believe that using the ideas and approach advocated in this book, they will not be intimidated by math. They will be capable of thinking through problems without the blind guessing that worksheets sometimes seem to inspire. Also, as long as I don’t draw attention to the fact that they are actually DOING math, they might even enjoy themselves.
Click here for more Parenting Book reviews.