“As we go through each lesson, it seems like my daughter has a good handle on the concepts, but when we get to the test she forgets everything. When I ask her about it, she shrugs and says, ‘I don’t know.’ What do you do when your child completely loses what she has learned?”
Forgetting is the human brain’s natural defense mechanism. It keeps us from being overwhelmed by the abundance of sensory data that bombards us each moment of every day.
Our children’s minds will never work like a computer that can store a program and recall it flawlessly months later.
Sometimes, for my children, a gentle reminder is enough to drag the forgotten concept back out of the dust-bunnies of memory.
Other times, I find that they answer “I don’t know” out of habit, because it’s easier than thinking about the question. And because they’d prefer to be doing something else.
And still other times, I find out they didn’t understand the topic as well as I thought they did when we went through it before.
No matter how we adults try to explain the concepts, some kids want to be answer-getters. They don’t want to do the hard work of thinking a concept through until it makes a connection in their minds. They want to memorize a few steps and crank through the lesson to get it over with.
In all these cases, what helps me the most is conversation.
My children and I always talk about our math. I ask questions like “What do you think? What do you remember? Can you explain the question to me? What are they asking for?”
And, whether the child’s answer is right or wrong, I practice my poker face. Trying not to give anything away, I ask, “How did you figure it out? Can you think of a way to confirm your answer?”
Talking Math with Your Kids
Not sure how to talk about math with your children?
If you have preschool and elementary-age kids, read Christopher Danielson’s inspiring book and blog:
For middle school and older students, check out Fawn Nguyen’s wonderful collection of Math Talks. Be sure to read the “Teachers” page for tips and talking points:
“You don’t need special skills to do this. If you can read with your kids, then you can talk math with them. You can support and encourage their developing mathematical minds.”
— Christopher Danielson
Talking Math with Your Kids
Playful Ways to Learn or Review Math
Games are a great way to practice math. Check out these (free!) math games for all ages:
And if you have elementary-age children, here are a few grade-level tips to help them learn (and remember) math concepts:
- Roadmap to Mathematics: Kindergarten
- Roadmap to Mathematics: 1st Grade
- Roadmap to Mathematics: 2nd Grade
- Roadmap to Mathematics: 3rd Grade
This post is an excerpt from my book Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It, as are many of the articles in my Let’s Play Math FAQ series.