What Signals Are You Sending?
A joint study by Penn State and the University of Michigan and research from the University of California, Santa Cruz points to the important role parents can play in encouraging children’s interest in math and science that continues past the middle school years. Not surprisingly, some gender differences were found. Parents did more to encourage their sons in math and science than their daughters. Furthermore, if fathers held gender-stereotypical views of boys and girls (i.e., held the view that boys prefer and are better at science and math than girls), the less interested their daughters were in math or science. While these studies were focused on established attitudes of older children, enduring impressions about math and science start early.
Spread the Math & Science Love
Here are a few suggestions to engage your child in math & science learning that you can put into action with ease today:
Promote scientific inquiry, exploration, and discussion. While it is important to provide answers to your child’s questions, also frequently ask your child, “What do you think?” to show that her opinion matters and to encourage her to think things through.
Use opportunities throughout the day to build math skills. During waiting times in the car or in the doctor’s office, make up easy, fun word problems. “There are only five leaves left on the tree. Two fell off. Now how many are left?”
Talk about how things work and encourage your child to ask questions and share opinions. Discuss how cars work, how plants grow, how our bodies work, etc.
Choose toys, books, and materials that reinforce mathematical concepts or scientific exploration:
- Select books that encourage investigation and discovery (consider Stephen Biesty’s books showing the cross-sections of how things work) or children’s cookbooks where children can follow a pictorial recipe with help from you
- Offer open-ended interconnecting building materials (like Legos or marble rolls) that encourage creativity and experimentation with gravity, balance, and how things fit together
- Provide hands-on experimentation materials like playdough, sand, or water, and suggest further investigation with questions like “What happens when the sand gets wet? or “How many straws can we stick in this little piece of playdough?”
As a parent, you are the chief tone-setter, original teacher, and first impression-giver. Use your position of influence to your advantage and cultivate a love for science and math in the preschool years. Keep learning opportunities fun and interesting - avoid drills and drudgery - and remember, your interest and active participation matters; model curiosity, express excitement about learning something new yourself, and encourage give-and-take discussions.
Reference: Cavanaugh, S. (October 24, 2007). “When it Comes to Math and Science, Mom and Dad Count.” Education Week.