Everyday Math Exposure: Just Saying It Helps

Previously in an article about math anxiety parents may feel, I mentioned how grown-ups inadvertently teach kids to be scared of certain things.

It’s not our fault. We learned it from adults when we were younger.

But we still do it.

“I hate rats.”

“Math? I’ve always had math anxiety.”

“Ew, roaches, yikes!”

“Math is hard. I don’t do math.”

What’s psychology got to do with it?

From the principles of psychology, we know that hearing other people talk about things, we adopt some of those same attitudes – especially being young and impressionable as kids.

And your kids are like that, too.

An example: Think about butterflies. They’re insects and they have erratic movement patterns. So why don’t we hate butterflies like we do roaches?

Ok, to be fair, roaches invade our living spaces given the slightest chance. And they carry diseases. But are these things the reason why we feel a shiver?

Not really – it’s seeing others freak out when they see a roach.

And seeing others say, “Ooo, how pretty!” when they see a butterfly!

And the research shows…

In the previous article, I mentioned that the reason why this is important lies in the immediate and long-term effect on children. I presented on how this impacts math anxiety recently at the Western Social Sciences Association Conference.

Research and experience show that when we display math anxiety or a negative attitude toward math, kids do to. And this causes them to have lower confidence in their math ability, higher math anxiety, and more avoidance toward doing math.

And when we (or our children) don’t engage in something, we don’t have an opportunity to learn.

But noticing everyday math gives them more confidence – and more opportunity!

Is it up to parents?

You might have heard (or even said), “That’s the teachers job.” Well, they can only do so much. The best prescription for helping kids to learn is to make it enjoyable. Or at very least, neutral so they don’t avoid it.

The less avoidant (and more engaging) they are on their own, the more they take it upon themselves to do math things. They’ll see the everyday math. And they’ll do it without having someone over their shoulder all the time.

Learning then happens even outside the math class.

They’ll do math on their own?


Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. It occurs when we explore, follow our curiosity, ask questions, and think about why something is the way it is.

Math is no different.

Ever wonder how many packs of taco shells you need for everyone to have two?


Or how long it will take to wash and dry all the laundry?

Yup – everyday math again.

Confidence in doing math make these things more palatable, and more likely to be thought of as math.

We don’t need an “answer” for there to be math.

We’re a bit trained (brainwashed may be a little harsh, but accurate) to think that doing math is sitting with a pencil and paper, and with numbers, letters, lines and answers.

If you think about it, it’s like saying reading only happens in the library or bookstore. The idea of doing math has a fairly limited scope.

Because of this, we don’t realize how much we really do it.

So what can WE do.

Say it when it happens. Say it when you recognize it. Say it when you see someone else doing it.

Tacos in the grocery store? Yep, there it is again. Say it out loud to your kid.

How about how long it takes to get somewhere walking vs. driving in a car.

“Hey, little Billy, it takes us longer to walk to the store than to drive. That’s math.”

Any time we compare two things and decide one is larger than the other, we’re doing math.

If we count items to determine how many we have, we’re doing math there, too.

When you recognize everyday math, just say whatever you’re thinking out loud. And watch as the “Ew, roach!” avoidance turns into the “Ooo, butterfly!” interest.

Share your thoughts on this in the comments and tweet it out, too!

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3 Responses to Everyday Math Exposure: Just Saying It Helps

    • Thanks so much, Carrie! Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you or anyone in the group.

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