The key to developing a well-rounded intellect in your child is starting early
Most of us have been there, falling on one side or the other of the divide: arts or science. Artsy types knit their brows when it comes to calculating restaurant tips, whereas their science-minded counterparts dread writing speeches. And to those lucky few who find algebra as effortless as analyzing Whitman, we salute you, while quietly stewing in our jealousy.
Although a predilection for words and an aversion to numbers isn’t hereditary, it can be passed on to your son or daughter unbeknownst to parents. Kate Murray, owner of the Forest Hill Mathnasium, says that many parents come to her believing that it’s no wonder their kid is bad at math since they’re bad at math, too. These aversions are not passed down through genes, but through socialization. According to Murray, even if your child is veering toward one end of the arts-and-science spectrum, there are strategies that you can employ to help develop both left and right hemispheres equally.
So how do you get whippersnappers who are primarily good at one subject area to exercise the other side of their brain? The short answer is start as early as possible.
As we age, the ability for our brain to make new connections decreases as neural pathways become established. According North York psychotherapist Katrin Mizrahi these pathways can be changed.
“The more we use certain neural pathways in the brain, to learn a new skill, for example, the more developed that pathway becomes and the easier and more automatic the new skill [will become],” says Mizrahi.
Murray recommends starting to develop both math and language together from a young age.
“Many parents read to their kids before bedtime, but few sit and do math with their [preschool-aged] kids,” says Murray, who suggests starting with analog clocks at home (because clocks deal with both fractions and whole numbers).
According to Murray, “Everyone teaches ABCs and 123s, but after the 123s, everyone stops, but as soon as you start doing addition and subtraction with candies and toys, they all want to do it.”
The Forest Hill Mathnasium sees a lot of kids who say that they hate math (especially the older kids, 10 and up). “We all hate things that we don’t do well in,” says Murray.
“At the centre, we get kids to see the questions differently by breaking them down, so they can see that, ‘ Yes, it is easy.’ ”
It is at this critical point, when kids start to get the right answers, that they begin to learn to love the subject they had previously loathed so adamantly. Murray notes that breaking things down works for all subjects, not just math.
Mizrahi concurs with Murray that it is best to “break the work into much smaller steps and shorter amounts of time, which will be easier for him to accomplish and feel good about.”
Rewards, such as praise from a parent, are important, but internal motivation derived from success is much more effective.
“With each small success, your child will gain intrinsic motivation, which can be much stronger than external rewards,” says Mizrahi.
Although starting from a young age is critical, sometimes this isn’t possible, and teens can be difficult to deal with. Oftentimes negative reinforcement from poor performance can have a snowball effect.
“A lack of confidence spills over into other subjects. You’re not good at one subject and then all of a sudden you aren’t good at school,” says Murray.
Dealing with a teen who believes he or she is bad at something can be tricky as it is much harder to coerce a teen into spending time on a subject that the teen hates, but it’s certainly not impossible.
Mizrahi points out that practice and consistency are important if one hopes to see long-term improvement. She advises parents to regularly ask their children for feedback and suggestions.
“Not only will this encourage participation and performance, it will also help to develop self-trust, confidence and personal responsibility,” says Mizrahi.
Still, teens can be difficult to wrangle, as they often do not want to engage in a task unless they understand how it benefits them directly. You may know that doing well in school will be a boon when it comes to college application time, but teens aren’t necessarily thinking that far into the future.
Ease up on the pressure because the more you push, the more likely they are to pull away. Instead, offer them solutions (such as tutors), rather than forcing solutions upon them because, if it is their decision to try and better themselves, they are much more likely to succeed.
The brain’s ability to make new connections is stronger in young children