In today’s economy, new graduates and job hunters need all the advantages they can get, and most employers agree that they need workers with outstanding math and language skills. Unfortunately, Hispanic students lag behind their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scale . So, as a community we need to make an extra effort to provide support to our children early on.
Even if your kids are young and not yet ready to head out into the workforce, what they learn today will determine their future opportunities. Math skills are essential in a huge variety of jobs: Accountants, business owners, architects, scientists, computer specialists, IT experts, and many other professionals need sharp math skills. Some students struggle with math from the time they are very young. If your child is having trouble, a great way to teach math without long tutoring sessions is to teach her about finances. Most children love money—even very young kids like tallying up coins—and cash makes math relevant and real for most kids.
There are many ways to turn money into math lessons that your children will actually enjoy:
1. If your child is young, give them a small allowance and help them plan how they will spend it. An allowance teaches the basics of money management and encourages your kid to keep track of money.
2. Help your kids develop a budget with their allowance. Plan together how much money they will save a month and what they will do with the rest. (This activity has the added benefit of teaching the value of money and of prioritizing their needs and wants to stretch their limited resources.)
3. Discuss money-saving strategies. Once your child has money, earned from shoveling snow, cutting the grass or from an allowance, it’s time to discuss savings. Call your bank to find out whether they have special programs or accounts for minors—many banks do have special low-fee savings accounts just for this purpose. You can even sneak in a subtle math lesson when you sit down with your child and the bank advisor to figure out how much interest they will earn on that savings account. TheMint.org has great online tools, including a calculator that lets your children determine when they’ll be millionaires. Kids love the idea of having more money and will not even notice that they are getting a math lesson!
4. Play money-based games with your children. Games such as Monopoly teach your children to count and make financial decisions. These games can be played with the whole family. Or, check out Mathwire for fun online math games.
5. Let your kids make some economic decisions. For example, when you go out to dinner have your younger kids help you figure out the tip for your meal.
6. Learn about the stock market. Few schools teach students about investing, even though this is an important part of planning for the future. Pretend everyone in the family has $50 to invest in the market. Have each member of the family choose a stock and create a chart to keep track of everyone’s investment. Have each child keep track of the investments and add the latest stock prices as well as the total worth of the family’s assets on the graph.
Playing pretend stock market with your kids can also be a great way for you to learn or brush up on your own investing skills. If you want to learn more about the stock market, The Wall Street Journal has a free site where you can play stock market games for real prizes. Your kids may even decide to buy their own stocks. This article at Motley Fool can teach them how to do that.
Focusing on money allows you to teach your kids important math skills in a way that is accessible and real. You’d be surprised at how they can fall in love with math once they figure out how they can use it everyday.