American universities report that a startling 60 % of incoming students need remedial math help. It is a shocking fact that American students are paying additional college tuition to learn high school level math, in order to continue with their education. After 12 years in school, why are so many not fully prepared for college?
Studies find that kids who are behind in math in the early grades tend to stay behind. Math classes build on prior learning, so if a student doesn’t have a strong foundation in numeracy, they will continue to struggle in math. And, many American children cite math class as their most hated. So, how can parents keep kids from falling behind and inspire an interest in exploring math?
Does your child like to play with blocks, puzzles, and board games? If so, they are developing their spatial ability – and at the same time, improving their math skills.
Spatial ability is the comprehension and recall of the spatial relations between objects. This ability is seen as a specific type of intelligence along with logical reasoning, verbal aptitude, and memory skills. This type of intelligence itself is broken down into subtypes, such as the ability to rotate objects in one’s mind.
We use spatial skills in our everyday life, for example, when we parallel park, navigate with a map, catch a ball, or arrange furniture. Spatial ability is more intensively utilized in math class, for example, understanding a number line, finding geometric patterns, or determining whether an object is vertically or horizontally symmetrical.
Spatial reasoning is strongly connected to math skills.
For example, children’s quality of block play at age four has been found to predict their math achievement in high school. Also, when researchers directed fourth graders’ attention to the symmetry between positive and negative numbers (that -3 is the same distance from zero on a number line as + 3, for example), the students got better at solving problems in that area – and in higher level math they hadn’t seen before.
Spatial skills have been found to explain at least part of the difference in math grades between girls and boys. Traditionally, boys have played more with toys like blocks and construction sets than girls.
Both math and spatial skills are not inborn abilities – they are learned through practice. Math knowledge in the early grades lays the foundation and builds confidence for kids in the upper grades and beyond. Parents who play math games with their kids help them improve their math performance. Math board games generally have a spatial element – for example, Chutes & Ladders arranges the number line into groups of ten, helping kids understand our base 10 number system, along with aiding them with addition and subtraction skills. Playing games and doing puzzles are great ways to stimulate a child’s spatial and math skills while having fun