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Equalling is Fun — Learning Basic Math

Money To Live made an excellent point following up on my post about what my parents taught me about money and credit. She said that besides teaching children about paying bills and the like, parents should make sure their children know basic math.

Without being able to do simple math well, you can’t have confidence about money. To make good decisions about earning and paying interest, you have to be able to figure out how that works. In everyday situations, you may not even be able to tell right away if you’ve gotten the correct change. Before anything, math is the key element of personal finance. Money is essentially numbers, after all.

I didn’t do so well on higher math (calc continues to frustrate me), but I completely rocked basic mathematics. I think it’s due in part to my early interest in math and a great deal to my parents’ decision to follow-up on that.

I remember being about 4 (not yet in school) and walking into my parents’ closet with a piece of paper singing the “equalling is fun” song I’d made up. To my mind, if “2 plus 2 equals 4” then what I was doing should be called “equalling.” I also have some brief memories of the special math class my parents had me take somewhere around 5 or 6. I particularly remember some of my first computer experience during breaks of this class.

Later on, my mother got my father to write a program which would generate a worksheet with perhaps 50 math questions that I had to solve. I remember being timed, though I’m not sure if that was them or me…being competitive. They had worksheets for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The sheets started out with single digits, but I believe they moved up.

Still later, in high school, my father impressed on me the importance of showing my work in science homework. I could do a lot of math in my head, but he wanted me to always make sure I laid it out properly so that I’d get more practice on the steps necessary to solve the complex problem. I still do a lot of mental math, but I think that’s where my enjoyment of spreadsheets stems.

I do basic math all the time when handling used book sales at the library (tax). Or when making change from from fines and sales. I use the cash register, of course, but I can do the calculations in my head on the way there so I’m already getting out the right change by the time I can double check it with the number the register spits out.

I don’t think every child needs to be a math wiz in order to be able to handle their finances when they grow up. But basic addition and subtraction, combined with knowing how to work out more complex equations—even if it takes calculator to do the actual computation—is critical. If you don’t know how percentages are formed, you’ll have trouble understanding APY and APR. If you don’t understand the basics of compounding, you’ll find loans and investing confusing.

Katy (Money to Live) has some recommendations for helping your kids learn math, some sound like fun! So be sure to check them out.

How did you learn basic math? Do you plan to do anything special with your children or just make sure that they do learn it through their schools (and only intervene if it seems like they’re not learning)?

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Frugal Urbanite August 25, 2008 at 11:33 am

I learned my basic math at home, but in Elementary School I was part of an ‘enrichment’ program where one unit actually taught us how to manage household finances. In 3rd grade I probably could balance a checkbook better than most adults. 🙂 I wish they were still teaching Home Ec in more high schools, so more kids would get this info.

I didn’t really learn to get speedy with the math until I got my after-school job with McDonald’s. This is back when it was cash only w/o change machines so I had to be able to take money and make change in less than 45 seconds in order to make my times.

Christine August 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Paragraph four is probably a lot funnier for people who don’t know how big your parents’ “closet” is…

QL Girl August 25, 2008 at 12:26 pm

I remember there was always this mysterious talk about people having to learn how to “balance their checkbooks”…I came to think it was this really hard thing that even adults can’t do sometimes! When I finally “learned” I remember thinking “thats…it?”

Sometimes people make math sound like this mystical thing, when its not. While not everyone will get math so quickly (I do realize that), I think kids kind of psyche themselves out based on those preconceptions. Maybe I’m wrong, but those are just some thoughts.

If I ever have kids I hope to have them start with a blank slate…none of that “ugh, reading is HARD” or “I HATE math” that kids learn from TV (seriously, I’ve seen it on there! especially with girls) or their older friends or family. They may be “better” at one than the other, but it doesn’t mean they can’t work and learn to be “good” at both.

Katy August 25, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Glad you liked my post!

It is the first post on the homepage today, and this is the permanent link:


Vered August 25, 2008 at 6:44 pm

My daughter is 8 and she already complains that math is hard. It drives me crazy. I am working to correct her attitude.

My Daily Dollars August 25, 2008 at 6:47 pm

I’ve always liked math and actually have fun “running the numbers” on our budget. I think partly that’s because my mom always made the basics fun. I was one of those geeky kids who even liked flashcards and workbooks!

plonkee August 26, 2008 at 8:23 am

Arithmetic, like reading, is one of those things that I’ve been enjoying for so long that I don’t remember how I learned it.

I know that I could read before I went to school at 4 and a half. I think that I could do basic arithmetic then as well – certainly before I was 6.

From watching my younger siblings, I think we were taught to read and count, and add up by doing it all the time. We used to read the posters on the way to school, and I bet we used to answer maths questions as well.

Mrs Micah's Mom August 26, 2008 at 5:30 pm

I remember your ‘equaling’. You used to sing ‘equaling’ songs at dinner, too.

For drill sheets, our goal was for you to do 100 addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division facts with 100% accuracy in 3 minutes. Then you didn’t have to do drill sheets every day, just once in a while as a review.

mrsmicah August 26, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Wait, I had to do 100 problems in 3 minutes? That’s less than 2 seconds per problem. You guys were crazy. I did it, of course, but still.

Andrew Stevens August 29, 2008 at 5:32 pm

I am willing to bet that if you did those 100 problems now, you’d get them all done in less than a minute. The facts she’s likely talking about are things like 6 times 6, 3 times 4, etc. The ultimate goal is to have the child be able to solve every problem instantly as an adult can (at least if they were proprely drilled as a child).

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