Kids benefit when parents overcome math anxiety

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Parents who are anxious about math can still help their children learn the subject when given the right tools, according to research from current and former University of Chicago scholars.A new study published in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that math-anxious parents who used an app called Bedtime Math saw improvement in their children’s math achievement—even years after the families stopped using the app. Exposure to the math app also changed parents’ attitudes about math for the better.
Following 587 students from 40 classrooms across the Chicagoland area, the researchers tracked how children who used the interactive math app compared to those in a control group who used a similar app focused on reading comprehension. By monitoring the students’ progress from first through third grades, the team discovered that using the math app closed the achievement gap between children of math-anxious parents and their peers.
That held true even after three years, when most families had stopped using the app consistently.
Those results suggest that when families used the app together, parents disassociated their own math anxiety from what was possible for their children in terms of math achievement. Because Bedtime Math frames math problems through light-hearted themes like foot size, dogs or Halloween—and provides answers with a single click—it may represent a low-stress way for parents to approach a subject that they view as intimidating.
“Before the intervention, the higher math-anxious parents had lower expectations for their children’s math success,” said Susan C. Levine, the Rebecca Anne Boylan Professor in Education and Society at UChicago. “They also valued math less for their children. Importantly, using the math app helped cut the link between parents’ math anxiety and their lower values and expectations about math for their children, and this helped explain the positive effect of the math app on children’s …

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