Math & Mindfuless

By Manu Verma
Published in the January 2016 edition of Namaskar Magazine, Hong Kong

I hardly come across a kid who is super excited about math! Usually math is a struggle, both for kids and their parents alike. Fortunately, mindfulness can ease this tension and make life a little more enjoyable. 

Here are five great ways to get started:

Learn a Mudra
A mudra is a gesture that symbolizes an idea or thing. It can be something you turn to that helps you rebalance and find your composure.

A powerful mudra I recommended to my student Claire was one of bringing the tips of the index finger and thumb together. Claire was smart, hardworking and, most of the time, very well prepared for the test. But as she would enter the examination hall she would feel “test anxiety” — confusion, forgetting the formulas, sweating of the palms, etc. So the mudra, to her, symbolized “a sense of orientation.” She had to perform it before she entered the room, as she would start reading the next question and every time she felt like she was almost going to forget the formula! It worked really well and she did feel more streamlined. She even did well on her tests. Hopefully she can use the mudra approach in the future to handle some other problems she encounters later in life as well.

Write Legibly
Not all of us can write beautifully, but with practice we can all write legibly. This is very important when it comes to math.

My foremost recommendation, having seen and helped hundreds of students write better, is this: Get your child to make his or her handwriting twice as big! Small handwriting and crunched up numbers lead to only one thing — more mistakes.

The handwriting should also be bold. If your child uses a pen, I recommend a 0.7mm gel pen; if he  or she uses a pencil, go for 2B or 4B. Writing should start from the left margin red line every single time.

You will have to coach your child repeatedly about these things, since bad handwriting habits take a long time to break. I have taken so many students from failing grades to a very solid B+ simply by having them write better. And if they studied the way I had instructed them they made A’s.

Learn to Observe Patterns
Patterns are everywhere. The better you get at observing the patterns, the easier your life will become.

The simplest kind of patterns we observe in math are the multiplication or times tables. The way to understand the times table of 2 would be to identify the pattern of adding 2 to each successive number as you go down the table. Times tables are the foundation of math and if your child is really good at them, he or she will rule the subject!

Use Common Sense
Use everyday examples to teach your child how to use common sense. It’s a habit. Being good at computation is important, but it’s even more important to find ways to check if the answer you are getting is correct.

“It takes 20 minutes for Carl to walk a mile. How long will it take for him to walk 2 miles?” After doing some calculations, my student Ally replied, “10 minutes.” Then I had her use her common sense to check if her answer was correct. I said, “If Carl doesn’t change his speed, wouldn’t it take him longer to walk a greater distance?” She said yes, and realized that she had reasoned 20 / 2 instead of 20 x 2 and thus understood her own mistake.

“Guesstimating” is a great way to check if your answers are correct.

For example, say your son has been asked to do 20 / 2.1 using long division. What he knows is that the greater the divisor, the smaller will be the quotient. He knows 20 / 2 = 10. But since 2.1 is greater than 2, the quotient will be less than 10. And since 2.1 is only slightly greater than 2, the quotient should be only slightly less than 2.

So guesstimating will suggest an answer of, say 9.4-9.6. If he is getting an answer that is wildly different — say, 94.5 or 8.6 — then he will immediately know that he has made a mistake and that he needs to rework the problem. 

Mindfulness works wonders during the regular school schedule, and the test!

Manu Verma is the HK Math Guru, a self-employed first class math tutor specializing in all levels and disciplines, including math for learning disabilities. He also taught hatha yoga professionally for over a decade in Hong Kong and the US. He is currently delving into book design and production with impressive results.