Give children the gift of understanding at Christmas time

(ROCKWALL/HEATH, TX – Dec. 16, 2015) While watching a Spanish television series last month I thought it would be fun to see if my limited Spanish language skills would make it possible to follow the story. Within a few minutes of turning off the subtitles I became frustrated. The few words and phrases I was able to pick up gave me clues to subjects being discussed, however the heart and soul of the show was lost on me. Not only did I get lost, but was falling increasingly behind the dialog and unable to catch up or understand what was happening.

This is how a child struggling with math feels. If prerequisite skills are missing it makes keeping up with the flow of math in class impossible. They may gather bits and pieces of information, but the big picture makes no sense. You can imagine how frustrated a child may become as they try to make sense out of new skills if the prerequisite knowledge is missing.

Parents can help in fill in these gaps if they engage their children in everyday math.  Make your trips to the store (especially at Christmas time) an opportunity to talk about things like making change, percentage of discounts and budgeting. A friend of ours told of a technique they used when going to McDonalds. After ordering he would say to his daughters, “I am going to give McDonalds $10 and our meal is going to be $7.86. How much change should we get back?” The first daughter with the correct answer would get to keep the change. He found it a very effective tool for teaching his children how to calculate change.

One skill that baffles many youngsters is “percents.” Children who are just beginning to work on this skill need to understand the vocabulary involved. The % sign, pronounced percent, is a compound work made up of “per” which means “for each” and “cent” meaning “100.”  So when they see the percent sign they should be thinking “for each 100.”  When they understand this, a problem like 4% of 350 becomes 4 for each 100 (there are 3 of these) which gives us 12. Then, since 50 is ½ of 100, we need ½ of 4 which is 2. So the answer (12 + 2) gives us 14. It is amazing to watch children who have struggled with this concept all of a sudden “get it.” Once they have a good understanding of the basic concept, then they can be taught the algorithm (divide by 100, remove the % sign and multiply.)

Talk with your children about budgeting. This has been neglected in the past, but thankfully, more and more financial math is being introduced in schools. The earlier a child understands how behavior needs to be constrained by the realities of our income, the happier (and morefinancially sound) they will be as adults. Christmas is the most budget blowing time of the year, and if we walk the walk, maybe they will believe our talk.

We wish you and your family a great Christmas season and hope the New Year is your best one yet.

By Blue Ribbon News guest columnists Bob and Becky Barnes with Mathnasium Learning Center in Rockwall. Contact them at




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