Educator Angela Andrews insists children, contrary to popular belief, not only like to do math, but are natural problem-solvers.

Andrews was keynote speaker at the 4th annual Early Childhood Symposium this past Saturday at Percy Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave. More than 300 people pre-registered for the event, which included workshops for participants around this year’s theme of mathematics.

Andrews, an author and teacher, spoke to an audience of parents and fellow educators. Looking more like a grandmother with her white hair, glasses and slight southern accent, Andrews, also known by her nickname “Aunty Math,” spoke passionately about young children’s capabilities in the field of math.

Very young children, pre-school and kindergarten age, she said, “are always engaging in mathematics,” and math is happening all around them.

Children, she insists, are already good problem-solvers, and it’s up to adults to nurture and recognize that.

Early in her roughly one-hour lecture, titled Little Kids, Powerful Problem-Solvers, she asked the audience, “Who doesn’t like math?” A good number of hands went up.

Andrews said most math-haters have felt that way since they were young. Math, she noted, isn’t the problem. It’s how math has been taught to children.

“I really believe that math is a story that’s been told very, very poorly,” she said. “Learning math is a natural biological function. The question is not if children can think about mathematics. The question is, ‘How do they learn it, and how do we best support that kind of significant thinking?'”

She shared a story about sitting in a restaurant one day and seeing two sets of parents with their kids, perhaps both having just come from school. The mother and father in one booth, Andrews recalled, had flash cards and were drilling “match facts” into their son’s head. He didn’t seem to be having fun, Andrews observed. In the other booth, a mother and child sat together eating french fries. The mother was asking her child which of the fries was the longer one, how many fries the child had, and could the child pick out the shortest one from the group. The second parent, Andrews noted, made math a natural, fun and everyday learning experience.

“There was no stress, they were just enjoying their french fries, but the whole time, the mother was adding mathematical questions.”

Andrews said children shouldn’t be made to feel stupid because of math. They come into school wanting to do math and already believing that they know the answers to math problems.

They can also draw logical conclusions to abstract things. Sometimes they get it wrong because their minds aren’t as mature as adults, but they’re not the “fragile creatures” some adults think they are when it comes to doing math.

Children, she said, are active thinkers and can think abstractly.

Instead of letting children feel afraid and/or intimidated by math, Andrews said teachers can make children comfortable by allowing them to think about what they’re doing and let them figure it out.

“Children should be encouraged to think deeply about simple things. We don’t need to complicate their lives,” she said. “Adults need to honor the thinking and uniqueness of every young child. We have to let them take ownership of their tasks and problems.”

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