I think I have mentioned that I adore the attitude of the girls’ kindergarten league soccer coach; he doesn’t keep score, he teaches sportsmanship and teamwork more than strategy or even ball skills, and his foremost goal is that all the kids have fun. He involves parents who want to be involved, he’s sensitive with the kids, and easy going with the parents. His son is sweet, too, and his in-laws come to watch our games. He really set the tone for the rest of us; parents regularly get in and play at practice, and, at games, we all chat and cheer from the sidelines, tying whatever kids’ shoelaces we see needing it, gently coaxing timid or frustrated kids back into the game, but generally just enjoying the attempts of all of the children there to participate and have fun as they all learn together.
I found myself wondering what it would look like if our math classrooms looked more like our kindergarten soccer practices and games.
“Nice try, Max! Way to get in there and try to solve that equation!” Wouldn’t matter if he got it right; he got in there and tried it! He took a risk!
“Hey, Cassie, your Dad is doing a fraction challenge with Beara, and you look like you are getting tangled up with those Cuisenaire rods. Do you want to play with them with me?” Parents in the classroom, casually but enthusiastically working with each other’s kids, so everyone got one on one attention, introducing and reinforcing mathematical concepts in a relaxed way accessible to each child on their own level.
“All right, gang, let’s practice spatial thinking and skip counting, along with teamwork and turn taking, by playing Carcassonne together. Who wants to keep track of the score board?” Games and fun, not drill and kill. More skills actually taught and practiced, and more fun to boot.
“No pushing, Beara – we are all on the same team, and we can take turns demonstrating our answers to the problem set.” Not only no pressure to be the best, but celebrating each other’s successes as wins for the whole team.
“Nice assist on that one, Big D! Way to back up your teammate!” Even better, helping each other out, and having it be considered teamwork and support, instead of cheating or mooching.
“Wow, Willem, you did great in math today! Did you have fun? You sure hustled after those word problems!” Retelling math successes around the dinner table or in the car, as a family, as a natural and celebratory part of the process.
No one is afraid of soccer. Everyone tries, or doesn’t, and that’s ok, but we keep coaxing kids to get back in there and keep trying. Parents show up at practice and even grandparents ask how the games go. Families help each other out, complimenting and assisting each other’s kids. Kids get better at it, all the while having fun, and getting some good physical exercise.
Math could be like that, too.