Thinkin' Out Loud

Mathy or Artsy?

I am not a math person. Math people will tell you that the world is described in numbers. I am a creative type. To me the world is described in color and texture and line and form and the well-chosen word.

Clearly, God made me to see the world through the lens of creativity.  I have always loved to make stuff.  Creative efforts satisfy me and feed me.  But is it also possible that I was also made with some math ability that for one reason or another, never developed and eventually withered away?  Is it possible that if my life had taken a different turn that a quadratic equation would feel as lovely as the color of cinnamon?

My parents were young and blue collar and had three kids in five years. One worked days and the other worked nights.  They were busy trying to keep the wheels on. They didn’t have the time, energy or resources to provide the kind of learning opportunities that we are able to provide for Sean.

And, it was a different place and time.   In my neighborhood, teaching kids was the job of the nuns, not the parents — even if they did have time.  In addition to that, because I was hospitalized off and on throughout elementary school, I missed a lot of school. One day I left school and we were doing addition and when I came back, we were doing long division. And I never caught up. Consequently, I have learned how to avoid math my entire life. My worst nightmare is not that I show up naked in the classroom, it’s that I show up and am expected to convert fractions.

But how might I be different if my parents had had the time to sit down and teach me or what if I never missed out on those fundamental math classes? Maybe I would be an accountant. Or maybe I’d still be bad at math.

At this point, it appears that Sean is an artsy creative type; he seems to be less inclined towards math. But what I really don’t want to do is nurse that assumption and transfer my own math insecurities onto him.  I don’t want in any way to send the message to him that math is not his thing.  Because it could be.

If in fact, it turns out that math is not his thing, then I want to get on top of that early and make sure he learns how to do it, and at the very least develops an appreciation for it.  I don’t want him to be like me and live a life terrified that he will have to do long division in his head.

So tell me oh wise internets, at what age do the right and left brain tendencies emerge?  And to what degree do you think nurture and nature impact those tendancies?  When will I know if I should hire a math tutor?

66 thoughts on “Mathy or Artsy?

  1. I just want to say that it has been my experience that math people scorn the non-math people who can’t do math in their head. But the artsy people never scorn the math people because they can’t mix colors in their head. 🙂

  2. You make me laugh. I am NOT a math person. . .but I am a logical person. Just because I can’t do math to save my soul (even though Sarah INSISTS that I can–and spent the better part of our Jr. year trying to teach me Algebra II) doesn’t mean I can’t think. I’m an artsy/creative/emotional/feeling/reading/
    writing type.

    That being said, both my kids CAN do math but prefer other things. They are also both good readers but prefer other things. . .like science. Of course, I didn’t know that for sure until they got into kindergarten/1st grade and actually started school. I had my premonitions, but was happy to watch them toodle off down the path of knowledge without too many falls along the way. Basic reading and basic math skills acquired early on will go a LOOOOOONG way.

    * * *
    Yes — lack of math abilities does not equal lack of logic. Or smarts. Unless you ask a math person. ~AM

  3. First of all, let me say, I am not mathy. Not really artsy either. But I taught grade 5/6 math (for the longest year of my life) and believe a few things.
    A strong foundation in numbers is critical. The more kids are exposed to numbers the better. Not necessarily memorizing times tables (although that is important) but through manipulatives and hands-on exploration of numbers.
    If you are teaching them to count to 100, have groups of ten to show them 100. Have them count change in the store. when you give them 8 strawberries for lunch, do a couple of math problems with the strawberries. Keep it light, keep it fun, but just as you probably help Sean see the beauty in the world, help him see the order and the logic too.
    Oh, and teach him to problem solve. Not just math problems, but everyday stuff. Is there more than one way to do this? How do we do it best?
    And now I will shut up.

  4. I’m chuckling to myself. My husband is a sculptor and a graphic designer and I am me and so we knew before we even had kids that we would have math phobic black-collar worker types, kids who would seriously consider “performance artist” as a career destination.
    And guess what? Our two kids in school are both in the gifted math classes. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
    But looking back on their very early childhoods, I can see that we did a good job not passing on our math phobias – and we also did things like let them make change in stores, played cards with them, and other casual, math-friendly activities. Other than that, though, they’ve inherited some seriously recessive math genes.

  5. My parents are both athletes, and thought that their kids would all love sports.

    I hate sports. Instead, they got four smart kids. Genes are unpredictable.

    * * * * *
    God has a sense of humor. I see a lot of soccer games in your future. ~AM

    Popping back in to make the distinction that sportsy and artsy types can be smart as well as…., because I know that you didn’t mean that if you were sportsy or artsy that you were precluded from being smart….

  6. When they’re young, it’s hard to say. I home schooled my 3 kids and my oldest (a son) couldn’t spell to save his life. For a while, I thought it was me, until my younger two became great spellers. He also hated to write and struggled with the concept of foreign languages. I had majored in English and I knew he would NEVER follow in my footsteps. Not that I wanted him to, just sayin’.

    However, he is now nearly 22 and is in his last year of college, majoring in Classical Studies, with an emphasis on Ancient Greek. The papers he writes are phenomenal! He still can’t spell well, but he has spell check to fix that.

    All that to say – – you just never know. If someone had told me 15 years ago that he’d have ended up doing this, I never would have believed it.

    You’ll have so much fun watching your son grow and mature – it’s surprising and wonderful!

    * * *
    That’s interesting because I have a niece who is a voracious reader but can’t spell to save her life and that baffles me! I don’t see how you can be so immersed and saturated in words and not notice how they are constructed! But then again, she’s a math person and spelling comes easy to me!

  7. So far, I’ve only dealt with kids who grew into the creative side of things. Our three teenagers showed signs at a very early age that structure, organization and logical thinking were definitely NOT their strong suits. The jury is still out on our five-year-old, though if I’d have to guess, I’d say he’s headed along the same course.

    My personal opinion is that once he’s had a couple of years of elementary school under his belt, you’ll know. Like by grade 2.

  8. please make sure he gets his multiplication tables. If he learns those he can do most math in elementary school and get a good start. He may never love math but he can be successful at it.

  9. I’ve also never been a math type — I love reading, writing, and language in general. Math? Not so much. But if someone sat down with me and took the time to make sure I understood the math I was learning, I really did enjoy it. The feeling of “getting” something and understanding how it all works is great. I hated Algebra for most of a year, and when it finally clicked I realized it was kind of fun and I actually liked solving equations. I had to take one math class in college, and not only did I manage to make a very high A, but I enjoyed it and wound up tutoring one of my classmates, of all things. My mom laughed so hard when I told her I was tutoring someone in math. But when the teacher explained things in a way that made sense, it was fun to be able to do it. I majored in journalism and wound up working in photography and graphic design, both of which have a fair amount of simple math involved if you do them right. I don’t love numbers, but we get along well enough.

    One thing to bear in mind, though, is that while you do want to try to work through weaknesses with your child, don’t do that to the exclusion of his strengths. So many people think that if the kid is very creative but is poor at math, he needs to do math all the time and not work on creative stuff. It’s such a shame when that happens, because it’s important to build on those strengths, and not just try to shore up the weaknesses. After all, when he chooses a career, it’ll probably be based on his strengths. Just something I hadn’t really thought about in that light until someone mentioned it to me — not that you don’t encourage Sean in his strengths!

  10. Who says he can’t be both artsy and mathy? We have people who are both in our family. And, I’m sitting here at work thinking of my boss. He taught band for a few years. Paints beautiful pictures. And is the managing partner in this CPA firm.

    One skill does not exclude the other. That is a stereotype that needs to be busted.

    * * *
    I agree they are not mutually exclusive. We are speaking in generalities here. In my experience, those who are mathy AND artsy are more the exception than the rule.

    Music seems to be the property of both the artsy and the mathy.

  11. Creative scattered type here. Married a math man. Who LOVES math. He hyperventilated during a math contest in second grade he was so excited. I am cluttered & free. He is order & schedule. Our girls are 6 & 4 and I’m not sure what we have on our hands yet. Except for drama. We’ve definitely got that.

    * * *
    I’m creative and free, but very orderly. My brain and my being seem to require it. And my paintings reflect that. It’s hard for me to paint in a loose and fluid style.

  12. Well I love math – always have – and I love the creative stuff too. I have a degree in applied statistics, and yet I like to draw and paint. I don’t think artsy and mathy are necessarily mutually exclusive.

    I totally agree with the good advice you’ve received in the other comments. Make sure Sean knows the basics so he doesn’t struggle with math. In my opinion, once the cycle starts – struggling with math, then hating math, thinking you’re not good at it, and therefore avoiding it – it’s really hard to reverse. And math skills throughout school are cumulative; once you fall behind it is increasingly difficult to catch up.


  13. I think just because you’re exposed to math doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it – I took all kinds of math classes in high school, advanced math & all, and to this day, I do not like math or science. I think it truly has to do with your personality. If math is to be Sean’s thing, then he will be drawn to math, and if it’s not, then he won’t. 🙂

  14. I’m artsy. Not a math or numbers person.I know this because I have vivid memories of trying to learn to tell time from an empty Avon shampoo bottle with my Dad. I know I drove him nuts that night, trying to understand the big hand from the little hand, etc. I know I’m not a math person because I grew up around both grandmothers who shared the same art teacher. I sat at their breakfast table and learned to paint, not do subtraction. I went off to college and studied art history. I am raising two teenage boys who are both unbelievable on the trumpet. Although their math scores improved due to music they aren’t math people, by any means. My oldest got the flu in 6th grade and missed the week of learning to read a ruler. Sounds trivial, but to this day he breaks into a sweat measuring things. He is also ADD, so lining up numbers when learning fractions required him to use graph paper so that he could organize his numbers, rows, lines. I am in constant contact with his math teachers every school year, letting them understand that even though he isnt a math guy, he is creative, a deep thinker and a wonderful writer. As much as he needs math, he needs to be himself more. He wont grow up to be an accountant but a good, well-rounded guy. As long as your little guy learns the basics, especially his multiplication tables, it will all work out just fine. He will be fine. God has his plan for him-maybe it wont involve math…who knows?? 🙂

  15. I am a very right-brain person married to a statistics professor. I can only hope that our children end up somewhere in the middle.

    * * *
    The middle is a good place to be, it’s the land of the well-rounded.

  16. I’m a non-math person, but my kids’ dad was both a creative and math type. I never told them I couldn’t do math, and allowed them to go thru school ASSUMING they could do it. If there was ever an issue or problem, I treated it like a normal event, everyone experiences glitches, and it passed with or without a tutor. Both kids are not math types at all, but they are both in high math classes and get through just fine — although they don’t really “like” it. Now that they are teens they know I can’t do math and I tell them they take after their dad.

    They are both wonderful creative writers though — so I’d like to think they get a little of that from me.

    It’s all in the assumptions of abilities – and the way in which you approach it.

  17. Well with son, we worked with our peditrician/family doctor who said a lot had to do with eye development. There are so many fun programs out there as well as tutors that when you see him sliding you can use one or the other for a year or so. Keep it fun and upbeat. Son was reading Math was a cinch for him but he went to summer school because the sitter’s kids slept till noon and he had a ball in school. The teacher said it was ok but he didn’t need the match. Everyone is different so go with the flow and it changes.

  18. I am not a math person. I am a creative person. My husband, while also creative in ways, is very much a math person. Engineer even. We created a child.

    She is only 8, but math is her strongest subject. She likes it and does well with it. She also loves to draw. And dance. And perform. And she’s good at it. I am trying to give her room to expand on both fronts. I am so curious as to see where she will put most of her efforts in the future.

  19. I’ve also wondered when natural propensities start to show up — and when others can be ruled out.

    My oldest is only 7, so I don’t have much ground on you. But I think it doesn’t really start to happen until junior high or high school.

    For example: When I was in second grade, I wrote in my little scrapbook that I wanted to grow up to be a math teacher.

    By the time I got to high school, I was struggling to maintain a B average in math. And after I finished my required two credits to graduate, I stopped taking math classes forever.

  20. Came back to read the comments and had to weigh in on the spelling. Though not scientifically proven, I think there is a spelling “gene” much like there is a math “gene” or much like being “right-brained” or “left-brained.” I am very sad about the poor children I damaged my early years in teaching by all the never ending spelling lessons. Much like number play, word families and spelling rules are great to teach, but dictionary usage is just as important for those who have trouble spelling.

  21. “My worst nightmare is not that I show up naked in the classroom, it’s that I show up and am expected to convert fractions.” Mine too!!! I am so embarrassed to admit that I can’t do math–at all. In high school my Algebra II teacher called my mom half-way through the year and suggested that I really didn’t need his class in order to get into college and why don’t I just drop it? In college I had to have a minimal amount of math, and since I dropped Algebra II in high school, I took “baby math” in college. I think I got a D. It’s really, really bad.

    My kids, however, are doing a bit better on the math front than I did. All three of them, as they have entered middle school, have moved up to “Advanced” math, essentially skipping 6th grade math. How one does that is WAY beyond me. My daughter who will be a senior next year is taking some kind of AP Calculology or something like that which just makes my stomach hurt to think about.

    Let’s just say that I had to quit helping them with their homework in about 4th grade.

    I don’t have much advice to give you, but I’d just say try not to project your math fears onto Sean. Just go with the flow, try to have a positive attitude about it, and see what he does with it. And good luck!

  22. I wish you were my neighbor! I have a degree in elementary education, with a math minor. I home school and my oldest two children (6 and 5)are super at math. The 5YO can even beat the 6YO sometimes when we do addition flash cards. But, I’m afraid they may graduate from high school not even knowing their colors (maybe not quite that bad) because I run like crazy from anything having to do with art! There is not a single drop of creativity in my whole body. So, I guess I’m the opposite of you–I want them to learn to be creative and “artsy” but I don’t know where to start in teaching them (and I can’t afford a teacher).

  23. One of the greatest gifts and life lessons I received growing up was from my third grade teacher. When it was time for math, Miss Asberry declared that “she loved math!” Consequently, we did too.

    Years later, when I ran into Miss Asberry she confessed that math was her weakest subject. She hoped her enthusiam for the subject made up for any deficits in teaching.

    It did.

  24. Okay, didn’t take time to read everyone else (cause I am at work and at lunch break). I was never “strong” on math till my senior year of high school when I took Calculus because I was terrified of college math and wanted to take it in high school to prep for it. I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me and allowed me to ask all the questions I wanted.

    I went on to major in chemical engineering- graduating magna cum laude…all that for “not being a math person”. I am currently working as a subcontractor for a certain “space” agency. And one of my favorite hobbies is to re-do old thrift store pieces, yard sale furniture etc. I encourage my children to paint (yes, even on thier walls!) and we craft together. I can’t “paint” to save my life, but I can smock and make hairbows. So…what box would you put me in? 🙂 Don’t worry about it…he will find his own path- he might even blaze a new one!

  25. There are many ways to develop a child’s math skills that don’t require any formality. Card games are wonderful – even the most basic ones will teach basic addition and subtraction. Baking is another fun activity that incorporates addition and fractions. Puzzles are great, as are checkers and, later, chess.

    You can look for teachable math moments just as you look for teachable moments for manners, morals, and ethics. When you’re at the grocery store, for example, try asking which product is less expensive.

    Another tool that I LOVE is Schoolhouse Rock. Their Mulitplication Rock CD is fantastic and the DVD is great, too. I’ve seen it be the breakthrough in so many children learning their times tables.

  26. I am an “artsy” first grade teacher. I love the language arts; I like the math (but I feel I teach it well…I mean, come on: it’s FIRST GRADE MATH). My best advice is to stay tight with Sean’s teachers. I will go so many extra miles for parents who desire to stay involved. Homework and testing will give you a good feel for his abilities. I sometimes recommend to parents to get the next grade’s curriculum to look over during the summer (ie: expose Sean to first grade math before he gets there.) There are also FUN math camps available that make math seem FUN! and EXCITING! And please remember: even if there is difficulty, breakthroughs can come later. I struggled with algebra but excelled in geometry. I had to take an upper level Probability and Statistics math in college when I dabbled in a journalism major and I aced it. Even within math there are different abilities and giftings. I know you will both be involved parents and I know the teachers will love you and your son. My bet is Sean will not only do just fine, but he will excel at what he sets his hand to. Even math. 🙂

  27. While I’m definitely not a mathy person, on tests I always did well on the logic sections for some reason. Hubby is an engineer – totally mathy. 6 year old son is already clearly taking after dad. They work math problems in a similar way – they just see them in a completely different way. I understand my husband’s thought process about a problem when he explains it to me, but it would just never occur to me to approach a problem like that! My son also shows some early talent for/enthusiasm for music, but he’s pretty horrendous in art (sorry, buddy!).

  28. I’d bet you are not “bad” at math so much as you never learned some of the basic tools you needed to do it. Imagine if you missed a week of learning how to conjugate “to be” in a foreign language; you wouldn’t be “bad” at it, you’d just be missing an important part that would help everything else make sense.
    Math is all about proportions, shapes, scaling, balance, symmetry, perspective — all things you need to be a good visual artist. If you can mix paint to match a splash of color on a pillow, or can appreciate the beauty in a conch shell or see the splendor of Greek, Roman, or Japanese temples, you have a gut understanding of math (and fractions!). You’re just hampered by the inability to translate it from a natural understanding to squiggly marks on a piece of paper. Don’t be surprised if Sean does just fine.

  29. I think anyone can be a math person, just not a “sit down with a textbook” math person. For creative types, they might need to get math with manipulatives and hands on activities so they can learn to see the patterns in math, the beauty.

    Okay, so you may not growing any mathmeticians, but especially at a young age, you can use more creative ways to work with math.

  30. I’m married to a math/science/ chemistry/computer/mechanical genius geek. He’s married to a sewing/cooking/stitching/writing/drawing/ history geek who can only do fractions because I worked in a fabric store and that’s how they sell fabric. I’m now a whiz with the decimal conversions. If only my harridan 7th grade math teacher had figured that out, maybe I wouldn’t have been the constant disappointment in that class that I was, headed to a future school career of math phobia. But I digress.

    My point is this – we are all created in the image of our Creator God. He created fractions and differential equations and the elements on the Periodic Table (shudder!) in the same way he created vegetables and scenery and silk. There is as much elegance and beauty in the things my husband is able to create as there is in what I create. I just don’t happen to see it like he does. But I can appreciate his ability to do it. Just as he can (and does!) appreciate my abilities. When we get right down to it, we are ALL able to create something – a brilliant legal defense, a mean spaghetti sauce, a car with brakes that work, a photograph, a wicked curve-ball. Our world just doesn’t look at it that way. We divide ourselves into “creative” types and “not-creative” types. But every one of us is able to fashion order from the chaos of something.

    My 3 y.o. is already excellent at figuring out how things come apart and get put back together. So will she be doing computers and car engines with her daddy or making clothes and quilts with me? Maybe the talents aren’t as far removed as they seem.

  31. Luckily I’ve commented here enough so that you know I am not just popping in here to “sell” you something. As a right-brained homeschool mom of five-right brained children, I would encourage you to check out Miquon math and cuisenaire rods (you’ll have to google them, I have a pile of kids about to explode at the lunch table) to get off to a GREAT right-brained start. It is not too early to teach Sean to skip count by twos, threes, fours…through ten. This transfers easily to multiplication and division. Teach him all his doubles (1+1, 5+5…) Teach him all the number combinations that make 10. Knowing tens and doubles make addition and subtraction much easier to learn. If you decide to get cuisenaire rods, get several packages so that you can build really big numbers and not run out of blocks. You can print out a hundred sheet and color in counting by twos to twenty on one sheet, threes to thirty on the next sheet…The more visual you can be in presenting math concepts that this age the more fun it will be an the easier it will be for Sean to grasp.

    I hated math as a kid, and as a public school teacher, but a half dozen curriculums and five kids later I think I’ve finally got this figured out for the early grades and it has become fun for me to teach and the kids to learn.

    Good luck!

  32. I was going to say what Kathy said above. Patterns, symmetry, language analysis, logical reasoning are all very mathematical. Music is very mathematical and pattern oriented. Even mixing color has mathematical connotations given the concept of proportions. I would have thought you to be very mathematical in spite of not feeling comfortable with converting fractions. I think the key to helping people understand math is helping them see how it affects them in the real world lives. And really explaining why a formula is what it is. Otherwise a lot of people feel blocked.

  33. Begin at the beginning with Sean as he begins to do math homework. Sit across the table from him and both of you work the problems. When you agree on answers, Yeah!! When you get different answers, rework them to see who is correct. By the time he gets to fractions and decimals, you will master them with him. Happy, happy homework afternoons. I have been doing this with my 7th grade grandson since he began school. Just this past school year, there have been more times when he was correct instead of me; and his self confidence soars at those moments. I was an English major, a librarian; but now I love math.

  34. So NOT a math person here! My boy does well in math, even went to the Math Olympics this year but….sometimes cries when he is confronted with word problems. Just like I did when I was a kid. Guess that must be the “nature” part.
    You will know if/when your boy needs extra help in math, probably after a few years of school. The first years are very basic but you’ll know if he seems too frustrated when he gets into the harder stuff that he may need some extra help. Good luck!

  35. I’ve raised two totaly different types of kids. A son that was born a math whiz and really a whiz in everything else too. A member of Mensa at age 21.

    Daughter was more like me. Struggled with math throughout school. She had to earn her good grades while son’s came so easily.

    Funny how life works out. My daughter got her accounting degree and now does payroll/accounting for a large firm, while my Mensa-boy has struggled his entire life to find something to make him happy. Go figure…

  36. Math is not boring and un-creative! Math is all around you, you use it all the time, when you are drawing, cooking, etc.. We are working on a new series of multimedia character-animated Math curriculum for grades K-2, which will definitely not be boring. All activities are adventure based, and interactive and will require a lot of creativity to solve. I think that Math has gotten a bad rep due to many uninspired approaches out there, you can definitely be creative and learn Math at the same time!

    * * *

    True, I use some basic math in cooking and art but if you knew the unorthodox way I figure some measurements, it would make you gasp.

    I’ve never once used a quadratic equation to make a casserole. Or anything else for that matter.

  37. I *so* get the math frustration…I had a lot of tonsil problems and missed the jump into long division in 4th grade, too. My parents couldn’t help me…it was ‘new math’ and we were doing it differently than they learned. I was convinced I hated math…even though I enjoyed geometry and trigonometry when I met them in high school (angles and things…not math, to my mind…). But I think logically and enjoy puzzles and decided to major in computer science. At my alma mater, in the early ’80s, that required taking so much math that I only needed three more classes for a double major. I figured I’d be dumb not to go for it, so I dug in and did it. And discovered that things made more sense at the 500 level than they did at the 100 level.

    Then I stayed home and raised kids for 20 something years…and am now a part-time employee in an accounting department.

    When I’m not sewing or writing blog posts or doing other creative things.

    So…ya never know…

    BTW, I *still* haven’t a clue what we were doing on long division in 4th grade. I do it the old-fashioned way now. 😉

  38. I highly recommend the book “The Way They Learn” by Cynthia Tobias. She explains various learning styles as well as multiple intelligences within each person. Hugely impactful for me when my kids were small…and consequently very impactful on what my kids learned all through their growing up years.

  39. You had too many comments for me to read, so hope this isn’t a repeat. Nurture it all, his love of the solar system and numeric things as well as the ones that are so easy for you. Shows like Curious George and Sid the Science Kid are big at our house. We tend to balance the reading/language and the math when we buy games, and so far they love both. Recognizing and trying not to pass on the math phobia is a big step – is AD a math person? We play all the time in stores, home, etc with time, measurements, steps, count for discipline and treats, etc. I know you can throw lots more numbers in there – hey look how pretty Sesame Street makes them 😉

  40. I am an artsy person, and that is the black and white of it! I didn’t like math, but had the understanding that there was no ‘job’ for artsy people, so I plugged along. Not until out of college and working with designers and workrooms and my love for sewing did I realize how much I was using math and doing it pretty well. It served a purpose, if the teacher would have used the example of figuring how much trim do I need on a 92″ round table cloth I might have realized it was for me too. Make it relate to his world and help him calculate the things you might need in yours.

    * * *
    Shirley, you found your calling in the field of design. The baby bedding on your site is the most GORGEOUS I’ve ever seen! It makes me long for another baby just to do another nursery.

    Y’all – if you are in the market for baby bedding or just want to see something really really pretty, check it out:

  41. I am a math tutor and use touchmath to help children. I would recommend it to you. Go to to read about it. It is multisensory, which is a great way for all children (and adults) to learn!

  42. I’m not a math person AT ALL – my kids are all very good at it – and the reason is, they learned to read music and/or play instruments. (my 2 older boys sang in the choir) Seriously – that is the secret. Experts will tell you that learning to read music and doing well in math go hand in hand. So – Sean can be Artsy and Mathy – and the two shall be as one!

  43. Hi, again.
    I’m a studio art major, fourth grade teacher, who is now the head of her school’s math department. Much to my Dad’s shock and pleasure (he still wants me to take Calculus).

    Best research I’ve heard says our brains don’t settle on a learning style preference (say, left vs. right, or even extrovert vs. introvert) until puberty, so you have through 4th or 5th grade before things become entrenched. That is not to say that children won’t display tendencies or preferences before then, it’s more that they’re still pretty flexible and could change up any time.

    At the same time, learning math is a lot like learning an instrument. Becoming fluent in the early concepts can really help one to feel confident tackling the more difficult ones. Just as knowing how to play the “C” on the piano helps in playing many songs, understanding the basic concepts of place value, addition and subtraction, as well as being fluent in recalling sums and differences quickly can free up the working memory to allow a student to better grasp more difficult concepts or apply their skills to problem solving.

    That’s why your story of missing out on so many pieces makes sense to me in separating you so completely from mathematics.

    Another tricky thing about math, though, is it’s also a lot like learning a foreign language (a skill set also related to music instruction, by the way). Folks like us who are not intuitive math learners need to translate math into language, both verbal and written, to develop a solid grasp of the concepts and procedures.

    Therefore, as Sean is learning, get him to demonstrate what he’s learning and talk it out with you in as conversational and play based a way as possible. Ask his teacher for game recommendations, or e’mail me once he’s in first grade and I’ll set you up. Keep him talking and eventually writing about it. Help him in the second half of first grade to really memorize those addition and subtraction facts (don’t start before them, let him be a little kid) , and keep that up until he’s got the multiplication facts down cold sometime by fourth grade. There are lots of fun computer programs to help with this. It’ll give him confidence and keep math fun as he develops his own attitudes toward things. And finally, push yourself, him, and his teachers to build understanding, not just a memorization of rules and procedures to solve different kinds of problems. Math is actually pretty cool if you understand what’s going on. If his attitude towards math starts to slump, you’ll know, and that’s when you might decide to get him extra help. Attitude is a lot of it in the elementary grades.

    Aaaaaaaaaand, I’ll shut up now.
    But seriously. Write me. I geek out over this stuff (as you can tell).

  44. I have been thinking about this issue, regarding both my 11-yr-old daughter and myself.

    I think we label ourselves and our children too early in life. I have always considered myself a math person. But here I am at 52 feeling the need to develop my creativity with a blog.

    Just when I think I have my daughter’s strengths figured out, she surprises me.

    I say, don’t worry about it. Just provide your child with various experiences and he will hopefully find what’s right for him.

  45. He doesn’t have to choose. I have a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics with a minor in music. My daughter has a degree in Computer Science with a minor in Studio Art. She would have probably majored in art except that I used my ‘motherly influence’ because I thought she might be more ’employable’ with a Computer Science degree. Today she is a Graphic Designer and owns her own multi-media company. I am a web developer and often do contract work for her company. She still paints regularly (did a beautiful painthing over the weekend). I play piano, decorate, do scrapbooking (digital of course). My point is that you can do both. Sean doesn’t have to choose. That’s why we have a left brain AND a right brain. 🙂

    * * *
    I’m trying to figure out what I wrote that indicated I was suggesting Sean had to choose. And as I said earlier in a comment, while some, like you and your daughter, are gifted in both lobes, many of us — and I would maybe even venture to say “most of us” — are not. And not as a matter of choice! 🙂 Some of us will need a little extra help.

  46. I’m an artist and a writer and a singer and I play the piano. Painting, making music, writing–all artsy fartsy, all intrinsically mathematical too. I plan a fabric art piece on quad paper, using ratios and math and even geometry from tenth grade. I do a wall mural (from house paint oopsies st Home Depot) the same way. Plan first, then sketch, then color, then transfer to the enlarged paper and then to the dining room table and then to whatever–a wall, a sheet, a huge piece of screening–to become something that is beautiful, or that I wish will be beautiful.

    Stay tuned. There’s a point to all this bragging.

    One of my sons was born without a corpus callosum (the connective tissue between each brain hemisphere). He has many other physical problems, too. But, get this: his right brain talks to his left brain somehow, and vice versa, probably thru his eyes and God only knows what else. His brain finds ways to compensate for his disabilities. He’s not dyslexic, but he “sees” things differently. And he is very artistic.

    To my mind this is creativity of the most absolute awesomeness (I hate that word but can’t think of another better). It is organic creativity, genetic creativity.

    Humans are “both” brained. Creativity is fully as scientific as math; it just hasn’t been measured and catalogued and circumscribed like math. And we are all hard-wired for expressing art and playing number games.

    We do not come to Art; it comes to us.

    How could Sean not be good at math? The genes from his antique parents are just bubbling away in his little body. They multiply like crazy, all according to God’s perfect plan, and are ascending to eruption, into song or theorems or holographic art or inventive medicine or intergalactic peace treaties. Or mastering the third grade “times sevens.”

    He is your gigantic mural. You will be so surprised and delighted with its form and substance.

  47. Wow, I am going to read all these comments and I can’t wait to hear what people have to say. I too am terrified of Math and am hoping my kids are better at it than their Mom!

  48. Oh, Antique Mommy. You are a good and wise mommy. You will know if he needs help in math. He will let you know. You will find out at parent teacher conferences. How is AD at math? Nature vs. nurture, that is a good question. As he gets further in school and more involved with others, he will find what interests him. And he will come home and tell you all about it, because that is the kind of relationship you have with him. It will be fine. Really.

  49. I started as a Math Major in college. Shocker.

    I have the same phobias, only with things like “reading comprehension” and “creative storytelling.” Oh, and the thought of facing Shakespeare is frightening, FRIGHTENING, I tell you.

    You know, the one thing I’ve learned about teaching my two (three) kids is that every subject is really a mix of lots of skills. Example. When we started math, my son hated it. Eventually I figured out it was b/c he didn’t like to write the numbers. Oh! So once I let him tell me the answers, he sped through the lessons (at that time it was just counting exercises). (And someone wisely told me, just recently, that boys don’t really ‘get’ the whole handwriting thing until closer to age 8. So I stopped sweating that.)

    Another example. Storytelling. That’s creative, right? Yes, but if the child has to put pencil to paper, it also involves spelling, handwriting, grammar, outlining the story, and who knows what else. That’s such a mix of skills, and when I teach, I try to pinpoint the weak areas and not say (as he’s in tears) “Well, I can see you don’t like writing stories.” (Well, in nicer words. Because I am the definition of ‘nice.’) (I love your prickly quills sister. I think they’re cute. ~AM)

    To answer your question, I agree with the person who says the early elementary years start giving you lots of clues. But even then — knowing that my son is a chip off the ol’ block — he still has to work at math (at this point) because it involves that PESKY memorization of facts. But as he gets past that hump, math is coming easily to him.

    That was pretty long-winded.

  50. Reading these comments reminds me when I was a senior in high school. Someone asked me to tutor their daughter. They paid me a dollar an hour which was twice as much as babysitting! Her daughter was failing Algebra and it was near the end of the year. We sat down at the beginning of the book and started! By the time we were done she got an A. But she’d missed the foundational steps.

    Wonder what happened to her. We moved on…..after spending one year there.

    * * *
    Wish you’d been around to tutor me. People who try to teach me math end up rocking themselves in a corner and banging their head on the wall. Ask my mother. ~AM

  51. I don’t have kids yet, but I can tell you how I was growing up. All my life, I’ve been both artistic and mathematically inclined. I was never pushed in any direction and chose my own path. Initially, I studied physics in college only to transfer into Graphic Design and Illustration, where I am today. You would be amazed at how much math I use on a daily basis.

    I didn’t really get “into” math until I was in Junior High—and I owe a lot of that to a really great teacher. If he’s really struggling, include him in baking—that really helps people learn math skills. Real world examples are far easier for non-math people to understand, rather than abstract equations.

  52. I have always been more comfortable with the maths side of things – I like there being one RIGHT ANSWER!

    However, since discovering blogging, photography and photoshop I am discovering a more creative side, which maybe was hidden deep inside. Although I prefer creating in photoshop with an undo button than drawing or painting or anything like that!

  53. I love how my kids’ preschools encouraged math games as much as they encouraged art and music and the like. I happen to appreciate mathematics — perhaps because I’m also adept at it — so I’ve been able to foster math in the house. I had the opposite problem — not a creative bone in my body. Thankfully, the kids didn’t realize what a faker I was. I’m guessing you could “fool” the boy with your math skills as easily.

  54. I feel exactly the same way. The funny thing is that I totally presumed my older daughter was arty and creative, and even nurtured her that way, and she is in advanced math! I think a lot of it is genetic.

  55. When I took the SAT about 16 years ago and my results came in, my guidance counselor told me that my math skills were not as strong as they could be, but that my reading comprehension was such that I could figure out the math if it was given to me to read…

  56. I am not mathy OR artsy- is there any hope for me at all???? I barely passed (my final grade was a D)
    Algebra 1 my sophomore year of high school and never took another math class again until I started college. But then I did not have enough math background to even take a college-level math class and had to take Pre-College Math while I was IN college for NO credit!!!! And the sad thing is, that I couldn’t even pass that class and ended up withdrawing because I was failing the class. I am surprised that my high school guidance counselors allowed me to get by with not taking any more math classes after my sophomore year.
    I wish that they had made me continue, because I have spent the rest of my life avoiding math because I never learned to do it properly. My husband is a math whiz (he is an accountant) and both of our daughters have fortunately inherited his math ability.
    I am not creative, either, and art was also never my thing, but my husband’s mother was an artist (she has since passed away) and he has also inherited some of her artistic ability. What I love most about my husband is that he is everything that I am not!!!
    Reading, writing, and spelling were my favorite subjects in school and those came easily for me. The rest, not so much.

    * * *
    I thinking writing is artsy, as is cooking and probably some other things that you enjoy. So you might be on the artsy side after all. Going out on a limb here, but like me, I’d say you are definitely not mathy. 🙂

  57. I really relate to this post – it tells my story to. I honestly believe though that a person can be both. My husband loves math, teaches science and is a very talented artist. Granted not everyone is talented in all areas, but every area can be developed. I am going to follow your example and try not to pass on my dislike of math to my children. It is hard work for me to learn my addition facts with my 2nd grader, and honestly she got them and I’m not sure I did. But we will for sure tell her how important in today’s world math still is. We don’t want her to be able to be manipulated by people who can do the math and use it against her. We see that all the time. I hate it when I fall prey to it.

  58. I think it takes YEARS.

    As the daughter of two accountants who devoted an enormous amount of time to encouraging their children in academic (especially mathematic) pursuits, I was always a math person until it started to involve IDEAS more than actual FACTS. I liked the numbers and the certainty and those ideas weren’t always as certain as I wanted them to be.

    At that point in time, everything changed. It was a slow shift, of course, but over the course of about a year I went from being a numbers and math person to being a more creative sort. I found out that I was good at other things besides numbers, so I left math in the dust.

    I was 16. And now I know that unlike creativity, when you let numbers pass you by? It’s hard as Hell to catch up again.

  59. Ok, I did not read thru all 58 comments, cuz your readers do like to write, don’t they (and I will probably prove that fact as well). So I apologize if I’m redundant.

    Art is a form of math. Seriously. I’m sure that show numbers could prove my point, but if you look at the various ways our world fits together, there is all kinds of math involved. It’s so ingrained that we don’t see it as math. (No, I did not smoke anything tonight.) AND if someone showed you the formulas for the math related to your art, you would most likely understand it completely, because you now have an understanding of how it works in the world & it makes sense to you!

    That being said, I was “gifted” in math until my Freshman yr of high school. Then they put me in an advanced class for me and remedial for all the Jr & Sr in it. A bit intimidating. I realized I could boost my GPA by back tracking & taking the appropriate level for grade classes & did that. Too bad our system encourages the value of the “grade” instead of what is actually learned.

  60. I also wanted to say, I can’t spell to save my life. (Audio dyslexia, I can teach phonics, I just can use them. For real.) But I can read extremely fast (avg 100 pg per hr, self taught) and have extremely high comprehension levels. I probably would’ve flunked out of high school if not for spell check. The ability to spell does not directly relate to comprehension, and writing. I’m living proof of this.

  61. Ok, I should probably write a post on this at this point, but I can’t help myself.

    Big is finishing K right now & much of the “math” they did this year has a lot to do w/grouping and manipulatives. Things I never would’ve thought of as “math”. But by now they’re adding, subtracting & even doing word problems (seriously!) I think much of it has to do w/exposure and the type of feedback they get from those around them. The first time Big did a word problem I just about fell over at how easy it was for her & she could tell, so then she got excited and wants more. I hear similar stories from the other parents.
    I think the key is exposure at an early age & trying not to give them our issues. They’ll create their own in due time. 😉
    I’ll shut up now.

  62. I tend to believe if both characteristics are nurtured properly, they can grow right along with each other. I have a *very* out of the box thinker who is big into art and can make an afternoon’s project out of some lanyard string, glue and balloon parts.

    But she’s had some amazing math teachers over the years who have known how to convert that creative streak into full-blown math exploration. I don’t know how they do it, but they have. As a result, she’s a creative kid working at least 1-2 grade levels ahead in the advanced math class at school.

    And no, I was NEVER in advanced math.

  63. Hi Antique Mommy! I hope it isn’t too late for you to find this comment. I’m one of the semi-rare math/artsy people. I was a high school math teacher for 10 years and yet I love to draw, have done community theatre for years and thoroughly enjoy perusing a really large box of crayons to see the pretty colors! My suggestion is, ask Sean to teach you his math lesson. The best way to learn is to be a teacher. He’ll take such pride in showing you how to do something and you’ll both benefit. And there are always great examples of math in the real world.

    One example is the fact that the number 5 repeats itself in nature everywhere.

    The beauty of the Golden Rectangle in Greek architecture. The basic concept of the golden rectangle is that what we find most beautiful and most pleasing to the eye in architecture and art are based on the golden rectangle.

    And so many other wonderful ways to explore math in the more creative part of our world will make it more interesting for him (and you). I hope you find some of this useful.

  64. I have never been friends with math. My husband used to laugh at my lack of skills in the math department, yet he let me keep the checkbook. Thank God for the technology that does the math for me. I see the world through creative glasses, too. Somehow I have managed to design sweaters and other textiles that require the use of math (enen the dreaded fractions).

    I hid my fear of math from my girls until they surpassed my limited knowledge. They figured me out when I started telling them to go ask their Dad to help them with their homework. They are both in advanced math classes.

    On the other hand they are creative, too. Are they creative because they have been exposed all their life to various art mediums, or is it in their genes? Both, I think.

  65. Having observed my 4 kids and many others, I’m inclined to give a little more weight to nature! What a wonder it is to see hints and glimmers and sometimes firework shows of what God has placed within them! You can often see them within just the first few years of a kid’s life. And sometimes not til later.

    Really, I’d just wait and see how math goes in school. As with a lot of things, I’ve found that sometimes you just have to be patient for certain concepts to “click”. If things generally don’t click, though, it may simply be a matter of finding a way that he understand things according to the unique wiring of HIS brain. Nothing wrong with that: Schools teach one way for many unique kids, so they don’t hit everybody.

    All that said, if you nudge your own awareness of it, there are so many ways to lightheartedly boost a kid’s math awareness and foundation as you go through life and errands. Cakes, pies, cookies and pizzas are especially great for all math operations– we’re into food here!

    I’m pretty fascinated by my 6 year old’s mind, as he has that special math-music connection going on. While not everyone has that particular gift or mode, I do believe that music is another thing that supports math and reading abilities.

  66. There is a great article about how math should be taught like art. That’s why I love the idea of teaching math skills using word problems. I’ve collected a bunch of great word problems for my kids to practice this summer. Here is the link to the word problems and it also has that great article on math as art, which should help you feel like you are not alone.

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