I've been meaning to write a post about very interesting and engaging book by Maya Thiagarajan that came out last month and that I had the pleasure of blurbing:
The daughter of a South Indian father and an American mother, and a resident, for different phases of her life, of the U.S., India, and Singapore, Ms. Thiagarajan is in a unique position to contrast Asian and American parenting styles. Readers of this blog might find particularly interesting what she has to say about why Asian kids are so good at math. Here is an excerpt:
Now, in the US, I had read over and over again about the importance of creating a print-and language-rich home for children, but here in Asia, I began to see but here in Asia, I began to see many mothers working hard to create a mathematically rich home for their children. Mothers like Priya talked to their kids about numbers, shapes, and patterns from the get-go. They played maths games when they were in the car or at the dinner table (guess the number, solve the mathematical riddle, add up the numbers on licence plates as quickly as possible, calculate distance travelled, etc.). They taught their kids chess. They spent money and time on Lego sets, building blocks, tangrams, jigsaw puzzles, and board games. When they took the kids to the grocery store, they talked maths: "If one apple costs 80¢, how much will six apples cost?" When they rode the elevator, they talked maths: "Look, we're riding up and down a number line. If we're on the fifth floor now, how many more floors till we get to the 11th floor?"
I asked Lara, a Singaporean chartered accountant with a maths-inclined son, how she had managed to raise a child who so clearly loved maths. "What really matters is that I get him to notice the maths that exists all around us," she replied. "When we go to the playground, for example, I ask him what he sees, and we talk about shapes and patterns. I'll point out an isosceles triangle to him, or we'll look at the shapes and patterns on the jungle gym..."
Besides deliberately building a math-rich home, most of the Asian mothers I know also set to work making sure that their kids learned maths early. Asian mothers – both south Asian and east Asian – love maths workbooks. Unlike many Westerners who shun workbooks, claiming that too many drills will kill a child's love of learning, Asian mothers, in my experience, adore them. They gain great satisfaction from watching their young children complete good old-fashioned drills. Looking at a sheet full of correctly solved math problems is tangible proof of learning that makes mothers feel reassured and happy. In addition to workbooks, many Asian mothers encourage their kids to do online math games and math drills.There's a lot more. For anyone interested in a bigger picture of what goes into academic success, and what often goes against the grain of American edu-parenting trends, I highly recommend Thiagarajan's book.