This evening my son Theo and I attended an end-of-summer party at the Mathnasium in nearby Eagle Rock, where he spent a good chunk of time in June and July working on gaps in his math foundational math skills. Theo doesn’t like math and so he didn’t appreciate having to spend so much of his summer vacation studying when he “should be” playing. However, I had made the mistake of not forcing him to practice math the summer before, and the result was a disastrous year of math at his school; for much of the year he felt dumb and I felt guilt-ridden and desperate. So, I dragged him to Mathnasium, which is a kid-friendly math learning center that assesses children’s ability and then tailors a math “workout” for them to build up their math muscles. Theo had a lot of weak spots, so he spent the summer reviewing some of the math that hadn’t stuck a couple of years’ ago. Then one afternoon at the end of July, after almost two full months of extra math workouts and just when I was starting to notice a real improvement in his basic math skills, Theo rebelled and refused to attend Mathnasium any more. He literally refused to get out of the car in front of the center, saying he was done with math for the summer. Though extremely frustrated, I decided that I needed to cut my losses and be satisfied with what he had achieved. I reluctantly cancelled our membership for August, and the owners of the Mathnasium, Brent and Jillian, sympathetically refunded the payment we’d already made.
Theo has started 5th grade now and still doesn’t like math, but so far he isn’t resisting math homework as much as he usually does. I’m not completely sure why. I know he likes his teacher this year better. Perhaps he’s feeling more confident too. Perhaps I’m just hopeful. So, this evening, though I was still embarrassed to have left the Mathnasium so suddenly and inelegantly, I took Theo to the party. He actually wanted to go, especially for a chance to play with their giant chess set and win some prizes, and he did seem comfortable back at the center. I took along a pile of brand new math textbooks that I’d saved to use this year before they changed the school curriculum. I offered them to Jillian to give to any parents who might want some extra math books for their kids to practice on. She accepted them with the caveat that she wasn’t sure if Mathnasium could endorse the books to any of their clients, but she promised to pass them along where they could be helpful, perhaps the library. As we drove home, I realized I was actually quite proud of Theo’s efforts this summer working on a subject with which he has real difficulty during his time off school. It can’t have been fun for him putting in all those hours when he’d rather be playing, but I’m pretty sure that in the long term, the pluses will end up outweighing the minuses.