1. Speak in plain language
Don’t talk about feet, or meters— but physical examples:
My father used to sit me on his lap, and the one book we did use all the time was the Encyclopedia Britannica. He used to sit me on his lap when I was a kid and read out of the damned thing. There would be pictures of dinosaurs, and then he would read. You know the long words –- “the dinosaur” so and so “attains a length of so and so many feet.” He would always stop and he would say, “You know what that means? It means, if the dinosaur’s standing on our front yard, and your bedroom window, you know, is on the second floor, you’d see out the window his head standing looking at you. He would translate everything, and I learned to translate everything, so it’s the same disease. When I read something, I always translate it in the best I can into what does it really mean.
2. Build your own lab
I got a laboratory in my room. We also played a trick on my mother there. We put sodium ferrocyanide in the towels, and another substance, an iron salt, probably alum, in the soap. When they come together, they make blue ink. So we were supposed to fool my mother, you see. She would wash her hands, and then when she dried them, the towels… her hands would turn blue. But we didn’t think the towel would turn blue. Anyway, she was horrified. The screams of “My good linen towels!” But she was always cooperative. She never was afraid of the experiments. The bridge partners, would tell her, “How can you let the child have a laboratory? And blow up the house!” — and all this kind of talk. She just said, “It’s worth it.” I mean, “ It’s worth the risk.”
Let my kids have their own lab and experiment.
3. Re-imagine how things look
I took later solid geometry and trigonometry. In solid geometry was the first time I ever had any mathematical difficulties. It was my only experience with how it must feel to the ordinary human being. Then I discovered what was wrong. The diagrams that were being drawn on the blackboard were three-dimensional, and I was thinking of them as plane diagrams, and I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. It was a mistake in the orientation. When he would draw pictures, and I would see a parallelogram, and he called it a square, because it was tilted out of the plane, you know. And I -– “Oh God, this thing doesn’t make any sense! What is he talking about?” It was a terrifying experience. Butterflies in my stomach kind of feeling. But it was just a dumb mistake. But I suspect that this kind of a dumb mistake is very common, to people learning mathematics. Part of the missing understanding is to mistake what it is you’re supposed to know.
Teach math in practical ways; switch it up?
4. Read ‘serious’ stuff (not for kids)
The thing that I loved was, everything that I read was serious — wasn’t written for a child. I didn’t like children’s things. Because, for one thing I was very very — and still am — sensitive and very worried about was that the thing to be dead honest; that it isn’t fixed up so it looks easy. Details purposely left out, or slightly erroneous explanations, in order to get away with it. This was intolerable. I kind of try to imagine what would have happened to me if I’d lived in today’s era. I’m rather horrified. I think there are too many books, that the mind gets boggled. If I got interested, I would have so many things to look at, I would go crazy. It’s too easy.
Don’t dumb things down for my kid.