Mindful math practice can empower elementary students to overcome math anxiety.
In my experiences—both as a student and as an educator—being thrown into a situation where I'm unexpectedly expected to do math has always induced anxiety. Your students can probably relate.
But it can be a challenge to provide students with lessons that advance their mathematical understanding and proficiency while also developing their social-emotional learning competencies.
That's where math mindfulness comes in!
Creating a mindful learning environment is key to ensuring students are empowered to learn math effectively. As a Manager of Professional Learning, I get to support elementary teachers in building their toolbox of classroom strategies of lowering math anxiety in their students. I’m excited to share some of my favorite techniques with you, too!
Why Is It Important To Reduce Math Anxiety In Elementary Students?
Education is about more than just helping students grasp mathematic concepts—we also have to address wellness challenges that arise in the classroom. In fact, the vast majority of curriculum guides not only include mathematical tasks like counting, adding, and subitizing; they also feature vital skills and concepts that empower learners and develop the whole student. Whether you call it “Social Emotional Learning,” “Essential Learnings,” or “Affective Domains,” these overarching themes shift our focus from purely mathematical concepts to cultivating resilient math students.
Uncertainty and stress can manifest academic anxiety when a student enters the learning space. This compromises their confidence, self-efficacy, and performance. One study analyzed 366 elementary students and found that high math anxiety is linked to lower math achievement. This isn’t just a problem for young students, either; research has shown that academic anxiety is also correlates with poor academic performance in university students. It’s crucial to help students cope with academic anxiety at a young age so that they can effectively navigate mathematical challenges and avoid having their anxieties grow with time.
Practicing routine mindfulness is a powerful strategy to reduce student anxiety while increasing teacher capacity.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to paying attention to the present moment and the things around you, while maintaining a sense of calm self-awareness. The key to creating a mindful classroom environment is to create an intentional space for mindfulness.
I’ve seen firsthand how the purposeful practice of mindfulness can enrich learning and wellness. When I was in junior high, I remember a teacher that used an intentional strategy to help students cope with anxiety or stress. Whenever we felt this way, she told us to acknowledge the feelings inside of us and one by one, exhale them as if blowing up a red balloon. When that balloon was full with all our thoughts and worries, she would tell us to close our eyes, let it go, and watch it float away.
This exercise, while seemingly unrelated to the tasks we were focused on, would help us feel grounded and ready to take on new challenges. Taking exercises such as this, but with a mathematical twist, can help students acknowledge and address the world around them. Students can identify emotions and thought processes as they do math, which helps set them up for academic success.
Now, years later, as I currently work with teachers and visit schools, I still see the value of mindfulness in math classroom. Teachers and students everywhere deserve to experience the positive impact of mindful learning routines.
How Can You Practice Mindfulness in an Elementary Classroom?
Building resilient mindfulness routines can be a challenge—it requires a lot of planning and can be a complex process, especially when students come into the classroom with math anxiety.
The good news is that there’s a solution. I've created a classroom resource for K-3 educators called Mindful Math Moments that can support students as they navigate mindfulness in mathematics and the world around them.
Mindful Math Moments are a quick and simple way to practice math in a mindful context. These prompts are meant to be used at a consistent time and place each day to establish mindfulness as a key element of the classroom. This consistency can make students feel calmer in their learning environment, making mindfulness an essential part of their daily routine.
Each prompt in Mindful Math Moments addresses curricular strands such as number sense, patterns, and operations. The tasks can range from simple breathing exercises involving math to thoughtful activities in estimation.
Designed to elevate students’ learning and ease math anxiety, these prompts facilitate math practice that’s both practical and powerful.
For example, students may be asked to try “square breathing,” a mindfulness breathing technique that allows students to relax peacefully while working with numbers and visualizing shapes. Have students close their eyes and imagine a square. Tell them to trace the square in their mind as they follow the instructions below and silently count to four.
Alternatively, they may be prompted to recognize patterns or take inventory of objects in the classroom. One Mindful Math Moments activity prompts students to notice five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
This 5-4-3-2-1 strategy is a grounding technique that is often used in treating anxiety, making it the perfect tool for quelling math anxiety while prompting students to practice counting in a mindful manner.
With Mindful Math Moments, students can engage meaningfully with social and emotional awareness in a variety of ways with low effort and high impact. Mindfulness prompts such as these don’t just reduce math anxiety; they also prepare and empower students to learn more effectively throughout the lesson and combat their anxieties around math.
These are just a few examples of rich prompts you can expect to find in Mindful Math Moments, one of the HUNDREDS of resources readily available with Zorbit’s, a blended learning solution to K-6 math. Zorbit’s presents students with a game-based learning experience supported by hundreds of differentiated lesson plans that are adaptable, playful, and classroom-tested.
With lesson planning tools and concierge-style recommendations, teachers can craft student-centered lessons that meet students where they are, foster a growth mindset, and nurture a love for math.
Kyla Gibbons is a Manager of Professional Learning with Carnegie Learning Canada. Focusing on classroom implementation and success, she has been working in the Educational Technology field for the entirety of her professional career. As a former student who grew up participating in the beginnings of online and blended learning, Kyla strives to make positive changes to the field.Explore more related to this author
Education is about more than just helping students grasp mathematic concepts—we also have to address wellness challenges that arise in the classroom.
Kyla Gibbons, Manager of Professional Learning, Carnegie Learning Zorbit's