Like soccer, mothers can help their children embrace mathematics at an early age.
Over a decade ago, the phrase "soccer mom" came into the language to describe super-busy, middle-class suburban women who — often with careers outside the home — logged long hours shuttling school-age children to soccer team practice and games and other activities.
These mothers didn't introduce soccer to the nation, but their support of children playing the sport may account, in part, for the fact that soccer is now the fourth-ranking team sport favored by high school boys and the third among high school girls.
Mothers also can be instrumental in helping their children at an early age embrace, love and master math — one of the single most important factors in predicting their later academic achievement.
But getting moms to love math may be a bigger task. Can we similarly inspire the devoted and delighted "math mom"? Math is the language of science and the key to innovation. We all know that kids who are fluent in math are more likely to be creative thinkers and skillful problem solvers, who can work in high-tech fields that offer top pay and go begging for workers. We've all heard how math and related subjects are the key to our kids' future employability, but in parallel how America's schools are floundering in these all-important subjects.
In fact, in my town, countless moms are hiring tutors to help their third graders with math. They think they can't handle the content, but the real problem is that they still experience math anxiety from their own schooling.
As a nation, women in particular are incredibly math-phobic. A 2012 Raytheon study found that moms are 72% more likely than dads to feel they can't help their elementary-age kids with their math homework.
We can do better, and mothers can lead the way if they involve children in the math that is part of everyday life and start early. One of the first things that babies learn is patterns. Stacking cups and putting a cup into a box and taking it out is not only entertaining play, it teaches spatial principles.
Little kids are perpetual motion machines. As they race around the house, ask them "So how many hops did you just do? How many can you do in a row?" It can be as simple as saying: "How many eyes and ears does your Teddy bear have?" You're creating a conversation between parent and child that's totally natural, but also happens to be mathematical.
Whether it's estimating how much candy can fit into a jar or teaching kids fractions by halving the amount of ingredients in a recipe, you can teach math the way kids naturally learn, helping them explore and discover and use their senses. Mothers can also play a special role in countering the lingering gender bias and stereotyping that expects more of boys than girls when it comes to math, science, and technology. Explore the many shapes to be made with a tangram with your daughter. Build Lego structures, play with Spirograph, or start a mother-daughter math club just like the many mother-daughter book clubs.
For already active mothers, this may seem like another to-do on an already overwhelming to-do list. But it won't feel that way if you incorporate math into routines that you and your child already have and love. Math is not a subject solely to experience in its driest form in school. Moms can make it a lot better.
This Mother's Day, celebrate the opportunity to have fun with your kids and ensure that they're both math-literate and "mathletic". Mothers have the power to change our math-phobic culture and better position our kids to become capable adults and succeed in the most exciting careers.
Laura Overdeck is an astrophysicist, mother of three, and the founder of Bedtime Math, a nonprofit advocating for discovering math in everyday life and incorporating math as part of a child's daily routine. She is the author of two national Bedtime Math books for children and their families.
In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board of Contributors. To read more columns like this, go to the opinion front page or follow us on twitter @USATopinion or Facebook.