what needs to be taught differently in early math so that students will enjoy it?
Here's my answer...from the perspective of a licensed math teacher in the state of Minnesota, plus the father of a two-year-old and an 18-year-old...
1) Teach parents how to teach their children. As a teacher, when I conferenced with parents, there was always a high likelihood that students that struggled with math had parents struggle as well. (And they would openly admit this, sometimes even with pride. It was very common for parents to say things like, "I don't get the stuff myself, and I'm doing fine, so why does my child need to learn it?) With my 18-year-old, every question he asked about math, I could answer, so nothing held him back. My 18-year-old isn't brilliant in math, but he's not afraid of it and knows how to use it.
2) Teach elementary teachers how to teach their students. In the US, most elementary teachers are general educators responsible to instruct in all subject areas. Teachers who are disinterested in one or more of those areas, especially mathematics, do not display the enthusiasm and joy that teachers need to radiate for students to absorb. In addition, those teachers lack a deep understanding of the subject which is necessary even at the elementary level to answer all the questions children have on the subject. (I myself had one teacher in 3rd grade who often responded to my questions with, "Because that's the way it works, dear.")
3) Fix and enrich the curriculum. American curricula is difficult and frustrating, because it is "created" by state governments but authored and published by private textbook companies. The left hand never really understands what the right hand is doing. In addition, neither body really has any true educational knowledge or experience, leaving the final product often minimal, inconsistent, and unpractical, not to mention unpalatable. Finally, it continues to change each election cycle, making teaching it that much more difficult.
4) Empower teachers as professionals. Even with a poor curriculum, It's up to each and every school and even teacher to decide how to teach the course material, as long as standards are followed. So, each and every day across the country teachers have to reinvent the wheel, finding their own way of making their lessons effective. Teach teachers how to evaluate the efficacy of lessons, and give them time to collaborate with their fellow teachers, within their district and within their state, to evolve the curriculum in a way that works not just in one classroom, but in thousands.