Helping children get nifty with the numbers

by ANTONY CLAY

A schoolboy is frustrated with his maths homework

NOW that parents, grandparents and carers are spending more time with their children over the summer holidays, this could be the perfect time to boost their interest in numbers.

There are plenty of opportunities to encourage young people – and some older ones! – to have fun with maths.

Developing numerical skills will help youngsters at school and encourage them to see the relevance of maths in everyday life, something which isn’t always made obvious in the classroom.

Indeed, young children often take a dislike to maths and it can be hard to get them interested again in a subject which is vital to modern life and the workplace.

But even fractions, equations, logarithms and geometry can have real-world applications. And numbers can even be (dare I say it?) FUN!

Shelley Allen, a teacher at Burgess Hill Girls School in West Sussex, has put forward great ideas to help parents explain maths ideas and principles through everyday activities.

Whether it is a child working out whether they have enough pocket money to buy a toy or an adult grappling with a recipe that uses ounces instead of metric measures, everyone encounters mathematics in their daily lives.

It is a subject that can strike fear into the hearts of young and old – but the perception that ‘I can’t do maths’ can be overcome.

Parents can help children acquire the tools they need to tackle mathematical concepts in both the classroom and in the big wide world.

Children, particularly infants, often have a very set view that mathematics is something that happens in maths lessons. Many adults will remember being turned off maths at school because it never seemed to be particularly relevant to real life.

But by exposing children to the mathematics that is all around them they can see the value of learning the subject.

So use numbers and show their relevance where you can. It doesn’t have to be like a formal lesson – it can be made into a bit of fun.

Try it out and see how important numbers are. Adults might even find that the children end up teaching them!

Five ways to change your child’s mindset on maths:

1 Telling the time – This is an opportunity to talk to your child about what is happening and how long it is until the next event in the day.

2 Cards and board games – At pre-school level and well beyond, traditional board and card games are a great way to introduce mathematical concepts. In old favourites like Snakes and Ladders, a child is required to recognise that dots on a dice represent a number, count the number of spaces with their counter and consider which direction to travel on the board. A pack of playing cards can reinforce recognition of numbers to 10 and the ways in which they can be represented. Junior versions of games such as Monopoly require children to count out money and begin to consider doubles as well as developing strategy and reasoning skills.

3 The value of money – The supermarket, or any other shop for that matter, is a fantastic source of mathematical investigation. For younger children, simply reading the price of an item on the shelf and comparing it with the price of another provides a real-world context for exploring greater and less. Older children can estimate the total price of the shopping using rounding and estimating to get a sensible answer, with perhaps even a prize for the closest. Product labels are full of information and encourage children to work out the best value product by looking at the price by weight or volume. Contactless payment now means that money doesn’t even need to change hands at the till, but utilising cash can give children opportunities to use coins to count in twos, fives and tens, explore place-value including decimals and to investigate the ways in which different combinations can be added to make one amount. Older children can work out and check change given.

4 DIY – Home improvements offer another great opportunity to access some real life maths. From counting screws to measuring lengths for younger children to working out the area of a wall or floor to calculate the amount of paint or carpet needed, there are plenty of ways to enhance a child’s learning.

5 Food preparation – Cooking of any sort requires counting, weighing and measuring. For older children it is a chance to explore ratio and proportion by doubling or halving mixtures or to convert between different units of measure, whether metric or imperial. It can also be a way to develop an understanding of fractions. Sharing pizza or cake is a way to explore anything from simple fractions such as halves and quarters to the more complex ideas of equivalence and comparison.

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