Subtracting the fear of learning maths
The final part of our series on literacy and numeracy gives strategies to boost your child’s confidence with maths, in 10 minutes a day
This week, our experts in primary education are looking at maths. It turns out that helping your children with maths is not about being a wizard with numbers. Helping your child with maths starts with your own confidence; with discovering the maths that you use every day without even realising it. It’s about approaching maths in a positive way, instead of sending out the message that it’s a hard, abstract subject. It’s also about language. Start talking about the basic of maths as they apply to real life and you will give your child a solid bedrock and a good attitude for future learning.
There are two key components to supporting your child’s maths: taking the right approach to homework and bringing maths into everyday life.
Key issues to remember are parental attitude and language.
Even if you did not enjoy maths at school, you don’t need to share that with your child. It sends out a negative message about the subject. Instead, accentuate the positive: “I always try to work things out. Let’s try and do it together.” Or, “I’ve forgotten how to do this. Can you help me?”
Another attitude block is that thorny question: what does it mean to be good at maths? Being able to do quick calculations in your head is just one aspect of maths. Notice and remark on other mathematical areas where your child shows strength.
Are they good problem solvers? Have they got a good sense of direction? Are they good at matching shapes and objects or seeing patterns? Working out times, dates or money? Most of us are much better at maths than we think.
Language is the other great stumbling block. Words that we use in general conversation can have quite a different meaning in maths, and when trying to decode a maths problem, you need to know what each word means in the context of the problem. Consider the following sentences:
“He’s not your average guy, he’s odd”; “Put the tables in a row; they’re a bit random”; “What’s the difference between this jumper and that one?”
Words such as average, odd, tables, random and difference have specific meanings in maths. “Unpack” the words to help the child understand what they mean.
As part of this growing awareness of maths, help children to get their heads around the concept of “same value, different appearance”. This is a fundamental concept that builds to so much more. A practical example is the way that two five-cent coins have the same value as, but look different to, a 10-cent coin. They are different, but equal.
A question that often arises among parents is: how do I help my child with maths when the methods they use are different to the ones I learned at school? The answer is to listen and ask the child to explain how the teacher does it. Give your child the opportunity to teach you. Work on your attitude to maths and help them get familiar with the language. Those two steps alone will make an enormous difference.
The biggest maths issue faced by children, parents and teachers is confidence. Parents should let children share what they have learned in school. They will learn by explaining it to parents. Don’t let maths homework be a scene of conflict, over-teaching or correction.
Language can cause great difficulties. If they come to school without a grasp of basic ideas, such as “more than”, “less than” and “difference between”, they will struggle with questions such as “How many more apples did John have?” Try to use this language at home.