For many typical children (that is, children without particular learning needs), the trajectory of mainstream education goes as follows: start school full of enthusiasm; love learning (without really realising they’re actually “learning”); plod along happily for the next handful of years, grumbling occasionally about spelling tests or homework; one day come home and announce: “I HATE MATHS!”
Maths can be tricky; we parents know that. Many of us have grappled with it ourselves when in school, and so it’s easy to appreciate the difficulties our children might be going through. However, being numerate – “maths literate” – isn’t only hugely important for routine transactions in later life – it has wide-ranging implications for our children, both short and long-term.
Research by the UK Government has shown that improving numeracy directly contributes to the growth of a person’s personal and social confidence. Furthermore, as well as impacting a child’s self-worth, understanding numbers and maths and how they work and their relevance to everyday life, supports a child’s developing cognitive and problem-solving skills. But, perhaps most concerning, according to the OECD: “Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages, and poor health.”
So, as a parent, what can you do if you hear “I hate maths!”? Here are the SchoolViews top tips for encouraging your child in maths:
- Try not to emphasise with your child’s negative comments. Yes, you may well have hated maths when you were in school, you may have been dreadful at it, and you may have concluded (or have had it concluded for you!) that maths just wasn’t “your thing”. This can reinforce a child’s belief that maths is something you are either good or bad at – and if a child is finding it a challenge, agreeing can enable them to tick the “I’m not a maths person” box. In fact, according to the UK Charity, National Numeracy, the biggest challenge to numeracy is a fear, or dislike of it, or an intolerance towards it, in childhood. It stresses that “mathematical understanding is not determined at birth. Numeracy can be learnt.”
- Contact your child’s maths teacher. Enquire if there is a specific problem – perhaps they can’t get a grasp on fractions? Or trigonometry is proving difficult? – or if it’s a more general one. See if, together, you can devise a plan to address your child’s stumbling block.
- Make maths fun at home. Just as you may have played “I Spy” when they were learning letters, invent number-based games to play with your child from time to time. What you do will depend on your child’s age and grade – so be sure to ask their teacher for suggestions. Some easy ones include number-hopping (where you each say one number in a sequence, eg. 4, 8, 12, 16), and Buzz (where a Buzz Number between 2-9 is picked, and the players take turns counting from that number up; each time a multiple of the Buzz Number comes up, the player must say Buzz! instead of the number). For older children, identifying Prime Numbers, or simply having a multiplication or division “challenge” should engage them. Board games involving dice, and card games are also great for increasing your child’s numeracy, while at the same time giving you the benefit of some all-important bonding time.
- Decide with your child on a period of time – an hour, an afternoon, even a full day – where the aim is to identify all the many minor events and transactions in your daily life which use or rely on maths. The winner – whoever notices the most occurrences – gets a prize. This will get you thinking and noticing too! Maths is all around us – when we glance at the clock, check the fuel gauge in our car, in the patterns on the soles of our shoes, counting out change, even opening a door involves trigonometry! As well as getting your child to think about maths, it will give them an inkling of all the practical applications of the subject, removing it from the classroom realm of irrelevance to the real, functioning world.
- Most kids love money. So get them working for it – even if it’s monopoly money which can later be cashed in for the real thing (albeit at a fraction of the face value!). Money is an excellent place for a child of any age to start building their numeracy skills. Show them what they can earn in a period of time, or by doing a certain chore. Ask them to work out how many chores they need to do to save enough for that special treat. Give them a ledger book so they can record their earnings. Teach them about interest – and literally become the Bank of Mum and Dad! Not only will they learn important numeracy skills, they’ll also develop financial acumen and responsibility too.
- Remember in school when your maths teacher stressed the importance of showing your workings? They had a point. Maths is about logic and not just about getting the right answer. If you like to check your child’s homework, or even help with the homework, one fundamental starting point for you is to ignore the answer, and instead focus on the method. That doesn’t mean nagging; on the contrary, it means shifting your attention to that which can be praised. If the answer is wrong, don’t mention it. Instead, focus on the work which led to the answer.
Helping your child to love maths can seem as daunting as the subject itself. Relax. Fundamentally, it boils down to this: think of how you feel about your child’s literacy. If your child was to struggle with reading – if they announced that they “hated” books – you more than likely wouldn’t just take that in your stride, or agree that you too hated reading at their age. You’d talk to the child’s teacher, get involved, make more of an effort with reading to them and encouraging a love of reading. You’d play word games, make reference to books in your chats, develop a whole multitude of clever and cunning ways to get your child loving books and reading without even realising it! Now, instead of literacy, think of numeracy. If you treat them as equally important – which increasingly we are discovering they are – then your reaction should be the same: to embrace, encourage, and enable experience. With the SchoolViews tips above, you might even find yourself going from hating maths to liking it! Maybe…