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Getting Your Children to Love Learning Math

Dec 3, 2013

We’ve all heard it said before: “I’m not really a maths person”. Even if you’re striking up a conversation with someone you’ve just met, there’s really no stigma to confessing distaste for mathematics. But imagine saying the equivalent about literacy or one’s ability to construct a sentence. You’d certainly turn a few heads by saying, “I prefer to avoid reading whenever possible” or “I just don’t see the importance of correct spelling.”

There is certainly a troubling stand-off between literacy and numeracy – particularly in the West. While the ability to read, write and communicate clearly are viewed as socially important and necessary, the ability to perform complex mathematical operations is often looked at as superfluous or even abnormal. We reserve numerical prowess for geniuses and savants.

The latest OECD study backs this up, finding that one out of four adults in England possesses the maths skills of a ten-year-old. Nearly another quarter are only able to handle single-step tasks in arithmetic. The study took in a total of 24 nations, and England’s adult population ranked 17th for numeracy. The results are even grimmer for young adults aged 16 to 24, who ranked 21st for numeracy (and, to be fair, 22nd for literacy).

It’s clear that we need to instil in students a stronger appreciation for mathematics. There are several ways to accomplish this, from working with children at home to enrolling them with a maths tutor. In fact, it is even worth looking at young people who love reading to find inspiration for how to instil a love of maths as well. Consider implementing some of the following strategies to get your own children to love learning maths:

Start Early

We read to our children from an early age – often starting before they are even old enough to fully comprehend. Many parents teach their children to sound out words and read simple sentences from the earliest grades in primary school. Do the same with mathematics, teaching young children to apply basic mathematical skills to real-world problems. This lays the foundation for more advanced learning down the road.

Play Maths Games

One of the biggest reasons that students do not enjoy mathematics is because – quite frankly – maths curriculum is not very fun. That’s not the students fault, and it’s certainly not the way it has to be. With a little creativity, parents and teachers can make solving mathematical equations more engaging. Furthermore, some games lend themselves naturally to maths improvement. For example, a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that nursery school students who played board games five times over the course of three weeks exhibited a stronger aptitude for maths than those who did not. The study made special mention of Chutes and Ladders, which has a strong linear structure that reinforces basic mathematical concepts.

Construct Age-Appropriate Activities

Tune in to what your child is able to learn. Generally speaking, a three-year-old has a basic understanding of the concept of numbers. They’re able to count and assess quantities. From here, it’s important to introduce toys and learning tools that build upon numerical concepts with spatial reasoning and patterns. There’s a window of development between the ages of three and seven, during which toys such as building blocks, jigsaw puzzles and Rubik’s cubes reinforce competency in maths.

Make Maths Relevant

Of all the subjects, maths is most likely to be labelled ‘pointless’, ‘useless’ or ‘of no value in real life’. Demonstrate to young children that basic skills in arithmetic are useful in everything from paying the bills to applying discounts. For more advanced students, remind them that the problem-solving skills developed while learning could be more important than the concepts acquired.

Bring Maths Home

Mathematical proclivity may be innate, but a strong ability is the result of practice – and lots of it. Children need to be exposed to maths outside of the classroom. Parents can accomplish this by doing mathematical drills at home. Make a game out of practising maths, and children will develop stronger skills without even meaning to. As they get older, you also may consider enrolling students in extra courses for further reinforcement. At this point, maths is an abstract pursuit that requires discipline to master.

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