Making It Count: How To Encourage Our Children to Study Mathematics

May 24, 2012 | Filed under: Uncategorized

English: Adobe photoshop artwork illustrating ...

English: Adobe photoshop artwork illustrating a complex number in mathematics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Numerical confidence remains a highly sought-after skill in the job market, particularly in these times of financial concern. Applicants able to handle budgets; identify cost savings and draw up accurate financial forecasts will be streets ahead of their less mathematically able counterparts. Internet communications and greater international financial co-operation have resulted in more and more companies operating on a worldwide scale - moving money globally as a matter of course. Therefore, we must take action now to make sure that our country does not lag behind the rest of the world in its mathematical prowess.

In recent years, efforts have been made to improve our young people’s mathematical skills, and this work now appears to be showing results. A major player in this has been the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, which is funded by the Government’s Department for Children, Schools and Families. The centre brings together professionals involved in mathematics teaching so that they can share good practice and improve the way they teach at all levels of education, from kindergarten to university.

Early years

So how can we help support this national mathematical drive? As parents, our children look to us as role models, seeking our direction and approval right from the day they are born. Consequently, it is never too early to introduce the concept of numbers. Don’t be afraid to introduce plenty of mathematical language in your everyday conversation with your toddler. Observations such as “You have eaten half the apple,” or “There are three girls in your playgroup with brown hair,” will help young children notice different sizes or amounts within their own experiences and start to differentiate and notice numbers for themselves.

Show them books, websites and posters with numbers in, encouraging them to point to each number in turn while saying the name out loud. Later on, they can look out for written examples of numbers in town, e.g. on shop windows or car number plates so they can start to understand about mathematics in context.

Primary school

Mathematics will be one of many, many new subjects being introduced to your child as they start formal school. Therefore it can easily get muddled up and lost in their minds as they get to grips with the major life changes happening to them. The best way to help them learn and remain motivated, is to make mathematics as fun as possible. Play with different shapes, maybe making potato prints or using blocks to build tall towers. Let your child handle the money during a trip to the shops and help them work out how much the items on your shopping list have cost.

Keep it light-hearted when introducing addition and subtraction at home. Remove the abstract notion of number work by providing your child with physical items that they can move about and ‘add’ and ‘take away’ right there on the table in front of them – what you use is up to you, but chocolate drops would certainly help keep a child motivated…

Set them fun challenges around the house, such as seeing how many red things they can find and put them in size order. Or get baking together – measuring out ingredients will be a fun way to help teach them about weight and volume, while calculating how long their dish needs to stay in the oven for will help sow the seeds about time.

Secondary school and beyond

By the time a child reaches secondary school, he or she will have a good idea of which subjects they enjoy and find easy and which ones they are struggling with. They are not at secondary school long before they are asked to make vital choices about what they are going to study and specialise in at GCSE and beyond. These choices can dictate the direction of their life after school – at least academically speaking – and if we are going to make sure our country has enough mathematicians in the future, this is a crucial stage at which reluctant students need to be guided back to the numerical fold and encouraged to consider delving deeper into the study of mathematics.

Making sure your child has a firm grasp of the basics of numbers before embarking on secondary school mathematical study will be a great help to them. These basics include knowing their times tables and understanding concepts including fractions, decimal points, multiplication and division. This will stop them becoming confused once more complicated ideas are introduced and therefore discouraged.

Having a good sense of how to estimate measurements quickly and effectively will also be a big advantage. Help your child practise with examples, such as estimating the length of the back garden, the number of jellybeans in a clear jar or the amount of money a full tank of petrol will cost in the family car. Make sure your child is not totally reliant on calculators, computers and mobile phones when working out calculations – mental arithmetic still has its place in this bewildering world of technological advancement.

Above all, as in the early years, make sure mathematics remains fun and interesting throughout your child’s academic career and they will be much happier to study it for longer and subsequently use it to their own advancement and, ultimately, that of the whole country. What you might call a win-win situation. Happy number crunching, everyone!

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