For some children, studying mathematics is relatively easy. For others, it can be very difficult and even stressful. Why is that a select few naturally find it much easier than others?
It could be due to the fact that every child is different and is born with differing levels of ability, but the reasons behind why certain children have an aptitude for certain subjects is worth exploring.
Especially when very young, a child’s mind is like a sponge — eager to soak up information, process it and utilize it. In most cases, understanding and enjoyment of mathematics are both inspired by the quality of teaching provided at school. Children are not conditioned to dislike mathematics as an academic subject, but they can be put off by poor schooling.
But it is also not simply down to formal teaching. These skills need to be reinforced at home, and this is where your contribution as a parent is really important. Our mathematics teachers at the Australian International School are highly skilled and adept at motivating children to learn. The more you can do to support their work, the easier it will be for your child to flourish.
We have compiled a list of some simple strategies you can use to help your child feel comfortable in their learning as they move through the school years.
Just like learning to read, learning to count is an essential skill for every child. When they’re starting out, you can work to help them identify numbers and relate these to everyday objects, such as buttons, toys or eggs in a carton — whatever is handy.
Physical objects are ideal for reinforcing counting skills. It’s easy to teach adding and subtracting by removing an object or including more. It is also good to use different objects for counting games, so instead of just using apples you could use a mixture of fruits. The numbers are the same even though the objects are not, and that helps to expand your child’s thought processes.
Numbers are a language too
Numbers are symbols that have evolved over centuries, and you can help your child make the correlation between the numerical symbol and their primary language. For example, 1 is one in English, un or une in French, and uno in Spanish. The language of mathematics can, therefore, be taught by rote if that helps your child, with the symbol and word side-by-side for them to learn.
Children love to play and you can make mathematics more fun for them with different classic games. One of the simplest number-based games that will never be forgotten is Snakes and Ladders, which introduces children to numbers from 1 to 100. Rolling a die gets them to concentrate on the number thrown and it won’t be long before they recognize the spot pattern without having to count each one individually.
Games such as Yahtzee and that old favorite Monopoly are also great for learning more about addition and subtraction.
You can even invent your own games. Try chalking some numbers onto the driveway and giving them a mathematics question so that your child has to run over to the correct answer, or do it on a board inside. When you make numbers fun, your child is far more likely to enjoy the subject, rather than having it drilled into them, though rote learning can be useful at times.
Use cooking as a tool
Try baking some soft cookies with your child. Not only will you be able to teach some basic cooking skills that can be developed in the future, but you also have the perfect tool for teaching fractions. Show how to cut a cookie into halves, quarters and eights, or thirds and sixths, and you have a visual representation of fractions. You can then explain how to add and subtract fractions, so putting two sixths together makes a third and taking one away again makes a sixth.
It’s a great way to encourage your child to understand fractions and gradually encourage them to turn the visualization into mental arithmetic. You don’t have to use fresh cookies (though it’s a delicious way to end the lesson by eating them!) as you can use molding clay or cookie dough instead.
Mathematics can be a daily activity
If mathematics becomes a fun part of daily life, your child will know it’s natural to engage in number games and want to learn more as the concepts become more challenging. If you’re inventive, you can keep your child engaged in the subject and develop a thirst for more knowledge.