As a child, I struggled with maths. Give me anything to do with words or visual arts and I would smash it every time, but maths – well that was a whole different story.
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The problem was that I couldn’t see the point. Ok, adding and subtracting made sense and maybe even multiplication, but beyond that, I didn’t see how maths could be useful to me in any aspect of my life. It didn't help that my mother had a negative, almost resentful attitude to math, which of course, rubbed off onto me.
So how can we ensure that our children understand the need for maths in daily life and, more importantly, that they learn to enjoy the challenge?
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We can start by making sure that we project the right attitude ourselves. If our child senses our distaste for something, it is more likely that they will emulate it. We should also be aware that maths isn’t just about numbers. It incorporates the concepts of time, space, measurement and direction. It’s also about recognising patterns, making connections and predictions.
We can begin to introduce these concepts at an early age by providing our children with books and toys that incorporate maths in subtle ways. Counting books, building blocks, shape sorters and matching games help to develop our child’s capacity for maths and to make it an accepted part of their daily routine.
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When it’s time for school, we can work with our child’s teacher to make what our child is learning relevant at home. Are they learning about circles this week? Encourage them to recognise circles at home or at the shops. Help them to understand the significance of these shapes in everyday life.
Play guessing games in the kitchen, ‘What size jar do you think we need to fit all these cookies?’ or while out walking, ‘How many steps to the next light pole?’
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Ask your child to count out cutlery while setting the table or help to divide up food into equal portions.
Find ways of using numbers or symbols to characterize things. A daily routine chart doesn’t have to have actual pictures to prompt our child. A circle can represent breakfast, a cross can be a toothbrush, a square can be a lunch box, the number 2 can mean shoes. This is a great way to develop our child’s perception and understanding of how maths is representational.
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These are all the foundations of maths and how it relates to daily life. If we can instill this understanding into our children at an early age, we are paving the way for them to cope with the more complex demands of higher school maths as it comes along.