Early-age maths competence is the strongest predictor for future academic success, yet the UK currently ranks seventeenth in the world league tables when it comes to maths competence assessed at the age of 15, with China, Singapore and Macau in the top three places.
The maths curriculum has changed radically since many parents learned it at primary school. So how can we encourage parents to reform their relationship with maths which is often based on traditional and dated techniques?
Maths is often a subject which parents lack confidence themselves - especially as they might have been taught completely different methods at school – and therefore choose to avoid it or aren’t as engaged as they are in reading and literacy homework.
Mathematical anxiety is common and starts at an early age and, once formed, this negative perception deepens. Here are some tips for you to share with parents at your school to help overcome any maths anxiety and support children to thrive in the learning of maths:
- Make maths captivating – Children need to discover the magic of maths so the exercises need to be fun, engaging and rewarding. Good numeracy can be applied to everyday tasks such as shopping, budgeting, planning a trip or even following a recipe. You can help make maths fun by talking and ‘playing’ maths with children every day and introducing a game element or challenge with your children. For example, painting by numbers, playing bingo with addition, identifying shapes as you walk or travelling in the car.
- Study in short bursts – Much like fitness training, it is better to train frequently but in short sessions than long and infrequently. Practicing maths at home doesn’t need to require a lot of time and in fact short bursts are better for young attention spans. I recommend 15 minutes per session to keep attention and enjoyment. By keeping the sessions short, you can incorporate it into almost anything you do!
- Aim for a maths rhythm and fluency– Practice makes perfect and children love to feel they are masters at their subject. IQ tests are about being rapid. Many people can answer the questions but it is the pace at which you can answer through fluency that sets you apart. To do this, help them get a learning rhythm so that the maths exercises stick for example start off saying addition and subtraction facts out loud, while looking at a paper with the maths facts. Practice fluency with flashcards, singing or chanting the answers to a beat. Listen to music when doing maths homework. Many maths enthusiasts love classical music, especially the work of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s about time signatures, beats per minute and formulaic progressions. Listen to music with a beat, look at a note sheet, draw them out and count the beats.
- Think beyond traditional techniques – Use technology to support home learning. COVID 19 lockdowns, home schooling and more consumers having access to devices at a younger age have been a key driver in the growth of technology, apps and platforms used for maths learning in the last year. There are endless amounts of resources available online with YouTube videos, games, guides and ideas on how you can practice maths anywhere you may be.
- EdTech has been popular in China for many years but now the UK and rest of the developed world have seen its potential. There are many platforms and apps available but make sure you choose one which is evidence-based and that deliver improvement and results. Most UK schools now offer a tech-based maths programme as part of home learning, try it out for yourself with your child so you understand some of the more modern techniques used to learn maths.
- Positive role modelling - change your language about maths – try to be a positive maths role model. Talk about how amazing and magical you find maths and if possible associate maths with richer content than just numbers so students can see and experience the meaning of maths. If you find it hard, try to talk about it as mysterious but not impossible to learn!
- Language and the words we use affect the children. If we start talking about maths as something positive, children will embrace it in this way too. Give practical examples from real life – how did you use maths in your work today? To do the shopping? Give them examples of a time when maths really helped you in life - for example, when you bought your first flat or house, to budget at university, to quickly check the bill in a restaurant.
Whatever you do, be positive and make it fun.
Dr Martin Hassler Hallstedt, is a learning psychologist and Founder of Count on me! a maths learning app from Akribian based on Game Embedded Teaching (GET) for children aged 6-9 years.