Maths with young children

Maths is a subject which people are often happy to say they are not very good at. There is no stigma attached to saying “I’m rubbish at Maths” or “I hate numbers” unlike the stigma which would be attached were you to say “I’m rubbish at reading” or “I hate words”. This is strange, as in many ways we use Maths as much in our day-to-day lives as we do the core English skills of speaking and listening, reading and writing.

Maths is a part of our lives in a much less overt way than English. When you drive a car you are, moment-by-moment calculating distances, speeds and angles. When you cook family dinner, you use weights and measures. When you save for a holiday or book flights you interpret complex timetables and make transactions, sometimes even in more than one currency. Maths is integral to our lives and it is also a universal language which crosses traditional language barriers.

The key thing to remember when helping your child to learn about Maths is that you must not put across any fear of it as a subject. Children’s likes and dislikes are set down early in life and heavily influenced by their home-life. If you can make Maths skills fun, engaging and relevant from an early age, then you can help your child succeed in the academic pursuit at a later date.  It is also great to be able to show them the practical application of the maths they are learning in school.

So, what can you do?

  • Use maths language

    • The most important thing to introduce your child to is the language of maths. This will help him/her to have language to notice and discuss key concepts. Using simple words about size, shape, volume, amount and number is very important. At a very early stage you can use the language “Look at big teddy and little teddy” “You’re chewing the triangle”. Then as children get older, bring them into the discussion and ask questions “Look that hat is bigger than that one” “Which car is the biggest” “How many edges does that have?” “Can you find the square” “Who has got more?”

  • Exploit every opportunity

    • Count the number of potatoes you’re having for dinner; ask the child to read a door or bus number; pick up two toys; give everyone one biscuit. Ask your child to eat one carrot and count how many are left; give your child an extra lego brick and ask how many s/he has now.

  • Point out similarities between words and numbers

    • The understanding that language has meaning comes earlier than an ability to conceptualise number so pointing out the similarities is useful. You read both words and numbers from left to right. The symbol (letter or number) represents both a sound (“five” “chair”) and a concept (five of something, an object for sitting on)

  • Make maths practical

    • Talk to children about the mathematical concepts they are using in activities. Weights and measures in cooking (We need 200 grams of flour); shape in building (Can you put another brick on top of the pyramid?); shape and space when carrying toys from place to place (Turn the box around the other way) or trying to put things away (Will that fit in there?).

  • Play with numbers

    • Cut out and colour in numbers; make number jigsaws; use number magnets on the fridge; group toys according to size/shape/colour/number of wheels

  • Listen to and join in with music

    • Not only are there many children’s rhymes which use number, but rhythm is number based. Clapping along to music or stamping feet/nodding head etc in the correct place in “If you’re happy and you know it” is building the concept and skills necessary for number manipulation.

  • Be creative

    • colouring, drawing, doing jigsaws, junk modelling, folding paper, building towers, making dens – almost everything has a mathematical element and pointing these things out to your child will underline their mathematical knowledge. “What shape is your den?” “Did you have to turn that around to make it fit?”

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