The best start parents can give children to ensure they master maths throughout their school careers, is to ensure they banish negative attitudes towards the subject right from the start, an education expert says.
“Parents and caregivers must ensure they don’t pass on their own negative feelings about maths, or any other subject, because they themselves struggled in the past,” says Barbara Eaton, Academic Development Co-ordinator for the Schools Division at ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.
“Children should be allowed to embark on their maths learning in the secure understanding that they are competent and capable, without any kind of pre-emptive fear for the subject,” she says.
Eaton notes South Africans regularly hear about our country’s dismal performance in international maths and science benchmarking tests.
“Those of us who work at the Pre-Primary level are well aware that the results of the children at prep and college levels will not improve if we do not focus on the correct teaching of maths concepts within the three to six-year age group,” she says.
But she warns that early learning should be age-appropriate and concentrate on ‘hands-on, brains-on’ activities.
“Early mathematical experiences have to be presented in kinaesthetic and concrete ways, leading to semi-abstract activities in Grade 0. We certainly do not favour worksheets for children at this young age,” she says.
Eaton adds that while many young children enter Pre-Primary school with knowledge of counting, numbers and shapes, it is also important to expose them to more challenging content.
“Young children are ready to learn more advanced concepts as long as they are presented in an engaging and developmentally appropriate manner. This does not equate with ‘pushing down’ the curriculum content to younger and younger children, as that could have the opposite of the intended effect.”
Eaton advises parents to take a keen and active part in getting their children excited about maths, and says that the foundations of later maths mastery can be achieved through play-based activities in the early years.
Activities which promote the acquisition of maths concepts include:
- Singing number songs and rhymes.
- Counting out everyday items such as plates and cutlery for supper, potatoes for cooking, biscuits for tea.
- Matching how many times you clap with items such as bottle tops.
- Baking, which involves counting and measuring of ingredients.
- Drawing attention to numerals on gates, cars, busses – anywhere in the immediate environment.
- Sharing out sweets amongst the family or the teddies at the play tea party, which teaches division.
- Dividing fruit, veg and cakes into pieces and talk about halves and quarters, which teaches the concept of fractions.
- Working out how many sweets we need if everyone is to get two, which teaches multiplication.
- Matching, identifying and counting coins, and giving coins to spend on small items in the shop.
- Comparing the sizes of clothes and shoes that the family members wear and arranging them in ascending and descending order.
“Research tracking American, British and Canadian children found that children who entered pre-school with a strong grasp of numeracy, counting, relative magnitudes and ordinality achieved better maths scores in later years, and that these skills were more predictive of general scholastic achievement than were language, attention or social skills,” says Eaton.
“But parents should not, in an attempt to ensure their child’s future maths mastery, try to get them to learn something now, with difficulty, which they will manage more easily later. Helping your child at this stage does not entail the teaching of isolated maths skills through memorisation, rote or the reliance on worksheets.
“Parents and guardians who want to make a substantial contribution to their children’s performance later in life can ensure they lay a solid and positive foundation in the early years, simply by making maths meaningful and relevant to everyday situations. Quite simply, maths should become child’s play.”