Easy ways to make maths fun for kids

Confusion. Rage. Tears. Panic. The maths homework of a ten-year-old can turn the cheeriest household to a warzone. Scribbles are scribbled, diagrams are destroyed and protractors are flung.

I’ve had countless conversations with children – and their parents – about struggles with maths and who declare they “hate maths” or simply I “can’t do it”.

But maths can be enormously satisfying for children – and when they get it their confidence soars.

So what can you do to really help your child enjoy maths?

 

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  1. Go back to basics – maths is built of blocks so it’s important that they understand what each block means. Talk to your child about the very basics. For example.

Do they get that equals ‘=’ means exactly the same as?

Ask your child what this symbol ‘=’ means.  If they say ‘equals’ ask them what that means. At this point they may well look confused or say it means five plus two equals seven, or the thing that comes before the answer.

So draw them a sketch of a circle and a square. Ask them if they are equal. If not why not, then draw a picture of two circles, are they equal? Yes! Generally this is enough, to have an ‘I get it!’ moment…. And if they can get their heads around the fact that equals means exactly the same as, now, then complicated things like algebra will make loads more sense.

Similarly, what does the multiplication sign ‘x’ mean? Do they understand that it just means repeated addition?

5 x 3 means five lots of three.

Which means 3+3+3+3+3

Multiplication seems way less scary when we realise it’s just lots of adding…

  1. Make sure they understand what numbers are:

It sounds obvious but kids do not always know what numbers are. They sometimes think of numbers as names of things. ‘3’ is just the name of the third thing, not the whole group of three. Understanding that abstract symbols like ‘2’ or ‘8’ represent different sizes or quantities is not straightforward. Using concrete things to represent what numbers means can help this. My favourite tools are Cuisenaire rods, beautiful wooden coloured blocks, which represent the numbers 1 to 10, in different sizes that can be arranged into a staircase. Children have shapes and colours to imagine numbers with so a child can physically see and feel that 2 and 8 build 10.

  1. Look at different ways to learn the facts:

Ever got frustrated because your child can’t remember the 7 times table, even though they knew it 3 days ago?  The best tip is to use games and activities that get children using all their senses, and moving about as much as possible. Get them to roll a dice and times the answer by 7.

Songs and rhymes  are great too for some kids. Here are a couple of my favourites.

–          I’m sick I’m sick of your dirty tricks! Six times six is thirty six!

–          I ate and ate till I was sick on the floor! Eight times eight is sixty four!

Sometimes number facts don’t come easy because a child is worrying too much and believes they don’t know it even when they do – games where children have to focus on something other than the maths itself can help. Try hiding the answers to times table questions around the house or garden and getting to race against each other or the clock to find the answer to questions you shout out! They will be so focussed on the race, they won’t even notice their minds.

  1. Do they know the answer will always be the same?

Sometimes kids get stuck on questions which are identical to one they did 5 minutes ago. For years this bamboozled me. Once I taught a child how to count out 9 bits of pasta and add 1 to work out the sum 9 + 1.  I then asked the question again: what is 9 + 1? He couldn’t answer and had to count out again from scratch. It wasn’t until I explicitly said that the answer was always going to be that it clicked.

But if we think about it, why would a child assume that the answer to a question will always be the same? Think about the kinds of questions we ask them: ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘How was school?’ – are the answers always going to be identical?

One of the comforting thing about maths for kids, is that it is – in theory – predictable, playing out the same patterns again and again. But this is not obvious, we need to tell them!

  1. Praise their strengths:

Find out what bit of maths your child is good at, and really big that up: some will be good at drawing shapes, or reflecting them, moving them about on a grid. Some will be great at mental maths. Some will be great at problem solving. Spending as much time on the bits they like as the bits they dislike can help maths seem less horrible. And remember, all kids learn differently – running around will work for some, songs will work for others, building blocks will work with others – trying all the different ways of doing maths is always the best bet!

By Peroline Ainsworth who is a co-founder of Skills Network, a women’s cooperative based in South London. The women at Skills Network are raising money to design and make games and tools to make learning fun for children. In exchange for a £30 donation you will receive a pack of maths games and ideas for your child – a great Christmas present!

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