All about maths and how parents can make it easy for their children to learn it – Part 1

In the attempt to improve the quality of education, school curriculums are improved on and changed over time. By the time someone becomes a parent, they find that the approach to Math in Primary Schools has changed – tremendously. Eager and at the same time anxious to do their best to aid the progress of their child, the parent is met with jargon that if left unexplained,  tends to give the subject of Math an air of baffling mystery.

This often leaves the parent feeling inadequate to assist their child. But the truth is that the basics of learning, as well as teaching math to a child, can be simple self-taught techniques every well-meaning parent can acquire.

In this article (first of a series), we show the part a parent can play at home to encourage and guide the child. We will share ideas that can help the parent expand the horizons of the child.

These techniques are suitable for both the mathematical genius who wants to stoop to the level of their budding little one and the parent who did not do well in Math but is determined to help their child to do better.

Each child has their own unique frustrations. While one child might feel bored marking time in class, another may find it hard to keep up with fellow classmates. Whether you are parenting a mathematician or not, you are in a unique place to see to it that your child undergoes a suitable and sustainable process to be an individual who is good with numbers. And while at it, you can bring up a happy, smart, and confident child.

Math is not a subject to be viewed in isolation from other subjects. One function of math is to alert the child’s mind to the world about them. As a parent, your pleasure should be to open your child’s eyes to as many aspects mathematical as possible instead of only concerning yourself with what’s being taught in class; or whether you need to be one or some steps ahead. In creating awareness and fostering interest in everyday math, you will not only help the child but the teacher as well.

This is more than just education. When a parent takes an interest in their child and their work, they are able to play, explore and discover things together and the bond of mutual regard and affection is immensely strengthened. When parent and child work together on some project, or to solve a problem, it can be an opportunity to bring joy and enjoyment to the both of them. This is an experience that’s sure to give enrichment to parenthood.

Speaking as a parent, some of the ideas we’ll share here have come about as a resort of playing math with my own child and other children I’ve had occasion to interact with.

Preschool number work

“My child can count up to 10 and they have not yet started school.” or “My child knows all the letters of the alphabet and they are yet to start school.” Many parents take pride in announcing. This is highly unlikely. What the child is probably doing is not counting but reciting the numbers 1 to 10, or the letters A to Z parrot style, as they would a nursery rhyme without understanding what they mean.

It’s very likely the child is not aware of what constitutes five, or that five lies between four and six. When the adult talks of five, they will automatically match the symbol ‘5’ with the word spoken. Until given the experience the child is not able to tie up the symbol with the word spoken. The concept of number takes a while to be established. The same with letters of the alphabet, although the child can recite the names until with experience they reach the maturity level to do so, the child cannot match the names with the symbols.

My grandparents told stories of when people in their community started using money as currency to buy and sell goods. Their number system wasn’t as advanced as it is today and they were still grappling with the science of counting. If someone was selling, let’s say oranges, and each orange was one shilling. A buyer comes and selects, say, seven oranges. Instead of counting and saying, you want seven oranges, each orange is one shilling, and you need to pay seven shillings for them. The buyer would place a one shilling coin against each orange selected, and this way each party was able to confirm the transaction was okay. And using similar methods they were able to conduct bigger transactions conclusively as well. Even dowry payments could be translated from items asked for, into money this way.

Which is why I was pleasantly amazed when I noticed this little boy in my neighbourhood. When sharing more than two pieces of candy each with his siblings, he’d use his fingers; a finger against each of the older sibling’s candy; then he’d use those fingers to confirm he’s not being cheated. It was rather cute and funny, and at the same time genius.

Every child will pass through some primitive stages of development. At first, the child will distinguish between one item and more than one item. Then fairly quickly the child gets the idea of two. Perhaps because the child is used to noting paired things like two hands or two eyes. At this stage of the number concept, the child will linger for a while longer. But although the child has the opportunity to recognize five, because they have five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand the child does not. The child is not yet at the stage of mental maturity to do so. The child is not ready.

Understanding can take place only if the child has reached the relevant level of intellectual maturity. And for any topic, each child will go through three stages of development. At stage one, the child does not have a clue about the process being considered. At stage two glimmering of what the process is about, gradually starts to develop. Then at stage three, suddenly the process is grasped. The cycle leading to understanding will be gone through in the order of these three stages, regardless of the child’s age.


Read Part Two and Part Three here.

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  1. Pingback: How parents can make maths work for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners

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