Let’s talk maths

2011-06-02 00:00

AS a child my mother always told me never to be afraid of maths as it was, in fact, nothing more than another language we needed to master. Over the years, I have not only seen the truth in this, but the wisdom too.

If we are able to speak a language fluently and truly understand what we are saying, we have no difficulty conversing in it. So it is with numeracy too. Once we truly understand the terms and can read it as a language it loses all its mystery.

Just as children learn other languages best in their first five years, so as parents we have the opportunity to teach our children maths talk right from babyhood. However, before we can teach them to speak and embrace numeracy, we need to overcome our own fears and prevent our children from hearing phrases such as “I hated maths” or “maths is so hard”, as this creates a mental block to numeracy. Secondly, we need to understand what the entire universe is really all about — balance. Why does the wind blow? Why does a tissue suck up water? It’s all simply about creating balance. In just the same way, working out a maths problem is not about getting the right answer, but rather about creating a balance. So, in essence, 2+3=5 is just as true as 2+3=2x88-171. We are not looking at trying to “get it right”, but rather to create harmony.

Once this has been understood, it is now time to begin our first language lessons. A child may not be introduced to the words: add, subtract, multiply or divide until they reach school, but “four more” , “take away two” , “you will get two each” or “let’s share them out” are terms a three-year-old can comprehend.

Once they truly understand these concepts, changing the vocabulary once at school is a breeze. When cutting food we can easily slip in the vocabulary for half and quarter.

Fractions seem to stump so many children and yet introducing these before a child learns about division creates within them a deeper understanding of both fractions and division. So how do we “talk fraction”?

If you have more than one child you are probably talking fractions all day without realising it. There are two types of fractions. The first is simply sharing a number of items so you have “two of the six sweets” and, secondly, the sharing of a whole that is “you may have two fifths of the cake”. These are difficult concepts for children to grasp, but if they have been repeatedly shown them and the vocabulary of “whole”, “part of” and “piece of” have been used throughout their lives they will be able to work with the concepts more easily than a child who is still trying to comprehend what half of a cake is.

Young children love numbers, counting and sorting. This could be due to the fact that numbers are a way to quantify and order their lives. We need to be open and aware of our children’s desire to work with numbers and take their lead. Maybe a four-year-old wants to learn to tell the time, a three-year-old may ask who has more, or a five-year-old may want to know how much money he or she has.

As you can see, we are surrounded by numbers and maths talk. So, I challenge you today not only to open your ears and listen to the language of numbers, but to take up the challenge and begin to speak maths to your child today.

• Joanne Madgwick is a parenting and educational consultant. Find out more about her at www.susa parentcenter. com

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