Basic ways to boost maths skills at home


Just as with literacy, parents play a crucial role in helping children to develop their numeracy skills.
Children can usually solve a maths problem if it is presented to them in numbers or equations.

However when the same problem is written in a paragraph or sentence, many children are not able to comprehend the question as they do not understand the language and therefore are unable to solve it.

This is made even more difficult when a child is a second language learner as their level of language and literacy is generally underdeveloped. Children who have not grasped basic number concepts by Grade 3 will often struggle with Maths later on.

Here are some simple tips for parents:

1. Introduce your child to number concepts from an early age and in a non-threatening way. Try to make Maths fun to avoid your child developing that ‘mental block’.

2. Get your children to recognise patterns.

For example:

Take a set of dominos starting at the one with one dot. Ask them which dominos come next and allow them to build the pattern, or give them 2, 4 and 6 dominos and ask them to fit in the missing dominos.

3. Use ‘real life’ situations so that your child can see that Maths does not only belong in the classroom but is applied everyday in the environment around them.

For example:

• If baking a cake at home, talk about the quantity of baking ingredients and their measuring units i.e. millilitres, grams etc. Ask them to compare the weight of 500ml of milk with 500g of butter (‘Are they the same or is one heavier?’).
• At bath time, use different sizes of plastic cups in the water to see how much each one holds.
• Ask your child to help you set the table for dinner and use the opportunity to count the number of everything on the table.
• When passing a sports stadium, ask questions for example around how many people would attend a soccer match versus how many a church would hold. Which one holds more?
• Look at adverts in the newspapers together and see how many things you could buy for R100.
• Before eating a pizza, discuss concepts such as cutting it in half, quarters etc.

4. When doing these fun activities introduce your child to phrases such as ‘the sum of’, ’product of’ etc and what they mean.

5. Always use these opportunities to build the child’s language skills by asking questions and providing them with new vocabulary.

Handling maths homework

1. When helping your child with a problem sum, first check to see whether he/ she understands all the words in the sentence (i.e. the vocabulary).
2. Read the problem together carefully, always looking for clues and important information, underlining or writing down any clues (children use a similar skill when reading i.e. they look for visual clues to help them decode the words in the sentence).
3. Words like ‘sum’, ’difference’ and ’product’ give a clue as to what Maths operation is needed to solve the problem.
4. Draw a line through information that is not needed.
5. Use sketches or drawings so that your child can ‘see’ the problem. 

Maurita Glynn Weissenberg is the founder of The Shine Centre.

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