I’m sure many of us defined our mathematical abilities by the number of ticks and crosses we saw on our latest Maths test. But Maths is so much more than abstract algorithms or complex equations. It’s everywhere and it helps us answer the great questions about the world.
Your child might have a natural interest in Maths, or he might find it frustrating. Either way, encouraging your child to take interest in Maths early provides an important foundation for their development and prepares them for the numeracy demands of school and beyond.
Maths is a creative, interesting and beautiful instrument. Learning to think mathematically helps children become better problem solvers and develops their analytical and logical thinking.
Encouraging your child to concentrate on something he isn’t interested in or is struggling with can be tricky. But making Maths fun and including it in your child’s everyday activities can be easier than you think.
1. Start early
Most parents incorporate counting numbers into their early interactions with their children.
Counting and sequencing
Counting objects for instance can show the one-to-one correspondence of numbers and objects. You can get your child to count cars, cuddly toys, lollies, fingers and toes, steps to the bathroom and the like.
As your child becomes familiar with the sequence of numbers, you can start asking the following questions.
- What number is before 5?
- What number comes after 7?
- Can you count from 4 to 10?
- Count from 10 back to 1
Encourage your child to look for numbers in everyday life. Look at number plates, signposts, phone numbers and get him to name them.
Introduce your child to the history of number systems such as Mayan, Roman numerals, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and our own Hindu-Arabic system.
2. Learn through play
Playing games can help your child practise simple addition and subtraction and develop their understanding of chance and probability. Cards, dice and board games are a cheap and very easy way to incorporate Maths into games.
Try the below activities:
- Matching card games like Go Fish or Snap.
- Order numbers on playing cards from smallest to largest, or largest to smallest.
- For school-age children, make the largest/ smallest number you can make with two/ three or more cards. This can help children begin to understand place value.
- Board games with dice are excellent ways for children to count forward as well as recognise number patterns on dice.
- Dice games with two dice involve adding numbers less than 10. Younger students can count the dots on the dice to find the total. Older children should be encouraged to start at the bigger number and count on.
- Play shops with your children – use play or real money to purchase goods from the ‘shop’. Encourage them to count back change, look at different measurements on boxes and take note of the shapes of packaging.
- Older children can be encouraged to pay for items at the ‘real’ shop and check that they have been given the correct change.
3. Explore shapes in our world
The word ‘geometry’ comes from the ancient Greek for ‘Geo’ meaning earth and ‘Metron’ meaning measurement. When we look around us, our entire world is filled with shapes. Helping your child develop an awareness of different shapes contributes to their visual-spatial development and their knowledge of their position in the world.
Help your child explore shapes through:
- Early childhood toys that require children to match the shape of an item with the hole in the toy. When playing with these types of toys, use the names of the shapes, e.g. circle, square, star, triangle etc.
- Jigsaws. They’re also excellent tools to develop spatial awareness and require children to rotate and flip the shape to fit the space. Great for all ages, jigsaws will usually get the whole family involved.
- Play dough. It’s a great tool for creating shapes and weighing. Use biscuit cutters to cut out and name shapes. You can use this simple recipe to make play dough with your child by counting and measuring the ingredients.
- Blocks. Build towers and ask questions like “how many blocks tall is your tower?” You can also create colour patterns using the blocks.
4. Look for patterns
Creating and exploring patterns with numbers, shapes, colours, music and symmetry are the basis for early algebra. Activities that encourage looking for patterns are often hands-on and fun for children to do.
Look for patterns and symmetry:
- On signposts, in nature, on fabric, wrapping paper, when playing with blocks or counters, when counting.
- In the shapes of numbers and letters.
Older children can begin sequencing using skip counting, which is the basis for multiplication, patterning and early algebra.
- 2, 4, 6, what comes next?
- 3, 6, 9 what comes next?
- 1, 3, 5 what comes next?
- 3, 5, ?, 9 what number is missing?
Other fun activities you might want to try include:
- Use blocks or pegs to make patterns on a clothesline or a string. Encourage your child to make their own pattern by stringing coloured beads or home-coloured penne pasta. It’s great for developing fine motor skills too!
- Make your own wrapping paper. Create potato or vegetable stamps, dip them into paint and stamp on butcher’s paper. Encourage your child to draw or continue a pattern that you start. Get them to describe the pattern they have made in their own words.
- Sound is an excellent way to identify patterns. Clap a simple pattern then get your child to copy it. Take turns in creating patterns and repeating them back.
5. Measure everything
Understanding measurement and scale help children develop estimation skills. These simple activities are fun and easy for your whole family to get involved in:
- Compare the heights of family members to introduce the language of measurement (“Lucy is taller/bigger/shorter/smaller than James”) and, for the older children, the standard units of measurement (‘Brayden is smaller/ taller than a metre’).
- Use blocks to measure items. Ask questions such as how many blocks tall is teddy? How many blocks long is the car/doll/ book?
- Discuss how horses are measured in hand and find out how many hands the length of the table is, how many hands dad/mum/ grandparents are. Compare their hand measurements in relation to their older/ younger siblings.
- Compare the capacity of different containers such as spoons, measuring jugs and cups by filling them with water and see which one holds more. Get your child to find out how many spoons of water it will take to fill one cup. Cooking with your child provides the perfect opportunity to fill and measure.
6. Use money
Learning about money arms children with very important skills for future life. There are easy ways to start teaching your child about finances, whether it’s saving, spending, credit cards, tax or income.
- Encourage your child to save money regularly. Whether it’s another stuffed toy or the latest gadget, they can save up their pocket money to buy that special item they keep asking for. Help them work out how long it might take them to save up and check in on their progress weekly.
- Encourage younger children to buy small items at the store and work out if they have the correct change.
- Older children can look for references to money in real life situations. Take your child shopping and look at the price per gram for a product. For example, which coffee product is the best buy?
- Look at percentage increases and decreases of products. Encourage your child to mentally calculate 10% and 20% of an amount. Then they can see that 20% is double 10%.
The more your child can see that Mathematics is all around them, the more they’ll be able to relate to it – helping them better understand and apply it every day.
Check out some of my favourite children’s books below that encourage thinking and discussions about mathematics.
Pre-school and early primary school
- Maths Curse by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith (Problem solving)
- Mr Archimedes Bath by Pamela Allen (Volume)
- My Grandmother’s Clock – Geraldine Mccaughrean & Stephen Lambert (Time)
- How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller (Measurement)
- Hardworking puppies by Lynn Reiser (Counting & subtraction)
- Leaping Lizards by Stuart J. Murphy (skip counting/ multiplication)
- The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle (2D shapes & problem-solving)
- A Remainder of One by Elinor J. Pinczes & Bonnie Mackain (Division).
- A Very Improbable Story by Edward Einhorn & Adam Gustavson (Probability & fractions)
- Counting on Frank by Rod Clement (Measurement)
- The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett (Patterns and sequencing)
- Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander & Wayne Geehan (Geometry)
Upper primary and early secondary
- If the World Were a Village – A Book about the World’s People by David J Smith & Shelagh Armstrong (Statistics, comparative size)
- What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? by Julie Ellis & Phyllis Hornung (2D and introduction to Pythagoras’ theorem)