How to make maths more fun

Whether children love or detest maths invariably comes down to the way it is taught – fun and fascinating lessons have a greater impact than dull and dreary ones

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 10:00pm

My Year Six daughter gets upset every time she does her maths homework. She hates the subjectand is defensive when I try to help her. I wasn’t any good at maths at school myself and can’t help her with things such as fractions and decimals. I’m worried that she’ll be put in the bottom stream at high school next year.

So many adults were turned off maths due to their own bad experiences at school. As teachers and parents we have to try to remove the fear and frustration around this important subject.

The good news is that recent studies show that fewer pupils claim to hate maths than previously, and generally youngsters are more motivated. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have filtered through to your daughter.

Confidence is always the key to becoming proficient at any curriculum area. If your daughter is constantly struggling with homework and her confidence is in a downward spiral, the first thing you should do is meet with her teacher so she/he is fully aware of the situation. Maths homework should be reinforcement of what has been taught so it would seem that your daughter has not understood the concepts that have been covered in class and may need extra help or require a reassessment of her homework tasks.

Perhaps her teacher can also recommend online activities that she could do at home which are not too onerous but would help to increase her understanding.

Sometimes it can be counterproductive for parents to help their children with maths as approaches have changed. Some schools organise information sessions to help parents understand current teaching methods. Teachers today typically model several methods for problem solving thatallow them to choose the best strategy for their learning style. However, this can sometimes be overwhelming for children who are struggling.

Children’s attitude towards maths invariably comes down to the way it is taught. Do teachers use thought-provoking online materials that relate to the concept being taught? Is there an ethos of building a growth mind set in children so they are not afraid to get things wrong as part of the learning process?

Many schools now encourage pupils to adopt a more risk-taking approach to maths using estimation and the use of trial-and-error methods as key skills. This should help children overcome the fear of making a mistake.

An emphasis on solving real-life problems than purely manipulating numbers or going through endless worksheets can also be more interesting.

Your daughter will probably want to have very little to do with maths outside school but any incentive to encourage her to use her skills in her every day life will help. A shopping trip for clothes or books, for example, is a good opportunity to practise working out totals, rounding, calculating change and especially working out percentage decreases for special offers. The latter is even more effective if she’s using her own money!.

Wearing a watch with 24-hour time or baking for her friends also develop math skills. Anything that is relevant to her own interests and routines will make her less likely to feel a disconnection between maths and its application in real life situations.

One of the most important mathematical skills is estimation. To improve this, your daughter could estimate the answer to calculations before she works them out and estimate different types of measurement such as length, weight or time. Make an estimate yourself and see who is the closest, emphasising that it’s the process not the correctness that matters. Another crucial thing is to make sure she knows her times tables and can do the inverse division facts. Having instant recall of these is invaluable and will help her mental arithmetic speed enormously.

I can understand your concerns as your daughter is about to head for secondary school, but try to be encouraging. Praise effort as much as achievement as well as focusing on things she is good at in or out of school.

Even if your own ability in maths is not strong try to transmit a positive attitude. Such comments as “I wasn’t very good at maths at school”, can lead to negative feelings in your own child and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school