Hanne S. Finstad, Scientist Factory
Everyone needs mathematics. Yet, many people struggle with basic arithmetic and develop life-long math anxiety. Those who struggle with math anxiety probably do so because their number sense wasn’t adequately developed in their early childhood years. The number sense is the foundation for learning all math.
Everyone is born with an innate number sense and an Approximate Number System that enables us to distinguish between the most and the least quantities. We use this ability to evaluate where the most blueberries are when berry picking or what line has the most people standing in it at the airport. We intuitively know where more berries and people are and don’t need to count.
Another innate ability lets us determine quantities from 1 to 3 with a glance and without counting. Many people can also see up to 4. But nearly everyone has to count if the quantity increases above 4. To handle precise amounts over 4, we have to learn numerals and words, which takes time. Parents and kindergarten pedagogies can lay an essential foundation before the children start school. It isn’t difficult if you know what to do. Much of it involves everyday habits.
Here are 6 ways you can help your child excel at math:
1 – Learning starts with language
All knowledge starts with good language, and this is the case with math as well. Children develop language when you talk to them and when they hear others speak. In other words, engaging with your child verbally will help them learn math down the line. Reading aloud and conversations about what you’re reading are also valuable.
2 – Become aware of number words
Try to think about and familiarize yourself with the words that are important when learning mathematics. For example, degrees, centimeters, and kilograms are helpful parts of a vocabulary. The same is true of words that describe shapes, sizes and quantities. Try to use these words when it’s natural to do so. Building toys provide a great opportunity for practicing this vocabulary. Read also our tips on how building toys help children learn mathematics.
3 – Counting is key
Counting different quantities might be the most important thing you can do. Count arms and legs. Continue with fingers and toes. Feel free to use the fingers as counting-aides. Practice counting numerals as well. The child will gradually understand that the numeral represents a particular quantity.
4 – Practice measuring
Counting can easily be combined with measuring, for example, when you’re making dinner and can measure volume. You can also measure the length when you’re building something or the temperature when talking about the weather.
5 – Practice the mental number line
As it turns out, tools such as rulers and measuring bands are great for the number sense. These tools appear to strengthen the mental number line. Games that involve number lines are therefore great for learning mathematics.
6 – Practice advanced counting with older children
Older children benefit from more advanced counting, such as counting backward or counting by adding or subtracting a specific quantity. There’s no need to start a 0 every time. You can start from a different number.
Most of these approaches can be integrated into most everyday family lives. The child won’t notice that they’re practicing mathematics. The oldest children in kindergarten might also benefit from working with math in small segments. A study from Belgium shows this. Five-year-olds were given varied math practice in kindergarten. They compared quantities and connected number words to numerals by playing a computer game. They quickly became better at math than the control group. The effect was statistically significant, even one year after they had started school. The sessions weren’t long. There were eight computer gaming sessions spread over a few weeks, each of which lasted 25 minutes.
A similar effect was found in kindergarten-aged children who played a computer game with number lines. They had short sessions with this game every day for two weeks. The game trained their ability to count and understand the connection between number words and numerals. That’s to say, short and systematic math sessions in kindergarten can make the transition to school smoother and provide the children with a lasting foundation for mastering mathematics. This focus should not compromise their playtime, which is also crucial for development.
What should you do if your school-aged child struggles with math? Luckily, the advice for kindergarteners appears to apply to school-aged children as well.
- Enhancing young children’s arithmetic skills through non-intensive, computerised kindergarten interventions: A randomised controlled study, Teaching and Teacher Education 39 (2014) 56-65
study, Teaching and Teacher Education 39 (2014) 56-65