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Here's how to get your children feeling good about maths

‘I was never any good at maths’ attitude towards the subject needs to change, writes Sheila Donegan, who says maths is an important part of life.

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WE ALL KNOW there are endless career opportunities for science, technology and engineering graduates.

Maths is at the heart of each of these disciplines, and that is why it is critical that we continue to encourage our young people to embrace the subject of maths as something that is going to lead them to a sustainable career in, what we hope will be, a sustainable economy.

Strong maths skills are also important for careers in finance, economics, accountancy, and management, and many other careers also have a mathematical basis.

Maths plays a part in everyone’s life

A good career, however, is not the only reason why we want children and young people to do well at maths. To some degree or another, maths plays a part in everyone’s life, and a good foundation in basic maths is a very important life skill.

I’m not saying that maths is easy, and just like any other school subject, some people will find it more difficult than others. But the reality is that, from budgeting to baking, some numerical ability is critical.

Unfortunately, as children progress through school they find maths getting more challenging and many develop negative attitudes towards the subject. It’s very important that parents challenge these negative attitudes and avoid using negative sentiments such has “maths is hard” or “I was never any good at maths” or “look at me, I’ve never needed to use maths”.

Reinforcing the belief that maths needs a special aptitude or that it’s the hardest subject in school will encourage fear and loathing of the subject.

Try not stress them out about it 

Critically parents should encourage their children without stressing them out.

A motivated mind in a positive frame of mind learns faster. It is okay not to know something and sometimes a good question is as important as the right answer.

There are a couple of very simple things parents can do to help their children feel good about maths from an early age and develop their mathematical abilities:

Make Maths a Game

Encourage your child to see maths as a fun game rather than school work. Many computer games, apps and websites all contain useful resources that will help you turn maths into a fun game. If you prefer your child not to use electronic devices, you can encourage your child’s mathematical development through traditional board games such as Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, card games and also through role play games like ‘shop’.

Make maths a fun competition

Have fun quizzes with your children and their friends that involve solving a maths problem. Give points and prizes for correct answers.

Encourage your child to solve real-life maths problems outside of school

Toy shops are great places to teach numeracy. When your child picks a toy you could ask them to calculate how many weeks pocket money he will need to save to buy the toy.

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Develop ‘Mental Maths’ skills

Play games that involve mental problem solving, such as simple add and take games.

  • Maths in the car: the car is the perfect place to learn to count. Ask your children to count lamp posts, different colour cars, pedestrians etc. They could also count how long the lights stay red, green, and amber.
  • Maths as a language: help your children to see maths not just as a science, but also as an art and as a language. Encourage them to talk about their maths and to develop imagery to explain their thoughts massively boosts their ability to think for themselves, and to understand rather than just trudge through pages of meaningless sums.

Even if you can’t help your children with their homework because you don’t understand the topic, don’t be discouraged or discouraging. After all, if they are doing German and you did French, you wouldn’t be able to help them either.

There are lots of online resources you and your child can access, for example Project Maths is full of resources for Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate students.

The National Adult Literacy Agency has produced an excellent booklet At Home with Family Learning which contains a series of practical activities that people of all ages can engage in, helping to build their numeracy and skills.

It also demonstrates how to practice maths skills with your child in a fun way.

Dr Sheila Donegan, is Director of Calmast ,the STEM outreach Centre at Waterford Institute of Technology. Together with Eoin Gill, she founded Maths Week IrelandShe is very active nationally in promotion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.  She is currently a member of National Curriculum and Assessment Board of Science Studies, Chair National Education Committee Royal Society of Chemistry and a member of the Science Gallery Education committee. She is a past board member of the European Science Events Assocation.

Maths Week is celebrating a decade of maths engagement with people all over the island. World renowned and locally acclaimed mathematicians will enlighten and entertain people of all ages in the wonder of maths through fun and interesting talks, games, teasers, challenges and magic maths shows. And, for those who can’t make it to an event, activities will also be available on www.mathsweek.ie and Twitter at @mathsweek.

TheJournal.ie is taking part and is featuring a maths question every day this week. You can find them here

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