Make Learning Maths Fun for your Child

Did you grow up with the fear of Math? Are your children gradually developing the same fear? Just like a lot of other traits, children tend to inherit fears from their parents. This article is an attempt to decode why children are often terrified of certain subjects, particularly Mathematics, and how we, as parents can help them overcome these fears. Apart from enabling a better understanding of the subject, we can incorporate certain practices at home that can make learning Mathematics enjoyable. Read on

When we, as parents, view Math as something frightening, children start stepping away from it.

Parents’ mindset influences children
As children grow older and enter the domain of education, they come across some concepts that they often have trouble grasping. One subject that seems to have many such concepts is Mathematics. Most of us have grown up
with Mathophobia. So before we begin the journey of being on the other side of the table and teaching Maths to our
children, we must address some of our personal issues with the subject.

Children being the observant creatures that they are, can smell fear very easily. So when we, as parents, view Math as something frightening, children start stepping away from it. Stereotyping and creating a gender bias surrounding Maths is a mistake that many of us make. Statements such as “Daddy will help you with Maths, let Mom help you with English,” send out wrong messages. Some self introspection is required in order to make the child open minded about Maths .

When the distinctions between play time and study time are done away with, children automatically gravitate towards learning.

The root cause of ‘Mathophobia’
After pondering over our own perceptions of Maths, the next step is to understand why Maths appears to be a dreadful tormentor to children. Quite often, we look at Mathematics as a subject that the children need to be taught – in this way, we look at it in isolation from the environment. Mathematics or learning as a whole, when looked at as an isolated domain, becomes difficult to understand. For a young child still in the process of learning to be a part of the environment, grasping something that seems to be away from that environment becomes a tough job. Integrating learning in everyday processes is the key to creating a healthy and fun learning environment. When children learn through everyday activities, not realizing that the activities they are taking part in are based on concepts of Mathematics, they tend to enjoy the process.

Merging the domains of care-giving and knowledge dissemination and blurring the blurring the boundaries built around various aspects of learning, especially in the early years of a child’s life, can prove to be both an impactful and a rewarding process. When the distinctions between play time and study time are done away with, children automatically gravitate towards learning. Integration of learning into fun activities thus yields the best results . Encourage children to help out with chores such as serving equal number of sweets to guests, sorting out items by colour, distributing food articles in a group according to everyone’s needs, picking out the correct number of glasses, plates and forks for a certain number of people. All these activities help not just in integrating learning but also work towards building a sense of responsibility in children.

Some parents may be inclined towards the idea that introducing complex Mathematical concepts, especially when children are very young, is too difficult for them to handle. But then, Mathematics is not just a subject, it is all around us. Also, it is essential to build numeracy skills in young children for the following reasons:

a) To build their analytical skills that would help them make sense of the information given to them.
b) To build an understanding of patterns and enhance spatial awareness.
c) To enable them to make optimum, financially sound choices in life.
d) To help them solve everyday problems effortlessly.

Now that it has been established that numeracy skills are essential, the next challenge that arises is how to make
the process of learning enjoyable. I have listed certain concepts in Mathematics that can be woven into everyday situations, games and activities so as to enable a greater understanding of the subject.

1. Estimation
It is essential to inculcate an intricate understanding of estimation in order to enable children to carry out many
everyday activities through their adult lives. Babies are born with an intrinsic understanding of patterns, quantities
and probabilities. Parents need to help their children to refine this ability and help them with the application of these skills as and when required. Exercises and activities relating to estimation and guess work can go a long way in honing these skills. Questions such as, ‘Which of these is heavier?’, ‘Which one is faster?’, ‘Whose house do you think is closer to ours?’and ‘Are there more chocolates around us or more birds?’ direct the attention of children towards analysis and estimation of the world around them. The ability to estimate is a crucial mathematical instinct that is best developed in the early years.

2. Shapes, Sorting and Sequencing
Right from the time of birth, babies are exposed to faces and shapes. One is astounded at the ability of babies to
observe symmetry in faces. Introducing young children to a variety of shapes including 3D images and flat shapes
widens their knowledge of the subject. It isn’t important for the child to remember the names of all of these shapes; rather it is the recognition that matters. Games involving tangrams, paper cut-outs, stick figures and even dough can be beneficial in learning about different shapes. Provide ample room for exploration and children will find their way on their own while constantly surprising you with new discoveries. You can also keep on adding advanced level activities along the way such as complex jigsaw puzzles to create an upward movement in their sorting and sequencing abilities. Sorting according to shapes, sizes, textures and utility is something we have to do every single day as adults, so it becomes essential to develop these skills early on in life. Introduce sequencing in ascending and descending order using toys instead of numbers on paper to make the experience more enjoyable for children.

3. Measurement
Measurement for younger children is relative and comparative in nature. So clarity around concepts such as Measurementbigsmall, heavy-light, tall-short, near-far is enough. But as they grow older, try to leave some tools of measurement such as weighing scales and measuring tapes around the house. Encourage children to use those tools in order to measure items around the house. Help them to measure the growth in their plants and the difference between the weights of different fruits and vegetables. Length, distances, heights and weights can make up for some fun family games as well.

4. Counting and Rote Learning
When we say that our children know their numbers, we essentially mean that they can count till a certain number in a set order. While this in itself is a useful act, as parents we must also direct our focus to making children understand value in numbers. The concept of conservation has to be inculcated in their knowledge by teaching that the value of a certain number will remain the same even when it is arranged in a different order. For instance the value of 5 will
run similar across 5 butterflies, 5 chocolates, 5 steps and so on. Parents must also understand that children like to constantly move around. So, weaving these concepts into physical activities such as skip counting while jumping, hopping on alternate legs, clapping and snapping while counting will be beneficial. Children remember what they do more than what they are told, so take the counting concept outdoors and avoid a classroom set up to increase retention.

5. Time
TimeThe understanding of the concept of time can be introduced seamlessly through play. For younger children, establishing a connection between their daily activities and the times at
which they perform those activities can be a great way to introduce the concept of time. For instance, birds start chirping in the morning when the sun shines, we take a nap in the afternoon and we go for walks in the evening. With relatively older kids, you can map a monthly chart wherein you designate certain activities to certain days. Mondays can become Dance Days,
Tuesdays can be Skating Days and Sundays can be Picnic Days. Time need not be taught to children as a separate module, we can let it slide in smoothly in everyday actions. Let children fiddle around with a globe and you will notice how a world of amazement and wonder slowly develops leading to an increased curiosity to learn about new things.

6. Spatial Understanding
Spatial intelligence refers to understanding and remembering relative locations or objects in the mind. A simple game of Lego or blocks can lead to the development of advanced spatial understanding in the later years. So encourage your children to build and break those block figures to their heart’s content. Games like I-Spy and Spot-It
work exceptionally well with young children because they help widen spatial understanding and enhance observation skills. Another activity that contributes to the development of spatial-temporal reasoning skills is the creation of music. Learning to play a musical instrument could result in multi-layered growth and development of the spatial and temporal reasoning skills of a child. This is known as the Mozart Effect. You could also introduce activities such as map reading, globe exploration and navigation with a compass in order to inculcate a strong sense of direction in the child. All of these activities contribute to the formation of a strong base for grasping geometrical concepts in the future.

7. Patterns
Pattern recognition refers to the ability to spot order in chaos. It helps in developing critical thinking and logic. Patterns could be visual or auditory – parents could expose children to different kinds of patterns in order to strengthen their ability to recognise . Laying out a simple pattern for the child to replicate can be a good exercise for children of nearly all ages. By using simple objects that are available at home such as buttons, pebbles, leaves, flowers, you can create a number of different patterns. The exercise becomes even more interesting when sounds are involved. These help in building rhythm and recognising patterns in music.

8. Story Telling
Stories are something children can connect with and inculcating learning in storytelling has been practised for very long. You can include numeracy concepts of heavy, light, full, empty, etc. in your stories. Don’t forget to be animated when you recite those stories, because exaggerated expressions never fail to amuse children. This learning technique builds imagination, enhances vocabulary and improves the understanding of expression while integrating the concepts of numeracy .

9. Play Games
Learning through play-way continues to emerge as a win-win situation for both children and the parents. When
Mathematics is made tangible, physical and fun, the fear surrounding it tends to fade away. Children learn better
through touch and feel, which is why games such as Tic-Tac-Toe, Connect 4, Ludo, Monopoly and Snakes & Ladders
become great learning experiences.

While attempting to implement any of these exercises, parents must remember the simple trick of Introduce, Reinforce and Further Reinforce. Neural connections are established by repeated activity so we must continue the activities we are attempting. Another aspect to keep into consideration is resisting the urge to test. As pa rents, it is our job only to reinforce the concept. Tests, rewards, praise, punishment and criticism tend to take away the fun quotient from learning. These activities must be performed purely for joy and learning. It is also not necessary to
immerse yourself into performing a lot of these activities at a time. One or two such activities in a day can go a
really long way.

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October 09, 2020 — Dr. Pallavi Rao Chaturvedi
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