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How to talk to children about Maths

I am delighted to welcome this month’s guest blogger Dr Anastasia Pappa, an Education Consultant and Parent Coach. She runs Ostrakinda an education consultancy which works with parents helping them to support their child's learning focusing on developing skills such as confidence, resilience and critical thinking. She also works with schools to promote parental engagement in education and runs “How to learn” workshops for students.

Website: www.ostrakinda.co.uk
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Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/anastasia-pappa/28/850/822

Working with parents and children I have made three observations.

  • parents are anxious about helping their child with Maths homework
  • small children love Maths
  • a child's interest diminishes as they move up year groups.

In addition to that, there is a clear gender divide in performance. Recently released 2013 data for primary schools from the Department for Education clearly support this. Boys have once more outperformed girls in attainment and exam performance.

So what makes someone good at Maths? Is it nature that determines Maths achievement or nurture? Are boys really better than girls?

When I was in school, Maths was a difficult, boring and abstract subject. To be precise, Maths teaching was boring and uninspiring. Teachers did not have high expectations from us. It was ok not to be good at Maths and only a few children were expected to perform well. For many students Maths classes was a rather unpleasant experience.

Modern parents, having experienced Maths as a dull and difficult subject, are inevitably carrying the feelings of frustration associated with Maths.

But as we live in an increasingly complex world, Maths understanding is a vital skill in everyday life. So how can we help our children gain the basic skills?

Teaching at primary school level has changed since we were pupils. Maths is now taught using a wide range of resources and engaging activities. Teaching is less gender stereotyped and both boys and girls are encouraged to do well.

But it is our own attitudes that could change a child's Maths experience and create barriers to learning. Research over the last 25 years has clearly shown evidence that students' attitudes towards

Maths are strongly influenced by the attitudes of their parents. In turn, attitudes towards a school subject relate to actual performance. So negative attitudes towards Maths will inevitably lead to low achievement in this subject.

To help our children love Maths, we need to change first.

Here are three golden rules to encourage our children become better at Maths.

Never ever say to a child that Maths is dull, difficult or boring

Children opt to adopt parents' views on learning. Regardless of your own experience in school be supportive. When your child says that they hate Maths or that they find it difficult, do not reinforce the negative attitude by agreeing. Instead, explain that Maths provide challenges. If something is difficult we need to try harder and practise more. This will improve our understanding and make our brain smarter and better at Maths.

Do not say to them “I am not good at Maths”, even if you feel like this

Does your child need help with their homework? Have they asked you to help them and you feel helpless and nervous? Children can pick up parent anxiety, so try not to show your feelings of distress. Instead turn this into an exercise. Ask your child to work as partners and try to look at the question together. There many resources available in the internet that could be of help. If you do not have time or you genuinely cannot help, be brave and say to them that you are not able to help them. But provide an option for them on what they should do next. Maybe they could talk to the teacher and ask for help. Or you could go together to the teacher and ask them to explain to both of you the mathematical concept involved. If you opt for the second option, one thing is for sure. Your child will be very proud of you, admire your courage and learn a valuable lesson. It is ok not to know. But it is not ok to give up.

Do not transfer gender stereotypes

School-aged children tend to adopt the attitudes of the same-sex parent. In Maths this is extremely prominent for mothers and girls. Regardless of your experience in school, talk to your daughter in a positive way about Maths.  Use the other two golden rules and give her the opportunity to discover for herself the beauty in Maths.

Dr Anastasia Pappa, an education consultant and parent coach, runs Ostrakinda. She works with parents helping them to support their child's learning focusing on develop skills such as confidence, resilience and critical thinking. She also works with schools to promote parental engagement in education and runs “How to learn” workshops for students.

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