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For many children, maths can be such a bane that it can actually cause physical pain, according to a 2012 study by two American psychologists, Ian Lyon and Sian Beilock.
For homeschool mother and special needs educator Sue Tan, this dread of maths is something she is sympathetic to. “The way it is taught in schools does not engage different kinds of learners, especially the kinaesthetic and the visual and auditory learners. Secondly, there is a lack of contextual understanding of the concepts which are taught. Students are often not given real-life applications.”
This is why Kendric Tham, Director of Math Monkey – a maths enrichment centre for children aged three to 12 – makes it a point to come up with activities where children will get the big picture and see the connections between various mathematical concepts. “For example, some kids make the discovery that multiplication is actually repeated addition so they don’t have to blindly memorise times tables that way.”
Both Sue and Kendric believe that maths has the potential to cultivate life skills such as critical thinking and mental agility, but only if children are given more autonomy in exploring maths concepts at their own pace and style. “When kids start to have fun with maths, it takes away the pressure of trying to get things right,” Kendric explains.
Here are some suggestions from these two educators on how to make maths fascinating for children:
Maths in everyday activities
Simple tasks such as counting coins, pressing lift buttons and reading the time help children to familiarise themselves with numbers. Sue enjoys counting the number of steps with her two young sons as they climb up the stairs, while Kendric suggests that if you’re ferrying your children around, you can ask them to add up numbers they see on car plates.
“It’s good to be organic when bringing maths into our daily lives, and sometimes this may involve Lego blocks or toy dinosaurs,” Sue says.
Maths in games
A simple game like Snakes and Ladders is a great way to get children counting according to Sue, while Kendric ups the stakes with a thrilling game involving magnetic darts. His students have to aim at certain numbers while trying to solve maths problems, an activity that also helps with focus and development of motor skills at the same time.
“A game with a reward mechanism may also motivate kids. For example, I have this fishing game, where kids have to solve a maths problem first and get the answer right before they get to “catch a fish” bearing a number which is the answer to their maths question,” he recounts.
For more ideas on fun maths activities you can do with your child, check out this blog for free printable learning materials.