parents

Adam Spencer wants to teach your kids to love maths.

By ADAM SPENCER.

Every week seems to bring another sad story about mathematics in Australia and especially women in mathematics. Falling rates of final years students doing maths, lower enrolments in physics at university and the truly bizarre and galling tampon ad that suggested the latest Libra product “absorbs more than you ever did in maths class” all paint a bleak picture.

Well I’m proud to say I’m bringing up two girls, the elder of whom love maths and the younger of which seems well on the way.

Good on you geek-boy I hear you scream. You’ve got an unfair head start…Of course your girls will be mini Einsteins. What about the non-nerds amongst us?

But I genuinely believe that any parent can raise a boy or girl who loves numbers. Like having a child who plays piano, draws beautifully or can shoot a netball like Cath Cox its all about them working at it and enjoying putting in that work.

And you can’t start too soon. Right from the earliest age get your kids working on the very basics of numeracy. Simple arithmetic skills are crucial.

Kids who can answer correctly right from the start develop real confidence and when the concepts get a little bit harder they can really concentrate on the more challenging ideas and not be worried that they will do everything ok but stuff up the last bit because they suck at times tables.

Here’s 4 ideas to help your child get off to a good start with maths and then fulfil their potential.

1) Never answer a maths question for your kids.

The correct answer to “Mum what’s 5 + 8” is not “13”, it’s “that’s a great question. Lets try and work it out. I’ll hold up 5 fingers, how many do you need to hold up for us to bust this?”

2) Find maths everywhere .

You shouldn’t make your child feel they live in the real world and occasionally have to head off into “maths world” for a while then come back. Mathematics is everywhere. When we eat out, my girls don’t even need me to ask these days – when we’ve finished they ask the staff “excuse me how much will that cost” and when they tell me “$48.40” (2 coffees and a piece of toast in the inner west of Sydney!) they’ll see what money I take out, say 3 twenties and work out “we should get $11.60 change”.

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Now the older one is almost 10 she has to work out what the bill will be using the menu and calculate a 10% tip.

3) Screen time can be your friend.

Like any kids mine are often itching to get at the phone or tablet. We’ve got a series of apps that push basic numeracy and the girls actually like. QuickMaths and Maths Bingo are two great examples. As they get a bit older, 3s and Quick Fractions also rock. I’m happy to reward them with 10 minutes on “Dragon blah blah” if they’ve just set a personal best on QuickMaths. This regular intense exposure to arithmetic really beds down the basics.

4) Mum has to lead from the front.

Most kids, especially young girls, think their mum is the supreme human form. They love, cherish and admire their mums. So the day mum says,”I never understood fractions, go ask your father,” is the day their child is sent a subliminal message,”hey you can be the coolest person in the world – me – and know stuff all about maths”. I don’t think you can underestimate the negative effect this sort of message can have.

The longer mums can hang in there the better. Even if you are putting off the homework “too busy right now, come back in an hour” while you undergo a crash course in 7 times tables, every extra year or even school term you can hang in there is of great benefit to your child.

Eventually they’ll get to an age where they’ll be proud to know more than you about maths, but that age can’t be 7.

And once your child shows an interest and ability in maths – keep pushing them. If by early high school they love mathematics and are in the top stream, you should actively seek out books, apps, weekend extension classes and see how far they’ll take it.

The Australia of this century needs more people to have a basic respect and understanding of maths and science – but we also need those that have the potential to do so. For mine, far too many talented young women who end up in law and corporate finance could have been great scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Its time to fight to bring them back.


Adam Spencer’s Big Book of Numbers is available at adamspencer.com.au

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