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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Stage 8 – before 5th birthday

How to help your child enjoy numeracy & maths

Children have a natural love and aptitude for understanding numbers, quantities and three dimensions in the real world. It's important to understand how your child's school communicates and teaches mathematical concepts so you can reinforce things by doing them the same way at home. You can also have fun at home with practical games like number songs and playing with objects and coins.
In Short
Look for opportunities to show your child how maths and numeracy exist in the world.

Number songs can really help children to become familiar with numbers, adding and subtracting.

Try to understand how your child’s school teaches basic concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Try to show them the same way at home, so they don't get confused with different methods.

It can be hard for parents to know how to support their children’s numeracy and maths. An essential thing to remember is that you should never leave it solely to the school to teach your children. In fact, mathematics has to be taught in partnership with the school, and parents can make a start in teaching mathematical ideas as soon as your children are born.

Sing songs to your children

There are so many songs which familiarise babies and little children with numbers and counting. From the very beginning sing them to your child so that he learns to listen and enjoy their rhythm and beat. You can look them up on the internet if you cannot remember them, or borrow nursery song books from the library. Check out familiar nursery rhymes and songs such as ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Once I caught a fish alive’, ‘One little piggy went to market’, ’10 green bottles hanging on the wall’, ‘5 Little monkeys bouncing on the bed’, ‘There were 10 in the bed and the little one said roll over’, etc. They are charming songs that provoke lots of smiles and laughter to engage your child’s attention.

Talk about the math and numeracy you use everyday

As much as you can, use the correct mathematical language to compare sizes, weights and lengths.

If you take an interactive approach to communication, you talk about what you are doing and how you do it with your child so that he begins to relate language to meaning. This is particularly relevant in respect of encouraging him to understand mathematical concepts. For example, say things like,

‘Where did I put your nappy? Is it in the cupboard or on the shelf?’ or

‘You have grown so tall, you no longer fit these trousers. They are too short for you?’

This seems like common sense but so often the communication that goes on between parents and children is short and often based on commands rather than on descriptions that explain the world around them. We live in a mathematically organised world and it is our responsibility to enrich our children with words to describe it. Similarly, when you go for walks, talk about the directions you are taking as you turn left or right, are reaching the end of the street or passing the park and the library etc. Children learn to identify specific landmarks and to enjoy the repetition of seeing the familiar places that begin to define their outside environment. Reading numbers and letters from number plates is fun too.

Let your child use coins to buy small items

Encourage your child to identify coins and to begin to understand the value of money and how to spend it. Your child will enjoy learning how to be responsible for small amounts of money so that he can make decisions about how to spend it. From the age of three years if not before, he can begin to recognise different coins and sort them. He can be given weekly pocket money to save for presents for his family and to buy things that he wants. That growing sense of responsibility is so useful to develop and stimulates essential mathematical understanding of adding and subtracting for practical purposes.

Numbers in nature, architecture, engineering and art

Offer your child daily opportunities to learn how the shape of the objects around him impact on his world.

We live in a structured and engineered environment. Everything we see and use in the home has been built for a purpose to fit into the spaces that we occupy. There are simple shapes to point out when he is young – plates are round, windows are arched, doors and beds are rectangular, and crackers are square. Paying attention to the detailed description of structure enriches your child’s perception and feeds his inquiring mind. Interest in form and technology should be stimulated and inspired by the opportunity for your child to make models with recycled boxes, as well as create his own art using modelling materials, paints and crayons.

I’m not great at maths, but I always keep an eye on whether my kids are understanding things at school. If ever they seem confused about maths, or they don’t seem to be enjoying it (which I think usually means the same thing – ie they’re confused by it), I take them right back to the basics at home. No comment – but I get out a big bag of pencils and just ask them to show me a few tricks – like adding 4 pencils to 3 pencils. Or taking 2 pencils away from 5 pencils. Or what does it mean to ‘multiply’- so you have 3 groups of 2 pencils in each one equals 6 pencils altogether. Or we take 10 pencils and ‘divide’ them into 2 groups of 5 each. Really basic things – but often schools zoom ahead and kids forget the basics and then get confused. Once you get onto fractions, you can get pizza! There aren’t many things about fractions you can’t explain with a nice pizza. It just makes it all more comforting, reassuring, and fun. When they get older, you can get them onto Mathletics online too, if you have a computer. My kids do that without me asking!
Essential Parent Mum, Sally
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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.