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Teaching kids maths. As easy as 1, 2, 3…

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From little things, big things grow.

It's as true in real life as it is in mathematics. While the need to encourage early literacy through reading books and conversation is widely understood, not all parents take the same approach to numeracy.

So why then, is maths such a stumbling block for some parents? And why do parents baulk at teaching their children the basics around mathematical concepts.

What if it wasn't as hard as you thought?

What if your everyday activities – from bath time to cooking, a drive in the car, to time in a garden – were all simple, conversational opportunities to help your child grasp some of the simple concepts around everyday maths?

It is, in fact, that easy.

There is an everyday-ness about numeracy that can be tapped into and parents can, through play and experience, introduce and nurture those mathematical concepts.
Dr Gillian Busch

"Intuition is a vital element in understanding," Dr Gillian Busch maintains.

A senior lecturer for CQUniversity's School of Education and Arts, Dr Busch says everything from reading, to playing games, bath time, cooking, driving, setting the table, watching water fill a sink and then empty and other similar activities are all building blocks to help a child develop early maths understanding.

"It's about exposing your children not to just what you think they might like, but extending that and challenging them," Dr Busch says.

"There is an everyday-ness about numeracy that can be tapped into and parents can, through play and experience, introduce and nurture those mathematical concepts."

Learning maths through reading and books

CQUniversity Bachelor of Education Head of Course, Angelina Ambrosetti says through reading and engaging with books, children are also exposed to maths concepts.

"Books aren't just about reading and vocabulary development," Dr Ambrosetti says.

"There are mathematical concepts and learnings in simply reading books, by counting the characters or the numbers on the page; determining the start, middle and end of the book and the time."

Both agree there are many simple concepts such as volume, distance, what's full and what's empty, time, counting and size which can be easily shown through real life everyday activities.

They say the key for parents – like most things – is not to overthink it.

"Maths doesn't have to be daunting or scary," Dr Busch says.

"This is something all parents can do and it is actually quite empowering when they see that through these activities, and just engaging your child in a different way, can be effective."

Open ended play and role playing

Open ended play and role playing is another effective way to engage children in maths concepts.

Dr Busch says children who role play and pretend to be in a bank or a shop, a household or an airport – anything at all – are all using various levels of maths.

"Children are always counting. There are things everywhere to count," she says.

"By playing and this kind of role play, children are making the connection between maths and real life."

"This then transforms knowledge and through that process it makes the brain more flexible," Dr Ambrosetti says.

"Don't underestimate the block building or the building and exploring of outside play.

"Water play, as well. It shows the concepts of what floating is, what sinking is, as well as full and empty.

"Everything is a chance to use maths concepts in practice and this kinaesthetic experience is exactly what children need in building that knowledge."

Both educators conceded it is easier for parents to hand over a device with some educational games on it and hope that does the trick.

But there is nothing like that hands-on, experience-based real life understanding.

"It can be a bit more difficult and some parents might not feel confident at first," Dr Ambrosetti says.

"But it is not has hard as you might think and it is certainly worth it."

Maths in real life

  • Shower time, putting your foot over the plug hole to show water rising and running away, showing full and empty
  • Looking at the hands of a clock and counting the numbers
  • Using time references in conversation
  • Looking at page numbers and counting characters in books
  • Filling and emptying buckets in a sandpit
  • Looking at measurements and counting ingredients and letting children watch/participate while cooking
  • Counting clouds
  • Talking about the weather, where the rain comes from, the moon and the sun rising and setting
  • Looking at road signs and explaining distance while travelling in the car
  • Showing children tickets and other documents with numbers and times
  • Engaging in play with the children when they are pretending to be in a bank or shop
  • Introducing the concept of pocket money and what coins and paper money is

Splish, Splash, Pour

Grab two cups before bath time. Give your child a cup and pour water from your cup into his/hers. Then ask your child to pour the water from his/hers back into yours. Count the number of times out loud and see how many times you can go back and forth!

Supporting children as they explore and discover will help them become learners for life. Counting out loud also helps your child build a stronger sense of numbers.

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Vroom uses the science of early learning to help your child thrive with bite-sized activities that support brain growth.