This week, I read with interest a report revealing the results of a study carried out by the Cambridge University Faculty of Education and the Centre for Neuroscience in Education, exploring children’s maths anxiety.
I remember those feelings very well from when I was a child and despair that there are still children feeling like that today – some of them as young as six.
There are so many factors that can exacerbate a child’s belief that maths is scary, not least of all the tendency for some parents to claim that their child ‘gets that from me – I was always rubbish at maths.’
It’s as if we’re expected to find maths more of a struggle than other subjects, and that anyone who actually enjoys it must be some kind of genius.
Really, it doesn’t have to be like that.
The problem in primary schools is that many teachers are not maths specialists and have been conditioned to believe that maths will always be a struggle. (I remember once sitting up all night preparing for a year six lesson on ratio.)
Of those teachers who are maths specialists – in primary and secondary – some are inclined to believe maths should be as easy for everyone as it is for them. Once it’s been explained, what’s not to get?
Unfortunately, for every pupil who ‘gets it’ there’s another who doesn’t. That pupil might get it eventually, if only there were time and resources available to present it to them in different ways. Our schools are more underfunded than ever at present, so for many that’s unlikely.
There needs to be more time spent on allowing children to understand ‘how’ the numbers work, rather than just a reliance on learning what to do with them. This should involve being allowed to play with counters, Lego, money … anything that brings to life how different maths patterns and concepts work.
Parents can play a huge part in this – even those parents who think they’re ‘rubbish’ at maths. As well as encouraging children to spend more time playing with some of the above, let them help with stuff at home.
Cooking: weighing (measures); adapting recipes (ratio); cooking times (algebra, time).
Shopping: finding the best value (division, ratio, percentages); budgeting (money, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing).
Decorating: measuring a room (units of measure); working out how much paint/ wallpaper might be needed (area and perimeter); designing a pattern for tiles (symmetry, ratio) – anything that encourages them to experience real life maths in action.
Much of this probably sounds pretty obvious, but I know from when my own children were at primary school, I was inclined to think those things were covered in the classroom.
If we can get children to see that maths isn’t just this abstract, inaccessible subject, we can help to ease their anxieties.