While we’re also teaching basics like counting from one to 10, The Australian newspaper points out that we’re not focusing on early maths concepts as readily or thoroughly as reading and writing skills.
Spending time on maths from an early age can open up a whole world of possibilities for kids later in life. The reality is that a lot of kids are veering away from science, technology, engineering and maths subjects and a future Australia may be under threat of an innovation drought in these areas. A little bit of dedication from parents and kids just that little bit earlier will pay big dividends for everyone in the long run, steering kids back in the direction of more maths-focused careers.
All about that base(line?)
The fact is that many of our kids are really struggling with maths. Two in five Australian 15 year olds are below the recommended baseline when it comes to maths skills, according to the most recent international assessment of the maths literacy. My own experience of maths and teens (as a mum of three) is that teachers are obligated to zoom through the curriculum, covering a lot of different BIG concepts at breakneck speed. If you’re not able to assist your child when they begin to falter or provide them with a tutor, it’s very easy for kids to tilt off that baseline. And before you know it they’re one of those ‘two in five Australian 15 year olds’.
Luckily, there are plans afoot to better prepare kids for maths. Not one to twiddle their thumbs when it comes to fantastic initiatives, The Smith Family are opting for early intervention and exposure to maths to help kids stay on track and thrive. They’ve been trialling an early years numeracy program for children and it’s proving to be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged kids. The program is called Let’s Count and is designed to familiarise kids with maths concepts, exposing them to basic counting, measurement, patterns and spatial awareness.
A report on the program’s progress shows kids who participated in Let’s Count experienced a marked improvement in their maths skills as well as reaping other benefits. “The children who participated in the program have done much better across a whole range of areas than children who haven’t been involved in the program,” said Anne Hampshire, the Smith Family’s head of research and advocacy, told the ABC.
Let’s Count success
“More than half (54 percent) of children who participated were able to count to 20 by the end of the program compared with 37 percent of the same age who weren’t involved. Two-thirds (66 percent) of children could order three one-digit numbers, compared with less than half (47 percent) of the children who did not participate,” The Australian reported. But my favourite finding is this: “Three in five children could also divide 12 teddies between four mats, compared to only three in 10 of the children who were not involved in Let’s Count.” Teddy division is my new favourite thing!
Parents are key
So what can we learn from this? Research tells us that parental involvement in encouraging and learning maths concepts is important to kids’ success. Children whose parents did not get involved in maths or did not understand maths concepts struggled, so it’s important for parents to show enthusiasm for the subject and brush up on their skills so they can better assist and encourage their kids. The great thing about programs like Let’s Count is that they offer support, training and resources to parents. This is particularly helpful for those of us who are a little rusty in the geometry department or are unsure about the best way to integrate maths into a pre-schoolers day.
Let’s Count mum, Rebecca explains how the program is benefiting her son, Connor: “Since being involved, Connor is doing more counting. Using the resources provided as well as existing resources at home, maths is now part of our play and learning experiences.”
Teaching maths to kids before they start school doesn’t mean you need to get stuck into ‘hot-housing’ your kids or taking them off to rigorous tutored lessons. Let’s Count has had great success teaching kids maths in everyday situations. The important thing is to start tackling these concepts naturally and with enthusiasm.
For kids who are a little bit older, there’s also a heap of maths resources online. Ask at your school for recommendations as your child may already have logins to a particular site via their classroom maths program. You can also check out Maths Is Fun, Study Ladder for both free and paid activities in maths and other subjects or Maths Online, which is a paid membership site for Australian parents and kids, if you’re looking for guidance or ideas.