When I told my daughter's teacher that I'm a writer, he said, "That makes sense," as the pieces fell into place. See, my six-year-old is an amazing reader, but numbers aren't her strong point right now.
While I relate to her sentiment that "maths is sooooo boooooring", I've become aware that I need to take a more balanced approach to support her learning. That means finding more ways to incorporate numbers into our everyday, and most of all showing her that maths can be interesting. (I might have to convince myself of this first.)
Early childhood educator and mum Deborah Alter-Rasche from www.learnwithplayathome.com says it's likely even those of us who don't focus on numeracy have provided basic skills during our children's early years. "Skills such as one-to-one correspondence, counting, sorting, classifying, ordering, comparing, spatial awareness, measurement and more are all important" in numeracy development. She adds that making the most of informal opportunities is the best approach: "Encourage children to use and participate in concrete experiences and activities that allow them to physically manipulate, practice and develop these fundamental numeracy concepts, in a context that makes sense to them and is relevant to their daily lives."
Alter-Rasche has lots of ideas about how to do this, and shares her top tips to help those of us who need a little prompting:
Cook with your kids. "This is real life maths at its best," says Alter-Rasche, with opportunities for counting, measuring, timing and dividing. "Be sure to use mathematical language such as more/less than, full/empty, half full, the third step," she adds.
Sing and read together. "Many stories include concepts of numbers," says Alter-Rasche. Think of the Five Little Ducks song, Ten in the Bed, and even Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and to add to the numeracy benefits consider using props such as puppets or your fingers to count and make sense of the numbers.
Play board and card games. There are many games that parents can play with their kids to improve numeracy. "These games encourage counting and recognising patterns," explains Alter-Rasche. "Using things like dice, dominoes and cards are great for subitising, which is the ability to see a small collection of objects and know how many without counting."
Sort objects together. Sorting things like crayons, toys and blocks into size order or colour can help develop mathematical skills, and further questioning can instigate some problem solving discussion too. Alter-Rasche says, "Make it into a game or encourage them through simple questioning, i.e. 'Do you have more land animals or sea animals? How can we find out?'"
Talk through the shopping. When you're out doing the food shopping together, make conversation about your actions with your kids. "Take the time to count out four bananas to put in the bag, and ask, 'How much does this cost?'"Alter-Rasche suggests as examples.
Use every opportunity to count. "Count wherever you can," advises Alter-Rasche. "Count the white cars that go past, how many crackers on your plate, how many days until that sleepover at Nanna's house."
Look at numbers around you. Another great way to show how useful numbers are is to point them out in your daily environment. "Ask why there are numbers on that sign/shop/car, and what they mean," suggests Alter-Rasche.
Provide numerical toys. Because kids learn so much through play, this is a vital part of developing mathematical understanding. Alter-Rasche has this advice: "Provide materials for play that allow children to experience numbers … Things such as money, clocks, scales, catalogues, telephones, calendars, shopping lists and menus are all great for demonstrating how numbers are used in real life."
Above all, keep it fun. "The key to learning at this age is about making it fun and relevant," says Alter-Rasche, "and if they're not interested, don't force it. Just continue making numeracy an everyday part of life, using the language, asking questions of your child and helping them form connections between mathematical concepts and what they are experiencing."