Carol Vorderman with sisters Francesca and Olivia Lee
RESULTS from PISAs 2012 gender equality report confirm that there is no innate reason why girls should not be able to do as well as boys in mathematics and yet, in the majority of countries, “high-peforming girls do worse in maths compared to boys”.
It is thought that one of the reasons why boys and girls may develop different levels of mathematics skill is because they are “offered, or take advantage of, different opportunities to learn mathematics in and outside of school”. But why is this?
One reason seems to be because of the relationship between children and their parents. Another academic study2, conducted in 2004, found that the opportunities parents create for their children to engage in mathematics and science activities at home were more likely to be for their sons than their daughters (regardless of the child’s school age).
So what can parents do to help bridge this gender gap and get more kids excited about learning maths, regardless of whether they are boys or girls? I believe that support, with a good dose of nagging, is the perfect combination for success.
Crucially, you have to adapt to your child’s needs. I had to use a very different approach with each of my children. Katie, for example, would be quite content sitting at the table to do her homework. However, my son Cameron, who has dyslexia, just wasn’t like that. I had to intervene. It was a different tactic, but with a lot of encouragement he did well too.
Overcoming your own demons as a parent is important. More than with any other subject, children can be adamant that they don’t like maths and we all make the mistake of saying maths is ‘boring’ or ‘too hard’. This negative attitude from parents is a major barrier to children improving in this subject. Whatever their level, children need continued support and praise. If parents are positive and supportive, their children will come on in leaps and bounds.
Even children who have consistently struggled with numbers in school can learn to love maths if they are reassured by their parents. Children need to see progress to stay engaged, so daily practice is the key for boosting learning, and also for gaining that all important confidence.
It’s also worth remembering that maths is a subject that ‘builds’, meaning that understanding in one concept is often essential to learning other concepts – this makes retention all the more vital. This is another reason why daily practice is so effective.
While it is challenging for time-poor parents to fit in additional schoolwork, a little practice every day (and it needn’t be too structured) is proven to make a big difference. Data from my own online maths homework site, TheMathsFactor.com, shows how children who completed an average of five or more sessions a week saw their ‘maths age’ advance by a staggering 25 months in one year on average.
It’s quite common for parents to point out letters and words in day-to-day life, and it’s quite normal to expect a child to read every day. Yet this is not always the case with maths. There’s no reason why numbers can’t be treated in the same way as letters, with parents pointing out numerical patterns when they are out and about as they already do with words. With older children, a simple number square is a good place to start, writing 1 to 10 across and 1 to 10 down and getting the child to colour in all of the threes. This also works well for learning the times tables.
Making maths a game is great too; children love competition, especially if they think they can beat mum and dad! When you’re bringing up kids, you have to be part of it, because whether we like it or not, children learn from parents. But wonderfully, parents can learn from children too.
We are so lucky in the UK to be born in a country with such a fantastic education system. No child should be frightened of maths - and there isn’t any reason why they should struggle anymore either.
Here are my top tips to help you practise maths with your child every day:
- For younger children, ask them to count out their own pocket money – make them work for it!
- Get your children ‘number spotting’. You can find numbers almost anywhere, on buses, signs and even on the TV remote control!
- Use the great outdoors to make numbers exciting. Count the flowers in the garden, or use chalk for some fun sums on the garden path or patio.
- Instead of just licking the bowl, get kids to help you measure out ingredients when you’re in the kitchen. And older children should be able to help you scale up or scale down ingredients too.
- For older children, get them to help you calculate the ‘best buy’ as you go around the supermarket.
Carol Vorderman is renowned for her skills in mathematics, having co-hosted Countdown for more than 26 years. As founder of TheMathsFactor.com, an online maths tuition site for 4-11 year-olds, she is passionate about getting more children doing maths. For more information go to www.themathsfactor.com