It probably won’t shock you to know that people with fewer skills generally earn less but how many of you knew that poor basic numeracy costs an adult an average of £460 per year in lower wages – an amount that is growing every year according to a 2014 report issued by National Numeracy and KPMG. Over a lifetime that’s a serious amount of money and we’re not talking about rocket science here, we’re talking about basic numeracy. Not only that but poor numeracy also negatively impacts an individual’s employability and long term mental health.
Surely on hearing that, every parent would want their children to develop good numeracy skills. But what do we need to do to give them the best chance of achieving that?
We could argue that our children attend primary schools full of qualified teachers eager to provide them with an education so perhaps we should just leave it to them and hope that everything works out. But when we read that the UK continues to slip down the PISA rankings and, according to National Numeracy, 49% of UK adults have numeracy skills no better than an 11-year old, doubt starts to creep in. It’s only natural to ask whether we can afford to just leave it to schools or whether we can support them by doing something ourselves to improve their chances of doing well.
Many people aren’t aware of the research showing how important parental engagement is to children. In 2003 Professor Charles Desforges led the biggest UK study ever undertaken to prove that parental engagement was the single most important influence on a child’s development, performance and confidence – and that result has been validated over and over again, most recently with The Parent Factor study in London. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that parental engagement has an impact but these studies talk about it being the most important influence on performance – more important than social background, schools or anything else.
So how can we, as parents, engage when it comes to numeracy and what can we do to give them the best chance of achieving?
Well it doesn’t have to be an onerous. For a start it takes little effort to be positive. Avoid saying things like “I’m rubbish at maths” or “I could never do maths at school” because that can give the impression it’s okay to struggle. Young children look up to parents as role models. If they aspire to be like you and you’re saying I didn’t need to be any good at maths to get where I am then they will think the same. If you want them to do well, they need to believe it’s important to do well and that they can achieve.
Another easy way to help is by bringing maths into everyday activities like shopping, cooking and travelling. Simple activities like counting steps, counting red cars on the motorway or weighing out ingredients may not feel like maths but will all help.
When you get beyond the basics you can start to give a little more help. When my children were young we played board games because we loved the fun interaction that went along with it. It was just an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours together as a family and most of the time, the children didn’t realise they were learning. Our games PLYT, NumBugz and Whotchilli are a direct result of our desire to help our own children with numeracy.
If board games aren’t for you there are plenty of online game options – some are free (like coolmathsgames) and others offer a subscription service (like mymaths). Unfortunately, some games aren’t particularly good but others are ideal for practice and memorising facts – I would however just caution that whilst memory is definitely important it is no substitute for understanding. In my work as a PLYTIME tutor I have come across so many children who claim to know their 5 times tables and can give an instant answer to 7 x 5. But when I probe a little further they will claim they don’t know 5 x 7 as they’ve not learnt their 7 times tables, they’re completely blank if they’re asked to divided 35 by 7, or will be unable to use 7 x 5 to then work out 7 x 6. Building confidence in numeracy is about solid understanding and playing a variety of different games can help that.
If you don’t have the time for playing games yourself and want a bit of additional help then you might want to consider the range of tutoring services available. There are hundreds of private 1-to-1 tutors who you can find through sites such as Tutorful, usually ranging in cost from around £20 to £50 per hour. Then there are the online and high street tutoring brands operating through subscription such as Explore learning, Kumon or IXL. Tutoring in the UK is flourishing but is often more intensive and exam orientated so if you’re after something a little more fun but also proven to improve maths, then PLYTIME tutoring which uses games to help improve maths for primary aged children, might be for you.