How to Help Your Child Make Mathematical Thinking a Habit

Maths is incredibly vast! There are literally millions of games, puzzles, paradoxes and intriguing problems to keep the mind occupied and engaged. Children will meet some of these in the maths curriculum, and Maths-Whizz is an excellent way of acquiring core knowledge and skills in the subject. To develop as mathematical thinkers, children also need plentiful opportunities to apply that knowledge as they explore deeper concepts and tackle problems.

Because maths is so diverse, some activities will resonate more with your child than others. That’s perfectly fine – even mathematicians have their own mental taste buds – for example, we prefer logic puzzles to geometric ones.

As with any attempt to achieve a balanced diet, the key is to expose your child to a variety of mathematical tasks. Some of these activities will be very much based on the ‘real world’. Others will feel abstract. Embrace all types because they will each enrich your child’s ways of thinking and solving problems.

These activities are not just for high attaining students. They are guaranteed to stretch students of all ages and abilities.

See what sticks and try to engrain these activities as a natural part of your child’s weekly (or even daily) routines. Most of these activities will challenge you as an adult without demanding too much prior maths knowledge, so don’t be afraid to get involved. It’s important that you lead by example and just have a go, and that you are okay with making some mistakes – the point of a good maths activity is to get you stuck, and to give you the opportunity to persevere and get unstuck!

The list below is not exhaustive, but we can vouch for the activities based on our experience in both trying them ourselves, and with our students. We’ll share more resources in future posts.

Got a great website, board game or book you think we’ve missed? Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter to make a suggestion.

Websites

NRich

Nrich provides a collection of over 1200 activities that will stretch your child’s problem solving and reasoning skills. The problems are organised by topic and year group. Most include a worked solution. The website occasionally has ‘live problems’ that invites students to submit their solutions, some of which are then featured.

How to use it: Make it a regular activity and browse topics according to what your child is covering in the curriculum. The problems vary in length and difficulty, and there should always be something to stretch your child just the right amount.

Nikoli

Nikoli is Japan’s first puzzle magazine – it’s how Sudoku became famous. There are lots of puzzle varieties centred on grids, at all levels of challenge. The website gives you lots of custom options.

How to use it: These puzzles are an acquired taste so dip in and out depending on what works for your child. The main aim should be to instil these puzzles as a fun, staple activity that children themselves want to come back to.

Apterous

Apterous is the ultimate site for practising Countdown. It contains lots of variants of the letters and numbers game. Our Director of Education practised on the site when he appeared on the show, and it is suited to players of all abilities. Mental maths has never been so fun! You can play for free and upgrade for more options.

How to use it: Experiment with different formats. The letters game is just as useful as the numbers for building pattern recognition skills.

Books


Rob Eastway has written some books dedicated to helping parents support their children’s maths learning.

These two come highly recommended:

  • Maths for Mums and Dads
  • Maths on the Go: 101 Fun Ways to Play with Maths

The following book contains lots of fun maths puzzles, tricks and activities:

  •  The I Hate Mathematics! Book (Marilyn Burns)

Here are some topic-specific books:

  • Puzzle Ninja (Alex Bellos) – a collection of Japanese puzzles
  • Go Figure! A totally cool book about numbers (a DK classic with Jonny Ball) – covers novel concepts like infinity, unravelling mazes and how to outsmart a calculator.

Stories can be a great way of introducing maths concepts – here are a few to get you started:

  • Father Christmas needs a wee (Nicholas Allan) – a funny, festive counting book
  • Great Estimations (Bruce Goldstone) – estimating with pictures and questions

Lastly, here’s a fantastic reference book:

  • Oxford Primary Illustrated Maths Dictionary

Board games

Prime Climb by Dan Finkel

A fantastic way of introducing children to the structure of numbers, with a focus on primes. The gameplay is familiar because it extends the rules of Snakes & Ladders and Ludo. The maths is rich but never feels overwhelming. The creator, Dan Finkel, has some excellent activities related to the game on his website.

SET

A deck of SET contains 81 cards, each one with a unique combination of numbers, symbols, shading and colour. There are a few variants of the game, each one combining logic with pattern recognition. It is a family-friendly game with lots of hidden depth.

The 2% Club by Kodkod – this game is a friendly introduction to a famous riddle by Albert Einstein, which he claimed only 2% of the population can solve. Using the information provided, you have to figure out who lives where. Harder than it sounds and great fun!

You can find even more board games in our article ‘5 Fun Maths Board Games That’ll Improve Your Children’s Maths Skills‘.

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