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How to help instil a love of maths in your kids – even if you find it tough yourself

Making numbers fun, having patience and not admitting your own views about the subject, is key in helping your child have a positive attitude to maths. Jenny Lee finds out more about Maths Week Ireland 2017

Matthew, Rhiannon, Daire and Orlagh from St Eugene’s, Model, St Anne’s and Rosemount Primary Schools, Derry, get Maths Week rolling

DO YOU have countless battles with your child over their maths homework? Does the way they subtract, multiple and divide baffle you? Do you still get nightmares over your own childhood maths lessons?

If the answer is yes, you are not alone.

But the message in this Maths Week is not to let children see your anxiety, but to develop a healthy mindset towards learning maths, encouraging fun, confidence and the resilience to keep learning, even when it gets tough.

Now in its 12th year, Maths Week, aims to promote a positive image of maths and highlight its importance in everyday life. A week-long series of events will see maths educators and presenters perform magic, card tricks and amazing mathematical predictions to fascinate and educate young people about maths.

Speaking on the importance of maths, event organiser, Eoin Gill says: "The maths created by the ancient Greeks is as true and useful today as it was then. Maths has helped build the modern world and all the wonderful technologies that make life and health better for all.

"Be it a baker or a farmer, a carpenter or a mechanic, a shopkeeper or a doctor, an engineer or a scientist, a musician or a magician, everyone needs mathematics in their day-to-day life."

There will be lots of events taking place across the north in venues such as W5, Queen’s University and Armagh Planetarium, concluding in the Maths in the City event on Saturday at the Ulster Museum featuring mazes, maths magic and puzzles for all ages.

One of the more unusual events features Bubblz the Mathematical Clown, bringing laughter and games to rich mathematical activities. Aimed at children from P4-P7, Caroline Ainslie, who runs her maths entertainment business Bubbly Maths, explores geometry, measurement and problem solving, using giant balloon shapes and soap bubbles.

Caroline, who worked for many years as an electronic engineer, made the career change into maths entertainment in her 40s, in response to countless media reports on children failing in STEM subjects.

"I had a light bulb moment about making maths fun and have since devised loads of enjoyable games, shows and workshops. The workshops work on different levels, engaging visual and physical learners as well, as we explore making cubes, octrahedrons and pyramids," says Caroline, who even holds a world record for the largest 3D pyramid model made from model balloons.

Despite achieving a degree in electronic engineering, Caroline confesses she "wasn't very good at maths". The secret to her success, however, was the fact she enjoyed it.

"Even though I found it very hard and sometimes impossible, I never gave up, because I enjoyed the puzzle -olving process."

She believes the secret to developing that positive attitude in children starts with their parents.

"My mum did me a huge favour by never telling me she hated maths. As a child she always made me believe I could do whatever I wanted to do. So parents being positive about maths, even if they feel negative about it, is crucial."

Equally, Caroline warns that if a parent is a maths whizz and their child isn't, they should tread carefully so as not to damage their self-esteem.

"Parents can make children feel a failure if they constantly correct their work. It's about encouraging them and not letting them know you are frustrated if they are not getting it. The attitude of the parent and child is more important than the solution. Parents should encourage the effort and make it fun, rather than stress over the right answer."

And what if the parent is struggling themselves to help the child with the homework? "If you don't know, let the child know. In doing so you are letting them know it's OK not to know the answer. What's important is that you must stress the need to find how to get help." This may involve trailing the internet, or consulting their teacher.

As a P4 parent myself I was baffled recently by the concept of decomposition – the 'new' way to subtract – where you exchange units, instead of borrowing and paying back. Caroline's advice to parents who find their children doing maths in a way that's different to how they remember is to "not confuse the child" and "to work with your teacher to find a common solution".

:: Maths Week Ireland is taking place from October 14-22. For information on Maths in the City at the Ulster Museum on Saturday October 21 and other events visit mathsweek.ie

Top 10 maths tips 

Eoin Gill, Maths Week Ireland Organiser and Director of Calmast (Centre for the Advancement of Learning of Maths, Science and Technology) in Waterford provides his top 10 tips on how parents can help their child with maths.

1. Children need a positive attitude to maths if they are to succeed. Never say "I can’t do maths" – your child will believe then that it's OK not to be good at maths and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2. Be encouraging but don’t stress them out – remember your child is on a journey. Encourage your child to think about how they might solve a problem. Once they have solved the problem, ask them to see if they can find another way to solve it.

3. Make sure your child knows that it is OK to make a mistake. We often learn more from making a mistake than from getting the answer correct first time. Be patient and consistent.

4. It's important that your child understands what they are learning. There is no point in a child learning something by heart, if they don’t understand the concept. Making it visual can often help this – for example, division can be shown by cutting a pizza.

5. Involve your child in simple maths in daily life. It is important for children to see that maths isn’t just something you do in school, but that is all around us. For example, how long does it take to get to school?

6. It is important that your child gets the right answer and not how long it took them to get there. Completing a task under time pressure can cause anxiety in your child and may develop a negative attitude towards maths.

7. Playing maths games with children can help them develop problem solving and logical thinking skills. There are also plenty of maths games on the internet, but it is important that you gauge the right level for your child

8. Some topics may be taught differently now. If so make sure you don’t confuse your child with the 'old' way.

9. If your child is having trouble with any aspect of maths, speak to your child’s teacher.

10. Be familiar with your child’s curriculum. Your child’s teacher may also be able to explain any new teaching methods.

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