Getting All Children to Love Mathematics

“Can all children love mathematics?” In answering this question, I will have to give an account of my personal experience as a child. I was a child that loved Maths from an early age and I have my father to thank for that. Though I cannot precisely remember when my relationship with Maths began, my earliest memories go back to when I was in Primary one. My father engaged me in quick mental sums throughout the day, no matter the activity I was engaged in. Sample questions were ‘what is 8 + 5 or 3+ 9 or 7+4?’ He would always expect answers as speedily as his questions came. SPEED and ACCURACY were his watchwords. Not wanting to disappoint him, I took pride and joy in squealing out the answers as he was asked them and loved the challenge so much that on my own I would play mental games with arithmetic.
While a lot of it was fun coaching, my dad was however not at all averse to showing tough love. I remember coming home and complaining that we had just been introduced to the Multiplication table and that I did not like it, he bravely donned on his empathic garb and after listening to me promptly and firmly requested that I learn/memorize the multiplication table before I went to sleep (a point to note is that sympathy agrees, but empathy doesn’t necessarily). It was 6.00pm and I had just a few hours left till bedtime, but I was to learn all twelve times columns in one night. I was aghast and felt that I could not do it. But with stern encouragement from him, I began tentatively began the process of memorising the Multiplication table. Suffice it to say, that I emerged the victor by 11.00pm that night – on this one occasion, bed times rules had been justifiably suspended, temporarily, for a more noble cause!.
Talking about mental sums, I remember that he mostly asked me questions when I was eating, playing or just passing by him en route to some destination in the house. Often, I did not even need to break my stride while answering – but a few times, in the face of more complicated one, I would have stop. Unfortunately “stopping” carried a price! It meant reciting the table and answering even more mental sums. At the age of seven, I mastered the Multiplication table… all within a month.
By primary three, my father who was a retired engineer (he was middle aged when I was born) took out the time to put me through Maths problems, every evening. He pushed my limits by making sure that I was at least a year if not two years ahead of my class. By the end of my primary three, I had started tackling common entrance questions for secondary school (and getting most). Even when my father was busy, I would tackle new topics and problems on my own and then meet him when I was stuck. I just loved maths and the challenge of an unsolved problem. It gave me extra joy and pride when I could take on a new topic and without his help, master the basics.
By the end of my primary school education, I was solving JSS 1 Maths questions. As I entered secondary school, I must say that I could not maintain being one or two years ahead of my class but I was a few chapters ahead most times. As I approached the end of my secondary school education, I used Maths as a de-stressor and made solving problems into my relaxation time – it had become a hobby for me. In my Senior School Certificate, though not the best Mathematics student in the school, I did get an “A” in Maths. Soon after I left school, I lost my father and he never got to see me enter the University, where I studied Biochemistry.
Answering the question, can all children indeed love maths? I would say YES but to varying degrees. Some children would are genetically wired for “logic” subjects such as mathematics and simply – even unconsciously adapt to it as though it were a second nature. Others may need to be assisted with some system or structure – just as the one my dad put in place for me..
Let us take a close look at the methods my father employed.
  • Interest- he showed interest in me and whatever I was learning and invested the time in teaching me.
  • Fun – my father made learning maths fun for me by employing the frequent mental quizzes at all times. Praise was always given (children thrive on praise).
  • Personal interest- as a corollary to the mental quizzes, I developed an interest in numbers and this was probably because I did not hold them in awe but instead saw in them an opportunity for interesting challenges
  • Clear expectations- clear expectations were drawn out, I was supposed to be very fast and correct at all times. I knew what was expected of me. While I was in primary school, I was expected to score between 90% and 100%. As my father would say, Maths was the one subject where it was possible to get a 100%.
  • Repetition- doing the mental quizzes and as I got older, solving Maths problems daily was normal. There was never an exception. This habit continued till I left secondary school.
In this age of information technology, there are electronic methods that can be used to make your child foster an interest in Maths. From electronic software, to video games that teach Maths, not to mention well articulated, colorful textbooks you could go out and buy – your options are limitless. It is best foster an interest in Maths while children are preschoolers, toddlers by singing rhymes and songs with numbers; using big colorful posters to teach them to recognize numbers; and employing the abacus (various types) to show them relationships between numbers. One cannot over-emphasise that there are a lot of materials existing today, to make the job of teaching your child maths easier and more fun.
The truth is parents today have so much to facilitate this process, the one thing however that they would have to plan for is when and how to spend wonderful quality time with their little ones.

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