Monday 20 April 2015

“How Can I help My Child Learn Math?” – A Simple Equation

One generic definition of learning put forward by Eric Jenson can be expressed as a simple equation:

Learning = Understanding + Memory

The equation may be simple but the underlying theory is often complex and profound.  Relatively recently we have learnt more about how the brain functions in relation to learning and specifically how children learn.

A lot has been written about learning styles and how they impact your child. 
Many argue that children need to be taught according to their preferred style – visual, auditory, tactile/kinaesthetic and possibly logical/analytical. The truth is we all learn through a mix of these approaches and by far the best way to ensure understanding is taking place is, wherever possible, to adopt a multi-sensory approach often referred to as ‘whole brain learning’. 

This involves engaging both hemispheres of the brain through the ‘learning channels’ of sight, hearing/speech and active involvement. Not always easy to achieve.

I once involved my school in a project that embraced all the learning styles and gave children an opportunity to learn through an approach or ‘learning channel’ that suited them best. It also had the added benefit of getting children to ‘teach’ other children. One of the best ways to really understand something is to ‘teach’ it to someone else. 

However, it would be totally impractical and extreme to adopt a ‘learning style model’ that attempts to cater for a child’s individual learning preference as these are not fixed points but part of a dynamic process of development. It is more important to focus on the subject matter and ensure that the ‘teaching style’ is an effective fit for what is being taught.

Maths has suffered more than most in this respect. When math concepts are first introduced it is important that it is through practical experiences that involve colour. Colour can emphasize and reveal mathematical relationships. 

The underlying principle of the maths program we are looking at in these posts is ‘learning through understanding’ not ‘learning by rote.’ That is why the tool we have chosen to fully engage the child is Cuisenaire rods.

Given a set of rods children instinctively play with them, a tactile/kinaesthetic activity.
Their different colours provide a greater stimulus for memory recall than verbal cues or objects. (Backman et al and Allen) Colour (visual) also aids mental imaging. It enables children to visualize mathematical concepts as colourful patterns and relationships.

By giving the rods letter names children soon learn how to create and ‘read’ (auditory) ‘trains’ of rods. In effect simple equations or 'mathematical sentences' they have created. These equations become increasingly complex as more maths concepts are introduced.


g + g + g + r = y + y + w

Play, open ended tasks and challenges are the way in which each new concept is introduced. 

In the early stages of the program, the predominantly kinaesthetic/tactile approach afforded by the rods is the channel that enables your child to understand basic maths concepts. This must be consolidated by memory recall. We remember via our senses.

You can begin to increase your child’s capacity for recall now by engaging his/her senses in every activity. 

Many children suffer from short-term memory loss or leakage and this can have a devastating impact on their capacity to learn. A multi-sensory approach will help these children immeasurably.

We have all experienced an occasion when a smell, a sound, a colour, or a particular taste triggers memories we often did not know we possessed. The smell of leather transports me back to my first day in school. I see murals on the wall that have long since disappeared. Experience once again the panic of being abandoned by my mother for a whole day!

Always try to engage the child’s imagination it is the most powerful ability the brain possesses.

Whenever children created something specific with the rods (a 'directed activity') I always tried to stimulate their imagination.

If you ask your child to build a castle with the rods then first ask them to imagine themselves standing outside the castle.
What might they see, smell, hear, or taste? Get them to ‘see’ the object they are about to create in their mind.

Maths is the one subject that causes more distress among children than any other.

Help Your Child Succeed’s flagship program ‘Child’s Play Maths’ teaches concepts through play and open-ended challenges with a strong emphasis on visual learning, hands-on activities and self-discovery. It is a unique program that aims to create a positive attitude towards maths.

Parts One and Two Now Available on Amazon

Check-Out our Sample Instructional Video 

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