Creating a positive family attitude to maths

Parents Education
10 October 2019
Lucy Davis
Lucy Davis is the CEO of Maths on Toast. Having worked in small charities and voluntary organisations in both a professional and voluntary capacity, and with a background in community engagement and learning as well as project management, she brings well-grounded insight and practical experience to her management roles. 
At Maths on Toast – the family maths charity – our mission is to show children and their families that maths can be creative family fun. We do this by presenting hands-on opportunities to explore a broad range of mathematical ideas and to look for the maths in everyday life.

We believe that doing maths activities together and having fun doing them is the basis of creating a positive, can-do and resilient attitude to maths.

We want everyone to have the confidence to be mathematically curious, ask questions and offer their own ideas without fear of not being quite right’.

But why is this important?

Maths anxiety may be a phrase you have only heard about recently – or perhaps not at all – but it is an emotion that many people can identify with and is present in classrooms and through into adulthood across the UK.

Have you ever felt anxious when faced with checking figures? What about when your child asks you for help with their maths homework and you freeze?

Maths anxiety is defined as a debilitating emotional reaction to maths’. For some, the anticipation of doing maths prompts a similar brain reaction as when they experience pain’(1). Recent research from the University of Cambridge (2) highlights that maths anxiety is causing children as young as six to feel fear, rage and despair and that early negative experiences can have a huge impact on people’s attitude and confidence with maths for life.

This research also shows that the attitude of adults towards maths highly affects children — statements such as oh, I’ll never be any good at maths’ or we’re just not a maths family’ could be passing your negative attitude or experiences on. According to research from National Numeracy in 2015, 30% of adults wrongly assumed that maths is a skill you are born with rather than a skill that can be learnt (3).

But early intervention can break the vicious circle, so you can help formulate a new, positive family attitude!

Instant recall of maths facts can be incredibly stressful to many children (and adults) and some believe that this emphasis on performance mathematics’ can be at the root of maths anxiety. Just because you struggled with quick fire times tables or mental arithmetic doesn’t mean maths isn’t for you — yes, some people do learn by memorising maths facts’ (such as rote learning of times tables) but others prefer and need time to work things out.

Our resources encourage maths resilience’ — reinforcing that it’s ok to make mistakes, they help you learn and build confidence to tackle challenges, even if you don’t get it right first time. Removing the pressure and understanding it’s ok to take time to work things out is key to transforming the enjoyment of maths for many children (and adults!).

But how does creative maths fit in? How does building a structure with toothpicks and midget gem sweets help people deal with maths anxiety and poor numeracy?

Through fun, creative, hands-on maths activities people learn how to enjoy maths and thus the opportunity is created to take the first step towards challenging the negative beliefs and replacing them with positive memories and a can-do attitude towards maths. Maths is an incredibly wide-ranging discipline and our activities can come as a surprise to many — we often hear comments such as I didn’t know this was maths’ and I never knew maths could be such fun’.

So why not try this creative approach at home?

Get your teeth into our free takeaways’ and check out Maths on Toast Bites, our series of 5 short how-to’ films demonstrating creative maths ideas to try at home.

And if you’re after a fun card game to play with family and friends during the half term holiday, try Number Rumbler. Don’t forget to let us know how you get on… why not send us a picture! @mathsontoast #positiveaboutmaths

(1) Cambridge Maths
(2) Understanding Mathematics Anxiety, University of Cambridge 2019, Carey, Devine, Hill, Dowker, McLellan, Szucs.
(3) National Numeracy

Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.