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Help your children figure out the formula to get on in life

IT seems to be "cool" these days to knock maths. While a great many schoolchildren enjoy maths and appreciate the importance, many of us will remember from our own school days that maths was probably the subject with the worst image.

It was seen as difficult and in many cases irrelevant, with the view being, sure why do I need to bother learning something so difficult when I will never use it again in my life?

The reality is that good maths skills are really important in life. We all use some element of maths in our everyday life and when it comes to careers, it's not only mathematicians who use maths, it is central to engineers, scientists, accountants and other careers and it is used in a variety of other jobs such as those involving invoicing, paying bills or managing stock.

This week over 100,000 people all across Ireland will take part in a festival of maths events. Maths Week Ireland 2012 is all about promoting a positive image of maths and an understanding of why it is important.

We want people of all ages to enjoy maths and parents have a key role to play in building a positive image of, and confidence in, maths among our younger generation.

We want to stop people thinking negatively about maths and, in particular, we're urging parents to talk positively to their children about maths and the long-term importance of it for their future careers and life in general.

All parents will know that as their children progress through school they find maths getting tougher.

Children will understandably have differing levels of ability in maths and they often develop negative attitudes towards the subject, as the level of difficulty increases.

Every child who plays football will not make it to the Premier League, but they can enjoy and benefit from playing football at their own level; likewise in maths.

Every child will not become a mathematician and we don't need them to, but every child will need to use the basics of maths in their lives.

With a positive attitude and support children will do better. They must understand that, as with most worthwhile things in life, you have to put in the work to get the rewards.

Parents have a key role to play in shaping the perception of maths among children. So as parents what can you do to make maths a bit easier for children?

Encourage your children but don't stress them out. A motivated mind in a positive frame of mind learns faster. It is okay not to know something. Not knowing something is not the same as being stupid.

Sometimes your children may approach tasks in a different way than you were taught. For instance, in subtraction they may "carry the 1" a different way. A lot of the new approaches are considered more intuitive. Try to follow the way they are being taught because showing your child "your way" may really confuse them and make things difficult in class. If in doubt about an approach, ask your child's teacher to explain their method.

Emphasise that maths is not so much about numbers as the patterns and structures behind the numbers. Once we start to see it in this way it frees the mind from merely remembering rules and processes.

Tell them that maths is about having the right questions, not just the right answers. Good questions include "Why does this work?", "Will this work with other numbers?" and "Can I predict what will happen if I try ... ?"

This is how great mathematicians have always operated and how some of the greatest discoveries were made.

Help your children to see maths not just as a science, but also as an art and as a language. Encouraging them to talk about their maths and to develop imagery to explain their thoughts massively boosts their ability to think for themselves, and to understand rather than just trudge through pages of meaningless sums.

Involve your children in simple maths around the house -- get them to add up the score at a sports match, get them to keep track of how many points their favourite soccer team has in the league, ask them to help you with totting up the shopping bill or weighing ingredients for a recipe.

Further information about helping your children with maths can be found at www.mathsweek.ie.

Andrew Jeffrey, aka The Mathemagician, is a teacher, lecturer and magician who has written several books on maths. Maths Week Ireland runs all week, until next Sunday


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