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Posted by TP Toys on 30th January 2015
Helping children to build confidence in key national curriculum subjects is something you can do well before the start of school in order to give them a head start when they do reach the classroom.
Whether it's maths, English or science, there are opportunities all around us to get them learning and practising important skills - and the good thing is that they can be so much fun, kids won't even realise they're doing it!
This is a topic we thought we'd look into in a bit more detail following the publication of new research this month, which showed that practising simple, instinctive numerical exercises can boost children's ability to solve problems.
The study in the US
University of Illinois psychology professor Daniel Hyde recruited first-graders (aged six to seven) and asked them to carry out tasks that required them to guess the number of objects in a set without counting.
A control group performed other activities like adding the lengths of lines or comparing the brightness of two bulbs.
Writing in the journal Cognition, Professor Hyde explained: "We wanted to know whether thinking intuitively about numbers, such as approximating and comparing sets without counting, helps in actually doing math."
It was found that the youngsters who guessed the numbers and then did an arithmetic test afterwards scored better than the control group who looked at the qualities of other objects.
For easier problems, the children who engaged their 'intuitive sense of number' performed around 25 per cent better than the control set, while the corresponding figure for more difficult problems was 15 per cent.
"These results showed that brief practice with tasks requiring children to guess or intuit the number of objects actually improved their arithmetic test performance," concluded Professor Hyde.
Fun maths games you can do at home
This research just goes to show how easy it can be to give kids a good grounding with numbers - all you need are a few toys and you can have them guessing and building intuitive skills in no time.
However, you don't have to stop there, as lots of other maths-type abilities can be boosted with games around the home and general locality.
Here are a few more you can easily build into your everyday routine.
Every parent will no doubt be making a start with counting as soon as their child is able, but don't think you have to stick to straightforward drills of one to ten. Instead, try counting the number of stairs up to bed, singing counting songs and counting building bricks as your little one stacks them up into a tower. They'll be learning without even noticing.
Counting aloud is great, but it's also important for children to be able to recognise what numbers look like on the page. To help with this, look for numbers in the world around you and get your offspring to join in.
For example, ask what number the bus is as it comes towards you or seek out those on your neighbours' front doors as you pass. You can also play bingo using homemade or shop-bought kits, check out the numbers on footballers' shirts and even read the numbers printed on the sides of lamp-posts together.
Backwards and forwards
Number problems like addition and subtraction are what every child starts with once they reach school-age, so it's great if they can become familiar with basic arithmetic from a young age.
As well as counting up from one to ten, practise counting backwards too so that kids get familiar with the way in which figures can interact. Songs like Ten Green Bottles are ideal for this.
You can also count backwards to let little ones know how many more swings they can have when playing on outdoor equipment during the summer, which is a useful way of getting them inside for lunch.
As you can see, there are lots of ways of getting children enthused about maths and ensuring they don't view it with trepidation. Don't forget to look like you're having fun too - and don't mention you disliked maths at school either, even if it was true! Acting confident yourself is the best way to convince youngsters they've got what it takes to succeed.