It's true: maths can become your friend

Everyone knows that maths is dull and dry and, often, frightening. Yet once you've got to grips with the basics, it can actually be quite fun.
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The Independent Online

Ask some children what their least favourite subject is at school, and there's a fair chance that most of them will say maths. If you persist and ask why, you'll probably be told that it's boring. But maths can be a lot of fun, as you and your child will discover in the exercises below.

All too often, children only see it as dull because they find it difficult; it's hard to enjoy something that you don't understand or excel at. So grasping basic maths concepts and skills is essential, not only for an appreciation of the subject, but because it underpins so many other areas, especially the sciences. Maths also involves skills that are called upon in many different ways in daily life – as technology pervades more of our world from one year to the next, being confidently numerate has never been so important.

Not surprising, then, that the teaching of maths has undergone some significant changes over the past 20 or so years. There is less focus on just coming up with the right answer, and an increasing emphasis on reasoning and proof – being able to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it.

That said, your child still needs to develop a good range of basic skills, says Margaret Brown, professor of maths education at King's College London. "The numeracy strategy, with its daily hour focusing on maths skills, has had a great impact on the way maths is taught at primary level," she says. "The focus has largely been on the mental maths skills that primary-age children need to develop in order to negotiate successfully the more applied maths at secondary level."

Maths really is a building-block subject and deserves its place at the centre of the curriculum. So many other subjects rely on the maths skills that your children should learn at various stages. Also, it is worth remembering that, as the curriculum progresses, the maths always relates back to the maths that was done previously. Therefore, it is essential that your child's basic maths skills are as strong as possible or they will not be able to progress as far or as fast as you would like.

The introduction of the National Curriculum, in the late Eighties, changed the emphasis on maths in primary schools. "When the National Curriculum came in, it did carry on the earlier emphasis on doing investigation and practical problem- solving, but that rather got pushed out by the key-stage assessments, which tended to focus on written and mental arithmetic," explains Professor Brown. "However, there is some suggestion now of bringing in more work involving investigation and practical problem-solving at the end of the primary phase, giving children the skills they will need at secondary level." The new GCSE, for instance, features both a statistical and an algebraic investigation.

So, what does your child need to know? At Key Stage One, from the ages of five to seven, children need to concentrate on getting to grips with the meaning of numbers, developing counting skills, and learning how to add and subtract. They are also introduced to simple concepts in the use of numbers and in handling data, such as looking at how many things they've got, then counting and recording them, which can in turn lead to drawing up simple bar charts. They also do some basic geometry work on shapes, playing with those shapes to see what happens for example when they turn them round or over, and seeing how they fit together.

At Key Stage Two, from the ages of seven to 11, the curriculum is divided into four core elements – using and applying mathematics, numbers, handling data, and shape, space and measures. Your child will cover the basics of fractions, decimals, proportion and ratio, as well as starting to use multiplication and division. In handling data, for instance, they learn how to use averaging measures such as means, medians and ranges, work that is carried on right through to GCSE.

Although many parents feel that using a calculator is somehow cheating, children do need to know how to use them properly and efficiently. For example, a fairly simple maths problem like drawing up a pie chart may involve division or multiplication sums that are too difficult or long-winded to do by hand. On occasions like these, it is better to use a calculator to crunch the numbers, leaving the child free to concentrate on the other aspects of the maths.

At Key Stage Three, from ages 11 to 14, the curriculum expands and diversifies to include the topics that your child will tackle in more depth at GCSE. Among these are place value and powers of 10, using coordinates, probability theory, negative numbers, linear equations, algebra, graphs and pie charts, and geometry.

Across all the different areas there is an increasing emphasis on proof and reasoning. At GCSE level, failure to show adequately how you got to an answer results in lost marks.