Maths is fun. Really!

We find out why number-crunching does not have to be painful


Does any form of number-crunching send your sprogs scurrying for cover? We spoke to Jacqueline McGarva, director of Cascade Learning and creator of ‘Fun Maths classes’ about how you can make numeracy homework less of a slog

It’s the one subject at school that you’re either good at, or terrible at. The polarizing effect of maths on the classroom community is clear. If algebra is your cup of tea and you could happily recite the 12 times table by the time you were two, you were probably part of the bespectacled geek set. Meanwhile, those kids who were reading Dickens at five and creating impressive artistic masterpieces were labeled ‘arty’ and as a result, usually struggled with maths.

But apparently, it doesn’t have to be that way, and all children can learn the basics if they are taught correctly, says Jacqueline McGarva, who has introduced the KHDA approved Magikats programme to the classrooms at her learning centre. A self-confessed maths whizz, Jacqueline believes that the key to teaching mathematics well, is all down to finding the correct approach for each individual child.

‘Teaching maths to children is all about finding their niche,’ Jacqueline says. ‘Use ways that appeal to them. It could be as simple as including something that they are interested in – like dinosaurs or sweets, or by doing an activity they enjoy, and incorporating mathematics into that.’

Play games
Teaching numerical concepts should not be about writing columns of numbers on a page. For little ones, a simple game of Snap, either with colours, shapes or numbers – or all three combined, can be very effective. To get them counting, teach them how to play snakes and ladders. Just moving the counters from square to square and recognizing the numerical clusters on the dice, is great practice. When they are a bit older, dominoes is another fun game they can play which teaches them to match numbers and think mathematically.

Art and numbers

Playdough is brilliant for teaching little ones how to form their numbers. Get them to make the actual numbers. Then, using a cocktail stick, they can trace the shape of the number in dots in the dough too, which reinforces the concept. Dot to dot is great for kids aged three and up. Not only do they have to follow the numbers to create an image – but these puzzles require quite a high level of concentration, improve hand to eye coordination and pencil/pen skills too. The same can be said for painting by numbers.

Get active
Physical activity is one of the best ways to encourage active kids to learn numerical concepts without them realizing it. Sit opposite each other and throw a beanbag between you, each taking turns to count numbers up to an odd number (just to three to begin with). After a couple of rounds, swap the number two for a colour. After a couple more rounds, swap three for a clap, and so on. As you always play on an odd number, the game requires a lot of concentration to keep track. Throw a ball to each other in the swimming pool to practice times tables. This activity works best if you have at least two or three kids together. Every time a person catches the ball, they have to say the next number sequence. Make it even more challenging by going faster and faster each time. Another great pool activity for little ones is pouring water from a jug into cups. Get them to fill halves, quarters and full cups.

On the go

If you’re in a restaurant, get the kids to read the menu, work out the price of their dish and order for everyone. Not only does it give them a sense of responsibility, but it also gets them reading numbers for an every day purposes. Take a pocket calculator and get them to work out the price of the bill too. Car games are also useful because it can stop the boredom and bickering from creeping in. Get little ones to count how many red/green/silver cars they’ve spotted on the school run. Older kids can add up numbers of passengers in cars. For example; ‘There are four passengers in the red car on the left, and three passengers in the car on our right. How many passengers does that make altogether?’

Bake a cake
This is one they can do with the nanny at home. Measuring ingredients, be it in grams or cups (which are good for lessons on fractions) as well as counting how many cupcakes you can make, and timing everything in the oven too. Take it one step further by shopping for the ingredients together. Give your child a list to take around the supermarket. They can write down the prices of the ingredients as well as search them out.

Limit technology time

Nothing beats getting kids to concentrate and apply their skills in the good old fashioned way. The iPad doesn’t allow for parent-child interaction or praise (very important for encouraging a less confident child) and nor does it stimulate their fine motor skills to the same degree. Kids aged three to seven should not spend more than 10 minutes at a time on the iPad, while children aged eight and over should have that time limited to around 20 minutes. Additionally, the longer they spend on the iPad, the more likely they are to start accessing sites they shouldn’t. Make sure you supervise all internet play and use passwords to protect against unsuitable surfing.

Incentives all the way
Draw up incentive charts, hand out stickers or give them a stamp card which once filled, earns them a reward. Nothing gets a child mobilized faster than the possibility of a treat or bonus for their hard work.
For information on Cascade Learning’s Fun Maths and Magikat programmes, visit

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