Why are some children great at maths?

For most of us, the four simple operations come naturally – adding up and taking away, dividing and multiplying are usually not hard to use in everyday life. Because of this, we assume that these skills will also come naturally and be easy for children to learn. Yet in reality, even adding and subtracting can often prove tricky to master. And if these basic but essential maths skills are not mastered properly, it can lead to children struggling with maths throughout their education.

There are three main issues at hand here:

  1. Confidence is key – children need to be encouraged as much as possible, especially when they fail to completely grasp a topic that they find tricky. In today’s classrooms, teachers often only having a limited amount of individual time for each child – this means that what starts off as a small problem can grow into something much more concerning – your child starting to doubt their own maths ability.
  2. Practice makes perfect – repetition is often the most fundamental key to learning. To commit something to memory requires repeating it. Lots of practice with the four basic operations + – x ÷ helps children to bond numbers in familiar patterns and build internal tables that can be drawn upon whenever needed. This is called maths fluency – where a child can recall some maths facts without needing calculation. This level of instant recall is a boon to confidence and allows the child to access more difficult problems quicker and more effectively.
  3. Mental maths is very different to maths on paper – while a child may be able to work out an addition sum in their heads, quickly and correctly, they may struggle when they have to put it down on paper. Having good number bonds and fluency is essential, but when it comes to writing down the steps to get to answers (by using the column addition method or the bus stop division method for example) many will struggle if they haven’t practiced enough. With examinations and assessments, showing working is often even more important than showing the correct answer. This is especially true for 11+ and upwards all the way to A-level.

To make sure your child reaches full potential, we must be aware of these three aspects and let them get as much practice as possible so they grow both in ability and confidence. We recommend using tradition forms of pen/pencil and paper more than, but supplemented by, digital resources. After all, it is most likely that the majority of their maths tests and exams will be on paper, so getting used to following steps accurately and with speed requires practice in the same format.

On top of this, we highly recommended sometimes using colourful, visually-rich activities and games, which can help them understand better and develop the fluency and instant recall of maths facts and processes. By mastering the basics, the more challenging tasks become much easier!