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  • Writer's pictureJeanne-Louise Uys

How can we build strong foundations for maths and science?

Many people think about maths and science with anxiety. Some may have really struggled with these subjects at school, or even had an experience where they were told they were stupid because they did not understand something. This forms a vicious cycle as our brains are driven by a punishment/reward system. If you struggled with maths in the past, your brain may warn you every time you encounter a new maths problem. This negative emotional response is like a short circuit that hampers problem-solving in your brain and makes it even harder to understand what you are trying to learn. Of course, we want to ensure that this does not happen to the children in our care; we want them to experience maths and science as fun and achievable. But how?

NumberSmart forms part of logical-mathematical Intelligence and includes these important skills:

-counting and calculating

-determining size

-understanding measurement

-understanding numbers as symbols

-understanding cause and effect



Children are naturally curious about everything in their world. When caregivers encourage children to explore and ask questions, they help children build positive attitudes towards mathematics and science. Caregivers can help children make thoughtful guesses and encourage them to test their answers. For example, you can ask them if they think certain objects will float or sink when you put them in water, and then allow them to test their answers.

Remember that children first experience new concepts with their bodies, and that children learn most effectively when they are actively involved.

Children's mathematical language develops as they hear and use words that describe abstract concepts such as 'bigger', 'smaller,' 'less' and 'more'. These words will have no meaning if children do not have experiences with real objects they can touch and manipulate. The first step towards understanding any symbolic or abstract concept is always seeing and touching the real thing. Using solid objects such as beads and toy cars to teach concepts such as size, volume, weight, and quantities is powerful. For example, comparing your own hand or foot to that of a child’s and using the words “bigger than” and “smaller than” engages children and builds a concrete concept of size.

We also need to allow our children to make mistakes, and even struggle a little with a problem before we just step in and help. We need to remember that the process to solve a problem is more important than the outcome. Make sure children know that you are proud of them when they try, even if they do not succeed. If we only praise children when they do everything perfectly, they will be afraid to do something different or new in case they don’t get it right. And then the vicious cycle of the punishment-reward system in their brains will be repeated once more.

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