Parents sometimes wonder if there's anything they can do to help their young children build or advance an interest in maths. There's a couple of things that can really help - some are completely in your control, some require professional help.

Start talking about numbers and maths all the time. Even if your child doesn't appear to understand what you're saying, or even if they seem disinterested, keep it up:

"How many kilometres do we have to go? Well, let's see - we know the trip is 22 kilometres, and we've gone 7 kilometres so far, so. . ." Children's minds keep learning even when they don't appear to be paying attention "Maths talk" for most families requires a conscious effort by the adults. It's just not as easy for most of us to have lots of words about mathematics as it is words about stories, travel, the store - but more "maths talk" is better.

One of the main reasons students are disinterested in maths is that school teachers don’t link abstract maths concepts to real-life situations. Students often ask, “when will we use this in life”? And if they don’t find the topic relevant to their lives, their brains shut down!

At Maths Mastery we’re constantly looking for ways to make the maths topics relevant to each individual student. We collect as much information as we can about each student’s interests, hobbies, sport engagement, desired job, …. Then we use this information to link the Maths to Life.

Research show that simple board games that use spinners and some kind of (possibly curvy) number line can be great for getting young children basic down-payments on maths skills, with academic impacts in a wide variety of areas, including estimation and number sense. A key is, again, to use number words and counting-aloud during the games - have the children actually count out where their markers go, and, if there are numbers where they land, the number they land on. More opportunity for maths talk!

Car rides offer a great opportunity for maths education. There are lots of fun maths games you can play while driving in the car with your children. For the younger ones, you can play a variation of 20 questions:

You think of a number between, say, one and twenty, but don't tell your child. He or she can then ask "greater than or lesser than" questions and see how fast they can guess the number. ("Is it greater than 10?" "Yes." "Well then it must be between 10 and 20." "Is it smaller than 15. . .")

For older children, the game can get more complex. Children can try to figure out a number you're thinking of by asking questions about the remainder if it's divided by various amounts, the factors and multiples of the number, …

A game I play with my son in the car is counting up Prime numbers to see how many numbers we can get. Many secondary school students are challenged by calculations with fractions, prime numbers, finding factors and multiples, and operations with negative and positive integers. You can help your child practice these calculations by turning them into simple games.

Talking about the mathematical aspects of household decisions is another way of engaging your child's interest in maths. For example, should you get a hybrid car to save money on gas? Work out the maths with your child, and let him or her help make the decision. If you're taking out a loan for a new car, that's a great opportunity to talk about, and work with, interest rates. Once you start looking for examples, they'll be all around.

While parents understand that activities such as reading to children at home are important to help develop reading literacy, few parents understand the importance of taking steps at home to develop maths literacy. Making "maths talk" a part of everyday life will go a long way toward developing interested and engaged young mathematicians.