Importance of Early Math Education


This time we are going to explore the importance of early math education as one of our discussion topics.

Early exposure to numbers and counting is just as important as exposure to letters, words and reading. Asking a child how old they or can they count to 5, just confirms that they’ve learnt the answer to those questions. It doesn’t necessarily prove that they understand numbers and quantity.

Think of the subject of mathematics as building a house….foundations (concrete stage, fundamental skills), walls (semi-concrete stage) and roof (abstract stage). Maths is a complex subject….if foundations are not solid, the rest of the house will be full of cracks, this is one of the many reasons of the importance of eatly math education. Often kids with severe maths challenges, remain on the concrete level and cannot move to the next stage.

There are 4 corners/pillars/components that “mathematics” is comprised of:

 – Learning and Recalling Maths Facts (bonds and tables),

 – Learning and Using Maths Procedures (operations),

 – Understanding Maths Concepts (incl. vocabulary & topics such as measurement, time, working with money, etc. and

 – Maths Problem Solving (word sums)

Some of the challenges that have been identified in children who struggle with maths are found within each of the four components:

#1 Learning (and recalling) the maths facts:

A child:

 – Does not have a strong sense of numbers and does not understand that there are basic patterns in numbers…i.e. 2+3 = 5 and 3+2 =5, or struggles to learn skip-counting and place value.

 – Is inconsistent, remembering some math facts while forgetting others (memory and attention play a big role).

 – Has difficulty remembering multiplication, division, and/or other facts while solving problems (working memory).

Supporting the primary school child:

– It is important to learn to recognize and read number names and symbols. Abstract number symbols must be linked to the number names for the child to see, so it might be necessary to first show the actual object, next show the picture of the object initially for smaller kids to correlate….otherwise counting becomes rote with little to no understanding…and this may cause difficulty in understanding what is required.

– Have real objects or counters available. Don’t expect them to count in their heads or calculate in their heads if they aren’t there yet.

– Encourage them to use number grids, number lines, times table grids (crutches) but always go back to the real object if this is more helpful.

Supporting the high school student:

 – Make use of tips and tricks, mnemonics, raps…consult Youtube. 11, 22, 33, 44 etc.

 – Using the commutative property in addition and multiplication,

 – Using a strategic approach and start with what you know, “I don‘t know 7 X 6, but I do know that 7 X 5 = 35, so one more 7 makes 42; or I know that 7 X 7 = 49, so one less 7 makes 42.”

 – Be aware of the impact of attention and memory – don’t do maths homework late at night.

 – Encourage self-checking with a calculator.

Importance of Early Math Education#2 Learning maths procedure/operations:

A child:

 – Struggles with the methodology…struggles to remember the steps in a sum i.e. long division or multiplication.

 – Struggles to remember the rules i.e. rules for working with fractions, rules for solving equations, etc and formulas i.e. area is length x breadth, how to round off numbers.

Supporting the primary school child:

 – Specific requirements from the school/teacher with regards to what method is used. May vary from school to school. What method works for you?

 – Break multi-step problems (including equations with several computations, word problems, etc.) into smaller parts. Often each step counts 1 mark. Skip a step and you lose marks.

 – Have a rule book and write them down for reference purposes.

 – Encourage students to practice using a calculator.

 – Use mnemonics to help students remember steps to math algorithms. For example, Daddy, Mama, Sister, Brother can be used for the long division algorithm (Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring down).

For high school students:

 – Same ideas apply

#3 Understanding concepts:

A child:

 – Has difficulty in understanding how numbers relate to each other, sequencing….

 – Struggles to use number lines and the ability to create a visual image of number positions (before, after, between)…linked to using mental pictures to represent maths concepts,

 – Struggles to understand and learn vocabulary….zero. more than, less than, fewer than, place holder, divide, sum of, perimeter, …

 – Has problems transferring concepts learned in the math classroom to real life situations like telling the time and being able to use money, graphs and measurement. Do they know the difference between g or kg, m or km, s or mins? (difficulty with decimals, rounding off)

 – Not able to guestimate…how many marbles are in the jar? Can they estimate or do they want to try and count.

This time we are going to explore the importance of early math education as one of our discussion Supporting the primary school child:

 – Use real objects to explain concepts i.e. pizza for ratio and fractions, then pictures and finally visualize the problem or sum.

 – Guide students in visualizing patterns.

Supporting the high school child:

 – Being able to visualize the problem, the shape, the pattern, etc.

 – Draw it out or write it out using symbols.

 – Use daily situations like using recipes, reading time tables, calendars, etc. % discount on sale items. Make the problem relevant to them…Maths Literacy

#4 Maths Problem-Solving

A child:

 – Has difficulty reasoning through a problem, or difficulty using strategies effectively during problem solving.

 – Has difficulty using mental pictures (such as patterns or shapes) to represent math concepts, or has difficulty “seeing” the math problem in his/her mind.

 – Doesn’t know how to get started on word problems, or how to break problems down.

 – Could be linked to poor reading-comprehension skills. Language processes could also create problems with the understanding of specific terminology, e.g. addition/plus/ altogether. Children often think that the word ‘calculate’ means that it is an addition sum….link to number vocabulary in previous point.

Supporting the primary school child:

 – Have real objects or draw pictures to represent what is going on in a word problem.

 – Propose a number sentence, e.g., 6 + 4 and have them come up with a story problem for that number sentence.

 – Keep the story the same, but make the numbers smaller, until they understand the problem being asked and then go back to using the original numbers.

 – Provide students with a general strategy which can be used in many problem solving situations, i.e. Who? What? Where? How?

If students struggle to understand word or story problems, here are 10 further solutions and strategies for teachers to help address this issue:

  • Break Down the Problem:

 – Start by breaking down the word problem into smaller, more manageable parts.

 – Highlight the important information and help students identify the key elements, such as the question being asked, the known quantities, and the operations involved. Encourage them to underline or circle the relevant information to enhance their focus.

  • Provide Visual Representations:

 – Visual aids can greatly support students’ understanding of word problems. Use diagrams, charts, or drawings to help them visualize the problem. 
For example, if the problem involves dividing apples among children, draw apples and circles representing each child to illustrate the situation. Visual representations make abstract concepts more concrete and accessible.

  • Teach Problem-Solving Strategies:

 – Introduce students to various problem-solving strategies, such as guess and check, drawing a picture, making a chart or table, using objects or manipulatives, or creating an equation.
 – Teach them when and how to apply each strategy based on the context of the problem. Provide opportunities for students to practice these strategies with different types of word problems.

  • Scaffold Learning:

 – Gradually scaffold students’ learning by starting with simpler word problems and gradually increasing the complexity. Begin with problems that involve single-step operations and then progress to multi-step problems. Provide support and guidance as needed, and gradually reduce assistance as students gain confidence and understanding.

  • Utilize Real-Life Examples:

Connect word problems to real-life scenarios that are relatable to students. Use examples from their everyday lives, such as sharing toys, buying snacks, or planning activities. Relating math to real-life situations helps students see the practical relevance of word problems and enhances their engagement and understanding.

  • Encourage Verbal Reasoning:

Engage students in discussions about word problems. Encourage them to explain their thinking process and reasoning behind their answers. This verbal reasoning helps them organize their thoughts, clarify their understanding, and identify any misconceptions. It also promotes communication and collaboration among peers.

  • Provide Guided Practice:

Offer guided practice opportunities where students can work on word problems in small groups or pairs. This allows for peer support and collaboration. As students work together, they can discuss different strategies, share their thinking, and help one another in solving problems. Encourage students to explain their reasoning to their partners, fostering a deeper understanding.

  • Offer Multiple Approaches:

Recognize that there may be different valid approaches to solving word problems. Encourage students to explore alternative strategies and compare their solutions. This promotes critical thinking and flexibility in problem-solving, allowing students to discover different pathways to reach the correct answer, this is why the importance of early math education.

  • Incorporate Technology:

Integrate technology tools and resources into your teaching practice to support students’ understanding of word problems. There are various educational apps, online platforms, and interactive tools that provide interactive problem-solving activities and step-by-step guidance.

  • Provide Feedback and Reinforcement:

Offer constructive feedback to students, focusing on their problem-solving strategies rather than just the final answer. Encourage them to reflect on their approach, identify errors, and make necessary corrections. Celebrate their efforts and reinforce their progress to build confidence and motivation.

Remember, understanding word problems takes time and practice. By implementing these strategies, providing support, and creating a positive learning environment, teachers can help students overcome their struggles and develop the skills necessary to tackle word problems effectively.

Other important issues for parents and teachers to be aware of:

Maths anxiety, not asking questions in class, not wanting to seem stupid, negative body language from teacher or peers can affect a student’s progress in the subject. The teacher makes all the difference to whether a child feels competent or not. The parent’s attitude towards the subject also affects their progress. Keep a positive attitude.

Maths Literacy – there is a negative stigma associated with the subject however, it is a completely different subject compared to Core Maths. Why force a child who is struggling with Core Maths to continue with the subject if it will affect their overall average for their Grade 12 results.

Don’t stress too much about Maths…it’s not the be all and end all. It is an emotional subject! Maths assessments will help ascertain where the child is at and where additional intervention might be needed.

Encourage the use of calculators to check answers.

Khan Academy is an excellent resource for extra exercises and practice.

Helpful links:

Screening test for kids

Screening test for adults:

If you or someone you know is struggling with maths, we are happy to help you and do and assestment for you. 

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