Sense, Sensibility & Numbers

It’s back to backpacks and basics.  The ABC’s and the 1,2,3’s.  But how exactly do those 1,2,3’s turn into solving and understanding more complicated math problems?

‘Number sense’ is the answer.

When your child has number sense, your child has the ability to think and reason with numbers.  If your student has a weak foundation in number sense, moving onto more complex equations in the future will be very difficult.  

Since it’s back-to-school time, we thought we'd offer some helpful tips and guidance for understanding number sense.  First, we have to ask ourselves...

What is Number Sense?

Number sense is an intuitive understanding of what numbers are, how they work, and what you can do with them.  

With number sense, your child will have the ability to understand the relationship between one number to another number.  Students will have the ability to use numbers flexibly in order to arrive at the conclusion.  

Your children will be able to play with numbers in their heads.  For example, when solving 17+13 = 30, a child without number sense would simply memorize the mathematical outcome without the ability to manipulate the numbers.  

A child with number sense would understand that both 17 and 13 are at an equal distance on the number scale from 15.  This knowledge allows them to manipulate the equation in their heads to 15 + 15 = 30, forming the basis for more complicated addition later on.    

So, our crucial piece of advice to you is: when it comes to math…

It’s Not Wise to Memorize

Like in any subject, your children need many opportunities in order to fully understand an academic topic.  The problem is, they aren’t always given the chance to explore and attach meaning to numbers.

If you’re learning a new language, you wouldn't just memorize words without fully understanding and attaching a meaning to them.  Imagine if words like ‘chair’ or ‘fork’ had no deeper, symbolic meaning.  Dinner time would certainly be a challenge.    

It’s the same concept with numbers.  Numbers must be explored in the same way children use creative writing exercises to learn languages.  When a student merely memorizes equations, he or she will need to rely on memory, rather than an intuitive knowledge, to solve these equations and form mathematical conclusions.  Merely memorizing math facts in their early math development, rather than forming a strong number sense, can eventually turn math into a language your children will not understand.   

According to YouCubed at Stanford University, memorizing mathematics through methods like times-tables repetition is both “unnecessary and damaging”.  So often we well-meaning teachers and parents emphasize the memorization of math rules and procedures.  Repeatedly, being able to recall times-tables quickly identifies a student as being ‘strong in math’.  This just simply isn’t the case.  As researchers have suggested, the star ‘times-tables reciter’ may in fact be missing an intuitive sense of numerical value.

This lack of deeper understanding can lead to a lack of confidence in mathematics.  Students begin to feel overwhelmed by the mere sight of numbers.  Eventually, they may give up.  They throw-in the math towel.  

And this is when your child says the dreaded phrase:

"I'm Just Bad at Math"

Ouch. As parents and teachers, it hurts us to see our kids truly believing they are incapable of solving equations. However, what is really happening here is this lack of number sense. How do we change this?

Rhyming math-mantras aside: number sense develops through playing with numbers on a gradual and steady basis.  Math classes and at-home practice sessions should allow for playing with numbers.

Children are inherently curious.  When acquiring this vital knowledge through exploration, not only will your children build a strong foundation in number sense, but they will also gain a positive association with numbers.  So best of all, it’s actually fun for them!

Learning through number play teaches your students how to question and creatively analyze the information they are given.  Your children will develop advanced problem-solving skills, and will be able to use those skills throughout their lives.

Need some help thinking of fun, math-related activities?  We are here to help!

Here are 5 easy ways to infuse math play into your child’s everyday life.

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