Let me tell you a story about an inspiring mother that I met in the supermarket recently. My husband and I were doing our weekly grocery shopping when a mother and her two young daughters, aged around 7 and 9, came down the same grocery aisle.

This mother was shopping her grocery list  and at the same time she was in turn asking each daughter an arithmetic question.

“What’s 4 x 3?” she asked one daughter.

“12” the daughter answered immediately.

“Good. And what else could give an answer of 12?” she asked the other daughter, who also answered quickly and correctly.

I observed for a moment longer and then just had to say something.

“Can I just say, from two Maths teachers [if I haven’t mentioned it before, my husband is a maths teacher too], what you’re doing here is so great! We wish more parents could engage with their kids in this way.”

She was a little surprised that they were being observed but just smiled and said “We enjoy it.” and walked on, continuing her shopping and her conversation on arithmetic. To her it was simple, it was nothing really.

What struck me also about this conversation was the strong educational value of her questions to her daughters. While I would have been pleased to see her walking them through the times tables, she was doing something more valuable than that. By asking her daughters a sum and then asking them for a sum that gave the same result, she was helping them build up not only their memorisation of the times tables but also their understanding of factors, multiples and the relationship between multiplication and division.

If kids can get to a stage where they immediately know what 6×8 is then they have made a great start with their foundational skills. If they can also tell you quickly and confidently that 16×3 gives the same answer and that 48 / 4 = 12 then they know a lot more about 48 than the average person. More than that, they are working fluidly with numbers and also with relationships between numbers and operations which not only shows great skills in calculation but also in understanding fundamental arithmetic theorems.

Bringing numeracy into the everyday flow of your life doesn’t have to be hard. What this mother was doing wasn’t creative. She didn’t need fancy props or interactive games. What she had and what she was doing was far more valuable than any of those. She had a connection with her daughters. They were genuinely enjoying themselves with simple maths puzzles while doing a weekly chore.

All her children wanted, like all children, is to be in the company of their mother, involved in an activity together. This activity contained the opportunity for immediate feedback and praise which is all the more engaging for children. It wasn’t contrived nor was it a drill, it was a natural and relaxed conversation, an interaction that I imagine was initiated when the girls were a lot younger.

The key take-away is this: It doesn’t really matter what you do, it matters more that you are engaged, that your children have your attention and that you feel confident with what you’re communicating.

Can you integrate a simple mathematical observation or some simple sums into an everyday activity that you might do this week?

If you have a story to share we’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Photo credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio) / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND