How many times have we heard a person say, “I don’t do math” or “I’m not good at math” and walk away honestly believing those are acceptable statements? Would we look differently at an individual who made similar statements that involved reading or writing? We are generally pretty quick to judge those with poor literacy skills but those with poor numeracy skills are far more accepted because you know, “I’m just not good at math!”
It is easy to get mesmerized into thinking only about the importance of literacy. How many children don’t love to be read to, especially at bedtime and how many parents don’t love to read stories to their children? Those are extremely important bonding moments that hopefully foster a love of reading. But working on numeracy with your child can also support those parental/child bonds. So often, numeracy can be enhanced through games or simple questions. Pull out a deck of cards and play cribbage or Crazy 8s or any other game that involves counting or patterns. I can remember with great delight the hours my grandfather and I would play cribbage growing up. Simple questions can elicit some powerful numeracy learning in the home. Here’s some simple questions that can be asked as the table is being set for dinner:
- How many forks, knives or spoons are there on the table?
- If we had two more or two less people eating at the table tonight, how many forks, knives or spoons would we need?
- If we had “X” number of people eating at home tonight, how many forks and knives combined would we need?
- Each person eating tonight requires a fork, knife and a spoon. If we have a total of 18 utensils, how many people will be eating at the table tonight?
The possibilities are endless on how we can incorporate numeracy into our daily lives. And, we must do so whether at home or at school since the evidence suggests that numeracy is a better predictor of school success than literacy. “Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health” says Andreas Schleicher from OECD. Further research from the UK emphasizes the importance of possessing adequate numeracy skills.
- People with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed
- There is a strong correlation between poor numeracy and poor health and depression
- 14 year olds who have poor math skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to be truant
- A quarter of young people in custody have a numeracy level below that expected of a 7-year-old, and 65% of adult prisoners have numeracy skills at or below the level expected for an 11-year-old
It can no longer be acceptable to say, “I don’t do math!” Students need to possess both strong literacy and numeracy skills. While this certainly starts at home, schools must continue to carry the torch by ensuring that numeracy is as much of a focus as literacy from the early grades onward.
So, how are you going to encourage numeracy learning tomorrow or in this next school year?