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Instill a Love of Math

muslim_familyParents are bombarded with messages to read with their children, but it’s rare to hear about the importance of doing math with them. Here are some helpful tips on why and how to instill a love of math in your children.

Early Math Matters
We may take for granted that our children will inevitably learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but early math lessons establish the base for the rest of their thinking lives. “Mathematics that kids are doing in kindergarten, first, second and third grades lays the foundation for the work they are going to do beyond that,” says Mdm Siti, main trainer at MathsExCEL. “They are learning beyond just counting and numbers.” That’s why it’s so important to help children love math while they are still young. Parents can build on those first preschool lessons by counting with their children, asking them to look for patterns and recognize shapes, then moving on to numbers.

The goal should be to make math “real” and meaningful by pointing it out in the world around you. That could include checking and comparing prices at the grocery store, driving down the street counting mailboxes, reading recipes, calculating coupons, or even measuring food or drink at the dinner table. When Mdm Siti child is little, she kept a small measuring tape in her pocketbook. While they were waiting for their order at a restaurant, the child would measure different items on the table.

Just as you encourage your early reader to look for familiar letters, ask your child to watch for math, regarding math as highly as you do reading. “Every parent knows that it’s a good idea to read to your child every night, but they should also realize the importance of talking about mathematical situations with children every day,” says Mdm Siti.

So What If It’s Hard?
What if you hated math as a child? Parents should try to set aside their distaste for math and encourage their children as much as possible. Young children are eager to learn. “It’s hard to learn to talk or walk. But they don’t care,” says Sue, a community college math teacher in MathsExCEL. “They just push themselves over their limits. They are going to come at math with that same attitude.”

Avoid talking negatively about math, even if you have no need for trigonometry in your daily life. “A lot of people will only joke that they cannot do math or announce publicly, ‘I’m not a math person.’ When a parent does that in front of a child, it suggests that math’s not important,” says Char Forsten, education consultant and writer, who urges parents to create that desire to learn by constantly screening the environment for math. “Have you seen any good math lately?” she likes to ask students.

If your child believes that math doesn’t really matter, he’s not going to be as open to learn. “Attitude has everything to do with learning. You can’t make anyone learn. If a child has learned not to love math, if they don’t love math, and aren’t willing to learn, you have to deal with that first,” Forsten says.

If you are stuck on how to foster math enthusiasm, talk to your child’s teacher about some ways to support math learning at home. There may be a new game that you have never heard of, which both you and your child will love.

Play Games
With so many facts and figures to memorize and apply to math problems, children learn early that math is something that requires work. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun; keep the pleasure in math by playing games with your children. Many games, even the ones adults play, rely on math. With countless websites, computer games and phone apps, parents have endless options, but don’t forget about the nondigital games you loved as a child. The classics that require manipulating cards and game pieces, calculating along the way, may have the same appeal for your kids as they did for you. One game worth considering is Chutes and Ladders. A 2009 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Maryland found that preschoolers who played the game improved math skills significantly compared to those in the study who played a different board game or did nonmath tasks.

As you play with your kids, try to tap into your own love for math. When you play Trivial Pursuit, you are using math to determine how many spaces you need to get to the next wedge or predict which category you can answer best. The game doesn’t have to be about math, but should involve it. If you have a good game store in your area, stop by and ask the salespeople for help. Some of Mdm Siti’s favorite games really push logic, which is the basis of math, and get children thinking visually. Check out Link, SET, Rush Hour, Blokus and Spot It, to name a few.

“Playing games is a great family activity,” Mdm Siti says. “The more you have a tradition of playing games, the easier it is to bring in other games you like.” So while you may not be passionate about your child’s latest board game, you can work up to another game you like. Try to make the game personal to your family by playing it in your own special way. “Mathematicians make up their own rules,” Mdm Siti says. “It’s really important to be open to making up your own games. Change the rules. ‘In our family, we play the game this way.’”

Flexing Math Muscles
Riding a bike, swimming in the deep end, and playing an instrument are just examples of our favorite childhood activities that require practice to master. So does math.

“Math is an intellectual muscle building; it’s crucial for fully developing a child’s potential,” Mahoney says. “Those muscles can atrophy. If school is the only place you do math, then it becomes something you only do at school. Then you don’t even think about using it in real life.” So brush off those negative feelings about math and instill enthusiasm. Math will play a role in your child’s life forever.

“It’s important to remember that those basics are essential for later learning. A lot of the stuff we learn in math we apply in different ways later,” says Mary, who emphasizes the thinking skills that math provides. “I might not have to worry about what an isosceles triangle is, but it’s still an important part of education.”

As they grow, kids will learn that they are willing to work hard at something they love. It may just be math. Either way, remember that your child does not have to excel at math to enjoy it. “It doesn’t matter if they’re good, it matters whether they like it,” Mdm Siti says.

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Preparing For P1: INTENSIVE Preparatory Class


Five months before Primary 1 starts is an ideal time to start actual preparing your child for the next stage in education, educators say. As Ms Siti, the Executive Director of MathsExCEL assures, “Children should be prepared for Primary One at the preschool they attend daily.”

She adds that the process of incorporating skills and content is best spread over the span of three years — from Nursery Two (N2) to Kindergarten Two (K2) — to gradually build P1-ready children. This is because preschool teachers are regularly updated as the lower primary school curriculum progresses; they know first-hand what skills and abilities the pre-primary children need to attain before they head off into the great big world of primary school education.

Of course, parents also have do their part — to nurture independence and a sense of responsibility for self and belongings. And here in Singapore, parents tend go beyond that. We want our children to be able to read, write, and count before they begin formal schooling. Actually, we want our children to be able to do all that at primary level even before they have stepped foot into a primary school.

Fatimah’s daughter Tina grew up in a Malay-speaking household and hardly spoke any English until one year ago. She believes that their preschool is preparing her child well for P1. However, Fatimah also teaches Tina Maths herself, and familiarises herself (and Tina) with the P1 syllabus through workbooks that she bought from Popular bookshop.

“I don’t want my son to suffer when he starts school,” says Lisa, 35, whose son Zaki has been attending a Primary 1 preparatory programme since the June holidays. “There are more children in each class; the teachers will not have the time to coach each child individually so if the child is slower, he gets left behind. I also want my son to have a headstart so that he will not be overwhelmed when the time comes.”

Agreeing, Mabel Chan, mum to a six-year-old girl, says, “If the child cannot follow the lessons, she may lose interest and become unmotivated.” Mabel teaches her daughter at home, and buys Primary 1 assessment books for her child to do at home.

Obviously, there is no need to do any of this. Ms Amy, a teacher, says that as long as the child can read and speaks confidently, he or she will be fine in Primary One.

But parents will be parents and chances are, some of you may be thinking about ensuring that your child is perfectly prepared for Primary One. In Singapore, there is no shortage of learning centres which offer enrichment classes for preschool children. Some of them offer intensive programs especially designed for K2 children. Compared to regular enrichment classes, preparatory classes cover fewer topics, but in a more in-depth manner.

Here is the content P1 Preparatory Class programme offered by MathsExCEL:

A new class begins on 17 May – 25 October 2014

  • 24 weeks, 8 sessions per term (refer schedule)
  • Every Saturday, 2 hours per session
  • Choose-a-Slot: 9AM – 11AM | 11:30AM – 1:30PM | 2:30PM – 4:30PM
  • 2 Subjects – English and Math (1 hour per subject)
  • Venue: Blk 125 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #04-190 Singapore 150125 (see map)
  • 10-15 Students per Class (max) : 2 Teachers


  • One time payment: Registration $30 + Materials $60
  • $280 per term at 8 sessions

Click here for programme detail.

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Scream at Your Own Risk (and Your Children’s)

Mom-yell-boy-ears-300x204By BONNIE ROTHMAN MORRIS

Published: November 9, 2004

The thing about children is that sometimes they misbehave.

They disobey. They talk back. They ignore their chores and fight with their siblings.

Even the most patient parent can end up hollering. Indeed, yelling at children is so common in American households that most parents view it as an inevitable part of childrearing.

But in some cases, researchers say, yelling can become a form of emotional abuse. And children whose parents consistently raise their voices or combine yelling with insults, criticism, ridicule or humiliation may suffer from depression, dips in self-esteem or demonstrate more aggression themselves.

While physical abuse of children has been widely studied, child development specialists have in recent years begun to focus more attention on emotional abuse, which studies suggest can be equally harmful. In 2002, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged pediatricians to be aware of the risk factors of psychological maltreatment of children.

The academy’s report, based on numerous studies, said that “a chronic pattern of psychological maltreatment destroys a child’s sense of self and personal safety.”

Almost every parent yells at one time or another. A 2003 study by Dr. Murray A. Straus and Carolyn J. Field, published in The Journal of Marriage and Family, found that 88 percent of the 991 families interviewed reported shouting, yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year. Of the families with 7-year-old children, 98 percent reported having yelled.

In another study, not yet published, Dr. George Holden at the University of Texas and his colleagues followed 132 parents and their newborn infants over four years. Thirty-five percent of the parents reported yelling at their children before they were 1. By the time the children were 4, 93 percent said they had.

Not all children suffer as a result. Researchers say that content and context matter. The tone, what is said and the frequency can mitigate or exacerbate its effects.

“The difference comes in how the yelling is used,” said Bonnie Harris, a parent educator in Peterborough, N.H., and author of “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And What You Can Do About It.” “Is it blaming and shaming?” she asked. “If the child is being held responsible for the parent’s feelings and behavior, then the yelling can have a deleterious effect.

“But not if the parent is just venting without blame, saying, ‘I am really angry, I can’t stand this anymore,’ ” Mrs. Harris said. “You have just as much right to your emotions as your children do.”

Researchers are trying to codify the definition of emotional abuse while, at the same time, understanding more about its effects. A study in the July 2001 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry that compared 49 subjects with depersonalization disorder with 26 emotionally healthy subjects, found that emotional abuse was the most significant predictor of mental illness, more so than sexual and physical abuse.

Dr. Straus, director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, said yelling could set a bad example for children that affects the way they handle social interactions later on.

“Yelling sets the tone for family relationships that carry over for dating relationships where you get a lot of psychological aggression,” Dr. Straus said.

Still, in the context of a supportive family environment, raised voices do not necessarily signal trouble, a study published last summer in The Journal of Emotional Abuse says.

“Other familial factors (particularly, having an emotionally warm and close relationship with at least one parent) appear to ameliorate the potential negative effects and also, to play a greater role in long-term psychological outcomes than yelling or other forms of aggressive acts,” Dr. Anupama Sharma, assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Illinois University and a co-author of the study, said in an e-mail message.

Some experts even say that yelling can be useful, teaching children about failures in a safe environment.

“Children have to understand that we as parents are not perfect and every once in a while we lose it,” said Dr. Bennett Leventhal, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Chicago. “It’s far better to understand at home that sometimes people get beyond their limit.”

But as most parents can testify, screaming at children is often not effective.

“Yelling overpowers children, it makes them feel frustrated and angry, and what can happen is that after a while kids become immune to being yelled at. They tune it out,” said Dr. Myrna B. Shure, a professor of psychology at Drexel University, who conducted a five-year study, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health, of children from kindergarten to fourth grade.

The yelling can also make parents feel worse.

Jen Sayre, a mother of three from Rockingham County, N.H., said she hated yelling at her children.

“I feel so sad and out of control when I’m yelling and I’m mad at myself,” she said.

Mrs. Sayre does not yell often, she said, because she and her husband took workshops with Mrs. Harris to help them be more effective parents.

That was four years ago. Today, on the rare occasion that Mrs. Harris raises her voice, a child pipes up and puts her in her place.

“My kids will look at me now and say, ‘Mommy, this is your issue, you need to work on that,” Mrs. Sayre said. “I try everything I can do not to yell, but when I do yell, I apologize.”


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Parenting Plans – Cultivating Morals & Character in Your Child



… help you to create a vision that guides your decisions and behavior as you raise your child. This is essential to a healthy parent-child relationship. Have you taken the time to think about the values you want to cultivate and the family experiences you want to create? In this article, I’ll ask you to look deep into your heart and think about what it really means to be a parent, what your child needs from you and how you can provide it. I’ll also ask you to consider your own needs, as a parent and as an individual who seeks meaning and purpose in his or her life. By reading this and following my recommendations, you’ll be ready to create your own parenting plan and learn what it really takes to raise a child to maturity and what a delightful journey it is.

First, let’s explore the components of a healthy family

In a healthy family, parenting is a top priority. Discipline is fair, consistent and designed to teach, rather than blame, punish or humiliate. Parents establish firm limits, but allow children freedom of expression within boundaries that are in place not to keep children down, but to keep them safe. Expression of feelings is encouraged. Even negative emotions are okay. The family is a safe haven where the child can relax and be himself.

Parenting plans must respect each person’s individuality

Although each person is a member of this tribe which is your family, individual needs must be encouraged and respected. We’ll also explore what makes up a good parenting plan in this article.

Parents acknowledge that while togetherness is important, everyone has the need for solitude. Time for self-care is also essentially, especially for hard-working parents. Parents need to take time for themselves, so they can fill the cup that gives them the energy to take care of others.

Good parenting plans focus on togetherness and shared experiences, but also allow time for solitude and self-care.

Parents create rituals that make sense within the family and create deep and lasting bonds.

Focus on personal growth

Even as parents are raising their children to become mature adults, they realize that they need to work on their weaknesses and tendencies that are detrimental to a healthy, loving family (such as a tendency to overreact, to lash out when stressed, to drink to relieve tension, to avoid intimacy through workaholism, etc.)

Parenting Plans

Spend quality time with your children each day, but never be fooled into thinking that participating in an occasional fun activity is enough. You must also be there for the daily struggles and problems. This is what I refer to as quantity time.

Do activities together: preparing meals, cleaning the kitchen, riding bikes, walking the dog. Make your drive time to and from school, one-on-one time for sharing feelings, dreams and struggles.

Use what’s happening in the moment to teach self-discipline and cultivate awareness, compassion and a sense of diplomacy.

Create family rituals that have a sense of meaning and foster deep bonds. Don’t just blindly follow traditions. Use them to create your own.

Use the parenting plans on this page as a starting point for your own vision. If you have ideas to contribute, please use the box below. Be part of a caring community of parents around the world who weave their own thread into the tapestry of humanity by consciously raising their children.

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Can the Singapore Method Help your Children Learn Maths?



Singapore teaches maths better than most countries including the UK, according to international rankings for secondary pupils.

The difference starts at an early age.

There are many reasons but one key factor is its step-by-step approach that can be used at home or in the classroom.

Young children are happy playing with blocks or drawing pictures. But they can find number symbols, like 5 + 2 = 7, mystifying.

So the Singapore method begins by allowing children to start learning about maths by playing with real objects, blocks or cut-out pictures.

They build confidence with the basic ideas of adding and taking away. There is then a second stage of drawing pictures representing the objects. And only later do they gradually start to add numbers to their drawings.

Maths without symbols?

5 planesStraight to the symbolic – a leap too far for many children?

In education systems in the UK, pre-school children are often introduced to maths and to number symbols at the same time. For instance through brightly-coloured counting books which show a picture of an apple – or a kite or a butterfly – next to a ‘1’. Two new things next to a ‘2’. Three new things next to a ‘3’. Culminating in a loose group of ten things next to a ’10’.

But number symbols like 5 or 10 as well as symbols like + or – are often difficult for children to understand. And if they are introduced too quickly, there is a risk that young children will struggle and from then on never fully recover their confidence in maths. Failing repeated tests on symbolic sums at school only deepens their anxiety and they soon learn that maths is not for them.

The Singapore method illustrated in more detail below goes more gradually – from handling “concrete” things, to drawing one-to-one “pictorial” iconic representations of them, to eventually understanding and using the mysterious “abstract” symbols with confidence.

1. Lining up objects in a row

Real objects, cut-outs and blocks

Children start by counting familiar things using blocks or cut-out pictures they can physically line up in a row. For instance counting pieces of fruit, their own ages, or people in the room. With one block or cut-out picture for each orange, or year, or person.

They can learn most basic maths concepts with these objects. For instance add objects to the row, or take them away, to understand adding and subtraction. Or split a row in the middle to understand halving.

2. Drawing boxes around pictures

A drawing of 3 oranges in boxes

Then children start to draw pictures on paper of the things they are counting, with a box around each picture. So there’s one box for each thing they are counting. Over time they drop the pictures and just draw the boxes.

3. Labelling the boxes

A drawn box labelled with a 3.

Gradually, once they are confident with drawing boxes to count objects, children start to write the number of boxes as a figure above the drawing.

Eventually they no longer need to draw all the boxes. They just draw one long box or bar and label it with the number. This step away from one-to-one representations to symbols is crucial and it may take a year or more for some children to become confident with it. But the benefits later on are worth it.

The Singapore Model Method

This model of numbers as labelled bars is known as the Singapore model, and it’s a tool children can use to understand almost any concept in maths, including multiplication and division and even algebra.

Professor Lianghuo Fan, former editor-in-chief of Singapore’s maths textbooks, has researched the reasons for Singapore’s success in maths. As he puts it: “People have different views about the reasons for Singapore students’ performance, but one thing that is universally agreed is that the Singapore model method is key.”

You can see examples of different stages of the model in this slideshow:

Algebra bar modelIn a year group there are 50 children. There are 10 fewer girls than boys. How many boys? The model can help visualize the unknown quantity. You can see that x + x – 10 = 50. If you add the 10 you get x + x = 60. So x = 30.