In general, and for a large part of the population, mathematics is often seen as an arduous, testing and tedious task, requiring a certain degree of logic in order to be able to problem solve. The fact is, we are all very different and not everyone has a brain that is made for mathematics. For this reason, maths can be a stressful concept for some people, who don’t like maths because: “I can’t solve problems, do equations, fractions, etc.” Finding problem solving difficult can make maths unenjoyable. Therefore, it is important that children are motivated and develop an enjoyment for doing maths activities since it is usually lack of motivation that prevents good progress. Sometimes, however, good progress is as a result of the child being encouraged to do it for reasons outside of their interests. It might simply be that they want good grades for themselves or to please their parents and are thus forced into such achievements. A child can also be slowed in their progress, not because they are not interested in maths, but because the subject is taught in a way that is not suitable to their needs or does not motivate them.
The use of games in education has been controversial for a long time because they are not considered serious enough. In line with the above examples and because mathematics tends to be feared and misunderstood – at least for some – we advise introducing the subject using games from a very young age. These days, thanks to new technologies, there are numerous apps and websites with educational games regarded as “serious games” that are geared towards specific ages. Their labelling as “serious games” does not take away from the fact that they are games, rather meaning that they are not solely produced with the aim of being fun. Instead, they are created for learning and teaching purposes, as a source of information. However, this does not mean that your child has to be forced in front of a screen. Playing board games with them, for example, such as Monopoly, in which they have to manage money, is a good way to get them counting, budgeting and developing strategies: investing, making money, and not losing money or getting into debt. Cooking is another way to work on mathematics. Weighing ingredients when following a recipe implicates mental arithmetic and the removing of or adding quantities of chocolate is a form of problem solving. It is important for mathematics to feature in every-day life and in concrete situations such as going shopping, or on holiday by calculating the time between trains or how long a journey will take, for instance.
Consequently, in order to study maths in a fun way, and to encourage children studying this unpopular subject with a reputation for being “difficult”, multiple apps and websites have been created that help children to concentrate and motivate them to persevere. The exercises are designed to be enjoyable and feature their favourite characters and elements from their favourite films and series. These online games do everything within their power to be appealing to children and present exercises as fun activities, distracting them from the mathematical aspect. These kinds of games are usually completed in levels so that the child progresses and receives rewards for their achievements. Young children enjoy the games because calculations are done by animals who count, add and subtract with them. What’s more, these games are presented as mini games so as not to lose their attention.
The advantage of apps and websites that facilitate the unconscious study of mathematics is that they order nearly all the available activities according to school level, saving you search time and leaving you reassured that your child is doing an exercise appropriate for their age, school level and corresponding educational program. It is important to emphasise that when studying maths, children must be able to make mistakes without feeling that they are hopeless at the subject or not smart enough. Online games are very useful in this regard since a number of them use “lives”, providing children with several opportunities for successful problem solving. Nevertheless, it is important that games are supervised by a parent or teacher so that any aspects they have not understood can be explained.
To sum up, video games are a great way to study mathematics in a playful way, without children necessarily realising what kind of exercise they are doing. In addition, these types of exercises allow children to improve their computer competency and other skills such as working in a team when the games are used inside the classroom. They can also aid language development when sharing information or reasoning, and the development of their imaginations. Construction games are a good example of this. Therefore, despite having previously mentioned “serious games”, construction video games are versatile games given that they pave the way for co-operative work with other children, visualisation of shapes and volume, and the possibility to deconstruct and rebuild if the end result is not what was expected. That said, we advise controlling screen time, in spite of being a fantastic learning tool.