Maths Anxiety in children
Maths anxiety (MA) – feelings of apprehension, tension or discomfort when performing mathematical problems in both academic situations and everyday life – is experienced by more than 2 million schoolchildren in England!
MA can range from a feeling of mild tension to experiencing a strong fear of the subject, making it harder to determine when maths worry become maths anxiety. But why is there such a shocking number of schoolchildren being affected, and how does it relate to ability and impact school performance? The Nuffield-funded research from the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the University of Cambridge (2019) published a study on understanding Maths Anxiety in primary and secondary school children and its relation to mathematical performance. The study found that ‘people with greater maths anxiety perform worse than their true maths ability’ which can result in a ‘vicious’ ongoing cycle, whereby maths anxiety leads to poor performance and poor performance increases maths anxiety. Their research suggests that the majority of students experiencing maths anxiety have normal to high maths ability, meaning they are capable of performing well. Although, their anxious feelings towards learning maths is preventing them from discovering their potential. This is rightfully becoming a real concern for educators.
To gain a deeper understanding of students’ experiences with and feelings towards maths, we interviewed Samantha, the mother of 13-year-old Kumon student, Olivia, from the Kirk Ella study centre, near Kingston upon Hull. Samantha first identified Olivia’s fear of maths when she exhibited particular traits; “She gave up quickly, and got agitated and upset while completing her maths work. She hated going to maths class and became very withdrawn.”
As MA is typically developed from childhood and can persist throughout adulthood, it is especially important to understand how and in what ways MA can be recognised, alleviated and prevented. The Nuffield-funded research found that particular interventions, such as reducing pressure from the classroom can help to reduce anxiety. In many ways, the Kumon Maths Study Programme can help to alleviate MA and to some extent, prevent it from developing further in children. This is because, Kumon helps students of all ages and abilities to develop maths skills and a love of numbers. As students are encouraged to work at their own level and at their own pace, they are able to develop understanding and fluency of each topic before moving onto the next. They are therefore able to spend as much time as they need on a topic without feeling the pressure to move on quickly.
By bringing their child to Kumon, parents allow them to experience support in a way that is separate from their peers and the pace of the school curriculum in the school environment. The Kumon Instructor focuses on what the child can do and develops confidence and skills in the student from there. The Instructor is able to support the child to work things out for themselves, which is the key to tackling new subjects and generating self-confidence. Like learning any new skill, daily practice is the key to developing the mastery of a topic before moving on.
Since joining Kumon seven weeks ago, Olivia has demonstrated progress in her confidence with the subject, influencing her ability and school performance. Samantha stated, “Olivia has already made improvements and has become more confident with her maths. She no longer sits staring at her work, instead she completes her work and any mistakes made she corrects with confidence. We noticed this just after a few weeks of enrolling onto the programme.”
As various studies suggests, a fear about having to make maths calculations in public or being put on the spot to work something out, is a familiar feeling for many adults. Whether it takes them back to insecurities they had from studying maths at school, or a general feeling that they are being judged by their peers for making a mistake, many adults understand and sympathise with children that also display maths concerns. The Nuffield-funded research found that parents need to be conscious of the fact that their own mathematics anxiety might influence student mathematics anxiety, and so tackling their own anxieties and belief systems in mathematics might be the first step to helping their children overcome MA. Children often grow up with past generations of family members that talk about maths as a hard or difficult subject, and so it is no surprise that parents have a significant impact on their mathematical abilities. This is in line with what Samantha expressed; “Olivia’s dad and I both struggled with maths at school and find the work Olivia has to complete at school very hard and complicated. I’m finding myself learning as Olivia completes her Kumon work.”
The importance of good maths skills is undeniable. Even with the technology available today, often having good mental maths skills is an important part of our everyday lives. This is why the Kumon Maths Study Programme places great emphasis on helping children develop a positive approach to maths. Rather than fearing maths, students establish solid foundations in the subject and acquire valuable study skills such as speed, accuracy, time management, concentration and problem-solving.
To find out what your child can achieve through the Kumon Maths Study Programme, book a Free Assessment at your local study centre.