How To Teach Maths: Addition and More!

Not everything can be learnt without teaching ok, haha. Though I do try to keep ‘lessons’ to a minimal, and always giving priority to free play and outdoor time. My earlier post on Kor Kor’s obsession with math operations might seem like there is nothing much the parents can do to ‘teach’. But yes, there is!

1. Provide a rich home environment. Not in terms of money, but a certain amount of investment is inevitable. Homemade learning aids are good too, but for someone like me with lousy art/craft skills, it’s probably gonna take more money to make my own.

I just leave these on the walls around the house, so that the kids will feel that Maths is just everywhere around them. But I don’t really talk about them, cos I don’t want to pressurize the kids.

2. A READY environment. I have had various manipulatives lying around the house since Kor Kor was very young. Though he did not know the correct way to use them, and it was a waste of my breath trying to show him how to use them when he was younger, at least he got used to the sight and feel of them. When he was ready to use them, they were not something new to him.

We also have Maths-related books aplenty. Read them to the kids at least once, and then the books are kept on the shelves for them to flip through on their own. They are free to choose any book for us to read during reading time.

Yes, it is possible to go buy manipulatives and books after the child exhibits an interest in them. But personally, I find that when I want/need to buy something, I won’t be able to find good ones. And when I don’t want/need to buy them, they keep popping up everywhere! So for basic stuff, I prefer to prepare in advance.

3. A READY teacher, i.e. the parents! When the child shows interest, we capitalize on it! I’m glad that Kor Kor’s interest coincided with my handsfree journey, otherwise I might have been too distracted and irritated to notice his interest and to answer his many questions. If I had not reinforced his curiosity and learning desire at the right time by being as enthusiastic as him, perhaps his interest would have suffered a premature demise.

These past days he has been asking me multiplication questions too. When he asked me ‘what is 16 x 18?’, my brain said I DON’T KNOW! But luckily, I did an e-brake and quickly calculated in my head and told him the answer. Because I wanted to demonstrate that it was NOT too difficult to do.

While I had previously simply told him the answers to his math questions, I have now started talking about the process too, aka brainwashing. So after answering ‘what is 7 + 8’, I say ‘Mummy thought about it and got the answer.’ This is to encourage him to do mental sums instead of relying on manipulatives. Given that he’s only four years old, I am of course happy to let him use manipulatives when he wishes to. There are no restrictions on that at all. But I do want him to feel that it’s a good thing to do mental sums, to prepare him for the future 😛

4. In the spirit of capitalizing his optimal learning period, and because I am a true blue Singaporean mum and a Tiger Mum in sheep’s clothing, I have started a daily ten-minute lesson. During this short lesson, I reveal my full tiger stripes and I get to choose what I want to do with him. And yes, it’s often assessment books! Only 10 minutes, so it should be ok I hope! Nevertheless I do not stress or rush him, and I set a timer to stop. I will be choosing topics that he is interested in. So far he has not shown any resistance and is always enthusiastic to start his lessons.

 5. The last point is the easiest, and also the most difficult. WAIT. No, it’s not an acronym for anything. It’s the easiest because we do not have to do anything special. It’s the most difficult because we often want to do more.

I really do think this is the most important of all. And it’s not because I am a nice, loving, academics-are-not-important, type of mum. I am a competitive, academic-focused, achievement-oriented type of mum. I don’t stress my kids only because I believe it has an adverse impact on their academic potential.

He did this all by himself without using any manipulatives. I have no idea whether his peers are already able to do this too, but the point is not whether he is more advanced than his peers. The point is he managed to learn this without going through formal or even structured lessons.


I knew his pencil grip was not correct and he couldn’t really write yet. So I offered him the option of using number stamps, which he happily accepted. A few days later, we happened to have a pencil around (he used it to draw lines to connect answers like the above photo), and I asked him whether he would like to write his answers instead. He replied, ‘But I don’t know how to.’

The thing is, if I had insisted he write his answers, he would not have been able to do this workbook at all. Handwriting is handwriting, maths is maths.


Not that I won’t grill him on handwriting. If he still can’t write by six years old, which is just two months before he starts Primary One, you can be sure I will grill him!

He has started asking me questions like ‘what is 4 + 4? What is 8 + 4? What is 12 + 4?’ I think he’s getting the idea of multiplication!

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