Introducing Family Maths
Sometime in the mid-1990s we learned about the Family Maths programme developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science, an outreach unit of Berkeley University in California.
The programme is based on the belief that all children can learn and enjoy mathematics and that parents – or caregivers – are the children’s first and most important teachers. However, most parents have not been given tools to show them how to support their children’s mathematical learning and for this reason the programme was established.
Family Maths was designed to get families learning mathematics together by doing challenging and engaging activities which both young and old could enjoy and solve without demanding high levels of maths.
The Family Maths programme at that time, while widespread in many school districts across America, had also been taken to places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Puerto Rica, and Mozambique in Africa. We read with particular interest of the experiences of some passionate and radical maths educators who introduced Family Maths in pockets of highly charged political regions We learnt how the programme helped to empower communities and transform approaches to and perceptions of mathematics education and that how this collective engagement can produced improved learner results in the classroom.
Not long after these first enquiries, we were lucky enough to have USAID sponsor two cohorts of COUNT Staff, and partners from a community education project we worked with in Oukasie near Brits, to travel to Berkeley and receive hands-on training at the Lawrence Hall of Science from the experts who had designed the Family Maths programme.
On our return we began implementing the programme, either on its own as a supplementary after-school activity, or as an adjunct to work done in schools with primary school teachers. We have been doing this on and off in pockets of school communities ever since, and in 2012 we picked up the impetus to make this our primary and best supported programme,
COUNT now implements a model of the Family Maths Programme, adapted for South African communities. The programme is crafted with input from leading research mathematicians, as well as educators, to awaken the ability to think mathematically and to take delight in solving challenging, non-routine problems in a playful atmosphere which encourages risk taking.
While some of the activities can be linked to the school curriculum, they go beyond it, covering important problem solving strategies, logical reasoning challenges, games and puzzles; that children are seldom exposed to in the classroom. These do not depend on the participating adults having high literacy or numeracy levels themselves.
Family Maths also helps to bridge the divide between parents and teachers and the school and the wider community.Through Family Maths, parents not only come to recognize that learning is a partnership of teachers, learners, and parents, but they are empowered to support their children’s mathematics at workshops and then in the home. Teachers welcome the difference the family maths programme makes on their learners’ interest, enthusiasm and love for maths, and recognise that when parents and grandparents or caregivers have tools they know how to use; they can actively support the child’s learning.
Primarily we use the original materials developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science as our main resources but have also added and adapted activities that are more appropriate for local audiences and translated some of these into isiZulu.
To order these manuals directly, go to the LHS shop: www. lawrencehallofscience.org
The 3-year pilot saw pockets of communities, from Jo’burg to Sasolburg, from Knysna to Queenstown, Bela to Sekhukune, benefitting from attending regular workshops facilitated by both ECD trainers, community facilitators, and in some cases, high school youth who also had been trained.