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School of Life: Teaching Math As a Life Skill

As you guide your child through his or her first steps through primary school, you may have realised that there are plenty of non-curricular material to help with most primary school core subjects: storybooks in English and Mandarin for both languages, factbooks and fun experiments for Science, even storybooks addressing social issues for teaching moral education and social studies. But for mathematics?

Aside from assessment books, mathematics is the one subject that children have difficulty grasping, simply because its technical nature cannot be easily applied to their own real-life experiences. Textbooks will use apples and oranges, cars traveling certain distances at certain speeds, but at this age, children are more likely not to like eating fruit in the first place, and certainly don’t have driving licenses. However, there is one thing they will certainly take an instant grasp to: money.

Bear with me here, this is just a suggestion, but there is a bigger lesson to be considered beyond the idea’s surface.

Primary school is where school allowance is introduced into their lives. So instead of giving them a daily allowance of, say $2, how about you provide them with an upfront weekly allowance of $10 instead?

You will have to first introduce your child to the various denominations (from 5 cents to $50 at least), then teach your child how to enquire about prices before purchasing anything, and finally, addition and subtraction of prices to determine change. By the end of the exercise, your child will hopefully have learnt basic mathematics for up to 2 decimal points, which is pretty advanced for a 7-year-old.

There is a catch, however; should your child end up spending the $10 before the week is up, there is no more money to be had until the following week. This has to be a non-negotiable agreement, and that applies to you, the parent, as well. This is the discipline portion of the exercise, and also enables your child to learn to be budget-conscious when handling finances over a fixed period of time, much like how corporate finances are planned over a fiscal year.

Be prepared for your child to falter in the 1st week or two, though. This means ensuring your child will have something to eat when he or she comes home, even though it may not necessarily be something your child actually likes eating, like fruits.

You also want to ensure your child doesn’t resort to borrowing or asking for money from others by teaching self-reliance, i.e. that taking money from others means you take away the means for the lender to afford his own meal for the day, and vice-versa.

The most important lesson that your child can take away from this exercise, however, is that money is not an unlimited resource. By maintaining the discipline of providing only weekly allowances of a strictly fixed sum, you can also teach your child that money isn’t easily attained, and prudence is key for your child to ensure he or she can survive the week without going hungry at school.

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