Maths - A simple sum

1st March 2013 at 00:00
Input fun for a lifelong love of numbers, says Countdown host

I have always loved maths. I have been hooked since I was 5 and won my first maths prize, the book The Animals of Farthing Wood. That was when I realised that I was good at the subject. I didn't just like it at school: at home I would spend hours on my toy computer playing mental arithmetic games over and over, until I had scored the highest marks possible.

This gave me confidence with numbers. But, in a subject with right or wrong answers, children can all too quickly decide they do not have the so-called "maths brain" and switch off.

We need to be encouraging young minds to love maths from as early an age as possible. First, for the individual, who in everyday life needs to be confident with numbers, whether it is for work or for financial budgeting, getting the best mortgage deal or understanding the interest rate on a credit card.

Second, for the country and the economy. We need good mathematicians to compete in a global market. At the moment we do not have them: a 2012 survey from the charity National Numeracy found that almost half of British adults have the maths skills of an 11-year-old or worse.

So how can we inspire children to love maths? Schemes such as the National Young Mathematicians' Award, in which I was recently involved, certainly help. It is an annual event run by English and maths tuition provider Explore Learning that celebrates children who show promise in the subject. In 2012, more than 650 teams from primary schools across the country took part and the top five participated in a grand final at the University of Cambridge. The children absolutely loved it.

Run in partnership with the University of Cambridge's maths enrichment team NRICH, the competition presents "low-threshold, high-ceiling" problems, meaning they are suitable for all abilities but more able pupils are fully stretched.

It is so important for children to not be bored in maths. If they are good, challenge them more. If they are struggling, let them master the basics before moving on to anything more complicated. The key is to make maths fun. When children enjoy maths, they do more of it, their confidence grows and this has a snowball effect with fantastic consequences. We need to openly celebrate maths, so that future generations will, like me, be proud of their love for this hugely valuable subject.

Rachel Riley is a maths graduate and co-host of Countdown. Find out more about the National Young Mathematicians' Award at

What else?

Cover 2D and 3D shapes, multiplication, fractions, decimals and percentages using mkemp's double-sided maths mat.


Mathematical challenge cards from bluerose offer problems for pupils to solve over the course of a week.


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