12 great benefits of maths challenges

Number puzzles
Maths activities could give your child’s learning a boost in many ways, and help them engage with numbers (and enjoy it!) from a young age. Lucy Dimbylow offers 12 reasons to give number puzzles a go today.

1. Number puzzles help make maths enjoyable

Maths games and activities can help your child develop an enthusiasm for numeracy ‘They can engage children in the subject and help them see a purpose in what they are doing,’ says Liz Woodham, primary coordinator at NRICH. ‘The very act of working through a difficult problem to find the solution is rewarding.’

2. They take away the fear

‘There’s no question that some aspects of maths are difficult,’ Liz explains. ‘Working on maths activities, particularly at home, gives you an opportunity to practise and talk about maths in a relaxed context, taking away the pressure that some children feel in the classroom and making it feel less scary.’

3. They help your child grasp diverse mathematical concepts

Maths activities could help your child get to grips with a wide range of mathematical principles, from times tables to geometry. They can also help children to master the maths concepts that form an important part of everyday life, such as telling the time and using money.

4. They build fluency

‘Maths activities help children develop fluency with numbers and become more skilled at using mental images to solve problems,’ says Liz. This will be a particular benefit under the new National Curriculum, which comes into effect in 2014 and requires children to learn a wider range of times tables than is currently required, and at a younger age.

5. Number puzzles help develop strategic thinking

‘Maths games don’t just give children an understanding of a particular mathematical concept; they also help them develop their problem-solving skills,’ Liz explains. ‘At a basic level, playing a game helps a child gain an understanding of the rules and practise maths, but as they improve, they can think more strategically and push themselves further.’

6. They allow children to work at their own level

Research shows that maths games allow children to work at their own level, and to learn from each other. In a group situation, one child might be encountering a mathematical concept for the first time through the activity; another may be developing his understanding of the concept, and a third consolidating his knowledge.

7. They improve learning

Australian research published in 2011 found that playing maths games gives a significant boost to children’s learning, with 83 per cent of students and 100 per cent of teachers reporting a marked improvement. Games were also reported to increase children’s enjoyment of maths and boost their confidence. 

8. They teach transferable skills

The skills that children can learn and enhance through maths activities have knock-on benefits in other areas of learning. ‘They can help children’s problem-solving, logical thinking, mental fluency, perseverance, ability to cope with failure, and even their use of language,’ says Liz. ‘These skills are useful across the curriculum, not just in maths.’

9. They boost spatial skills

University of Chicago researchers found that young children who engage in puzzles at home develop better spatial skills than those who don’t.

10. They help with test preparation

Working on maths challenges can help children hone the skills they need for academic tests such as SATs, the 11+ and Year 7 CATs. ‘These activities encourage children to develop their reasoning skills, think in a mathematical way and improve their working memory, as well as building their understanding of non-verbal concepts like space, shape and number,’ says Liz.

11. They build friendships

Maths may have a reputation for being a solitary pursuit, but working together on maths challenges is a good way for children to socialise and make new friendships, according to research. ‘Working on activities with partners or groups is also a great opportunity for children to practise conversing using mathematical language,’ adds Liz.

12. They increase your child’s future earning power

A study from the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed that children who have strong maths skills at age 10 earn significantly more in their 30s. What better reason to get your child playing with numbers?

Itching to put the theory into practice? Download number puzzles and find out about other mathematical brain-boosting activities, or turn your attention to literacy and consider the benfits of word puzzles instead.