I’m often asked by parents if there is anything they could (or should) be doing in the home environment to better support their child’s maths learning. The trigger may be a disappointing school report, the start of a new school term or simply an inherent belief that their child could be doing better than they are currently doing.
And the answer is a resounding “Yes, you can help.” And the good news is that it needn’t be difficult or time-consuming to have an impact if you put a few of these tips into practice.
Maths ability is not set in stone and parents can help in very practical ways. Here are the 3 ingredients to get you started!
Step 1: Be aware
Learning maths is like building a pyramid. Maths skills such as counting, addition, subtraction etc are the foundation building blocks that make up the base. If one maths skill doesn’t quite sink in, it makes the foundations shaky and new skills become harder to learn.
This is what causes children to start to lose confidence and fall behind. So early awareness of a potential problem is key so it can be addressed before confidence is damaged.
However, it can be tricky to really know how your child is doing in maths – even after you’ve read the school report!
So here are a few tips to help build an accurate picture of your child’s maths strengths and weaknesses (forgive me for stating the obvious here).
- Speak to your child regularly – What are you doing in maths this week? How did you do in that homework / weekly test?
- Look at his/her school books.
- Check out the national curriculum to familiarise yourself with the skills your child will be working on in school
- Speak to the teacher – they will have a good grasp of how your child is doing compared to what is reasonably expected for their age.
- Prepare for parents’ evening (or any meeting with teacher) – have a few questions in mind to draw out the detail – What can I do to improve her understanding…? Which curriculum areas…?
- If you have particular concerns, don’t wait until parents evening to address. Although teachers are busier than ever, there are very few who wouldn’t welcome the efforts of an engaged parent.
- Try Komodo Kickstart – our series of short maths quizzes. They are free to use and help parents build up a picture of a child’s fluency and accuracy in the foundational maths skills.
Step 2: Practice
Maths, very much like sports or music, is a skill that needs practice. But don’t just take my word for it:
- Professor Brian Cox, “I’m not a natural mathematician but few people are…you have to practice.”
- Marcus du Sautoy (Professor of Maths at University of Oxford), “Think of having a mathematical muscle in your mind that with practice gradually gets stronger.” I particularly like this idea of a “mathematical muscle.”
- Colin Hegarty (UK maths teacher short-listed for the Global Teacher prize), “Do some maths every single day. Maths is one of those things you need to practice regularly.”
For the best outcome, the ideal plan includes a mix of different approaches to maths practice to develop true maths fluency. And by that I mean:
- Direct, targeted practice based on your knowledge of your son or daughter’s strengths and weaknesses, and complementing their school work. This the core of what is required (and where Komodo maths comes in). But tread a fine balance as too much/too often is likely to burn out even the most enthusiastic learner. (This is why Komodo uses a little and often approach – more of which later.)
- Real world maths. Maths is all around us – so you can use everyday experiences to reinforce and develop maths skills and vocabulary. Measurement, fractions, shapes, time and money all benefit from real world application and often can be naturally harnessed as a way to learn maths. You just need to make a habit of it.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Shopping – involve younger children in counting out items, talk about one more, one less, bigger smaller etc. Older children can practice money management, and comparing discounts are a great opportunity for some quite complex mental maths.
- Cooking – always a mathematician’s favourite! Perfect for understanding and practising number, measuring, size, shape and time. Fractions can also be introduced in sharing out portions.
Gardening – most kids love to help out in the garden so it makes a fun and memorable learning opportunity. Counting, measuring, reading temperature, sorting are all easy mathematical activities for younger children. Older children may enjoy planning a gardening project – introducing scale, evenly spacing out seeds, checking temperatures and measuring plants as they grow.
Games and puzzles – I’m particularly keen on the value of maths puzzles when it involves the whole family and younger members can be involved in working through and finding creative solutions. Check out these fun activities on the Komodo blog for free ideas.
Step 3: Develop a healthy mindset
A healthy mindset towards learning maths includes self-belief, confidence and the resilience to keep learning even when it gets tough .
- Start with yourself and your partner – are you setting a good example? Throw away remarks like “I’m not good at maths,” “I hated maths at school” etc are picked up by children, influencing their attitude to maths. So show enthusiasm towards maths – even if you need to fake it!
- Build confidence – if your child is struggling and has lost some confidence, go back a few steps to the skills that they feel comfortable doing and build from there.
- Praise for effort, not performance – it’s continued effort that is important. Making mistakes isn’t bad, it’s a necessary part of the journey for every learner. Change “I can’t do it,” to “I can’t do it yet.”
- Keep your little learner motivated – a key role (and challenge) for parents. Think more carrot, less stick. And consider getting other family members involved in the all-important encouragement.