SOS! How to avoid maths panic and support learning at home

Blog: Mary Williams, Primary Development Lead

SOS! How to avoid maths panic and support learning at home

Posted: 11/11/15

Most parents are keen to support their children’s learning at home. This can be relatively simple – bedtime stories aid reading and literacy skills, for example. However, when it comes to helping with mathematics, many parents feel uncomfortable, lacking in confidence and even anxious. And these feelings only increase as the child gets older.

Parents often shy away from maths because they worry about getting it wrong, confusing their child, or simply because it conjures up bad memories of their own maths lessons at school. My husband is a case in point – he often says ‘I am no good at maths’ in front of our children and words like ‘geometry’ and ‘statistics’ send him running for the hills.

Many of us have developed a ‘fixed mindset’ and believe being good at maths is purely something you are born with. This fixed mindset, coupled with maths anxiety, is usually the root cause of avoiding the subject.

So how can parents support their children with maths learning at home whilst also tackling their own attitudes to maths?

Maths is for everyone, not just for ‘mathsy’ people

Firstly, as parents we need to be conscious of not passing our maths hang-ups on to our children. We are ALL capable of doing maths. We therefore must ditch the notion that maths is scary and difficult (‘Maths is hard!’ ‘I was never any good at maths!’ or ‘I don’t like maths!’) and instead embrace maths as a highly useful tool that makes our lives richer, easier and more efficient.

Here at Mathematics Mastery, one of our core values is the growth-mindset. We believe our basic abilities are just a starting off point, ready to be developed and enhanced with the right support, dedication and activity. Rather than emphasising ‘brains’ or  ‘natural talent’, we focus on progress and continual improvement.  This, we believe, is a foundation for learning – giving children and adults alike the motivation and resilience needed to do well.

We have high expectations for every child and genuinely believe all children can succeed in maths. So, our advice to parents is to embrace this ethos too and let it guide your support at home.

Help! I don’t know the answer to my child’s maths problem…

This is another common concern from parents. Your child is stuck with their maths homework and wants your help. You look at the question and…panic! You have no idea how to solve it!

Read through the problem with your child. Discuss what the question is asking you to figure out and ensure you both understand it. Approach the problem as something to work at and solve together, whilst encouraging your child to talk through how/what they’ve been taught at school. Always value the effort your child has put in over whether they get the question ‘right’.

Maths learning can happen anywhere

Maths is all around us and problem solving is at the heart of the mastery approach. Look for maths problems you can solve together, making connections between what your child has been learning at school and the world around them.

Demonstrating these connections – and representing them in multiple ways – not only supports your child’s understanding and cements their knowledge; it reinforces the relevance of maths in our lives and makes it fun.

  • Follow a recipe: work together to find out the quantities needed, ask your child to weigh the ingredients, discuss how you’d halve or double the recipe and discuss the ratio of ingredients.
  • Talk about the weather forecast: is today’s temperature higher or lower than yesterday’s? What do the numbers mean?
  • Going shopping: talk about the cost of items and how the cost changes if you buy two items instead of one. Let your child count out the coins when paying and discuss the change you get back. Use coins to explore addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  • Planning an outing: discuss how long it takes to get to the park, and so work out what time you need to leave the house. Encourage your child to work out the best solution based on the time and distances. Discuss what shapes you see when you get there.

Think and talk like a mathematician

Mathematics language often uses common words in a new way. For example, ‘difference’, ‘right’, ‘product’, ‘table’.

To support your child’s understanding of mathematical words, ask them to explain the words they’ve been using and what they mean. Find out what new maths vocabulary your child’s teacher is introducing so you can use it at home to complement their learning.

Always encourage your child to explain how they have gone about solving a problem, and work with them to test, prove, explain, reflect and spot patterns. Questioning and prompts can be powerful tools to boost your child’s mathematical thinking: ‘What do you think…?’  ‘Why …?’ ‘What will happen if…?’ ‘What do you notice about…?’ ‘Can you see a pattern between…?’ ‘What if we try…?’

Communicating and discussing maths problems (in a way that others can understand) demonstrates depth of understanding – another fundamental aspect of mastering mathematics.

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Need more help?

Always speak to your child’s teacher if you feel they need further support and find out what your child will be learning and how you can help at home. Discuss with other mums, dads and people in the community and share ideas on bringing maths to life at home. Don’t forget online resources such as NRICH and BBC Bitesize and check out our shared resources.