Helping your child with primary school maths

Teachers talk about how parents can help kids understand maths homework.

At a glance

  • Maths today is about understanding number patterns, not learning by rote.
  • There is always more than one way to get the right answer.
  • Children are taught mental strategies, like using number lines, to figure problems out in their heads.
  • Ask ‘What is the question asking you?’
  • Practise the times tables.
  • Don't jump in with the answers.
  • Stay positive.
  • Talk to the teacher if your child needs more help with the homework.

Video – ‘Helping your child with primary school maths’

Duration – 4:59

Helping your child with primary school maths

Narrator: If maths wasn't your best subject at school, trying to help your child can be nerve wracking, especially since it seems so different now. Here are some tips from experienced teachers.

Laurinda Lomas: The way that we teach mathematics is different these days.

Kerrie Shaw : The focus now is not on the right answer; it's more on the strategies you're using to work that out.

The strategies might look different, but in actual fact the process and the answer are still the same.

Sue-Ellen Chilvers: We teach for understanding in maths now. There's a lot of what we, as children, would have learned – just rote learned things. How to do addition and how to do subtraction was just purely rote often without understanding, where the way maths is taught now is about understanding.

Sara Chambers: Whereas a lot of the parents would be used to doing sums where you write one number on top of the other, add or subtract, we don't focus a lot on that until the children are probably in Year 4. Before that we really focus on working it out in their head, using mental strategies to work it out. Because the way that we do it mentally, they have a better understanding of the process that's involved.

For example if you were given a number sentence 32 plus 12, instead of writing those one on top of the other and adding them, you would start with 32 and add on 10 to give 42 and then add another two on. So it's teaching children to be able to do it without pen and paper and to be able to really understand numbers and how they work.

Laurinda Lomas: There's more than one way to get to a right answer and we help children figure out the best way that makes sense to them to get to that answer.

Sue-Ellen Chilvers: We're constantly encouraging children to work things out in more than one way, as a way to check their accuracy.

Sara Chambers: It will surprise you what they can do, and using number lines to help them count. And the ruler, they can use the ruler to help them jump along and count.

Josh Stevens: Now we're finding that children learn better, especially with maths, with a hands-on activity.

Kylie Hill: It's more group activities... problem-solving tasks in all the areas of maths, not just sitting down and doing a hundred algebra questions in an hour. It's very different.

Sara Chambers: And I'd also say that, as hard as it is, don't just jump in and tell the answer or how to do it exactly. Good phrases would be: "Well how do you think we could go about working this out?", "What would you do if you were in school? "

Steve Harper: The key thing to helping a student with mathematics is to find out where the problem is.

Sara Chambers: Talk to them about "What's the problem asking you?" and then, "What strategy could you use?". "Do you need to use addition, do you need to use division, do you need to use multiplication?"

Steve Harper: Because mathematics is modularised, in other words, we have units that we learn which are like little bricks I suppose, if you can find out which little brick is a bit loose and then straighten it up, then you can build on that. Maths is a very learnable subject and if you take it step by step, people can experience success in it.

Susan Turnbull: If children can learn the times tables before they get into Year 7, that makes an enormous difference. If they're confident with their times tables they're a lot more confident with their numbers and mathematics in general.

Elizabeth Vincent: I find that when children get into my classroom, sometimes they've already picked up what their parents do and don't feel confident about.

Steve Harper: Parents need to be positive about mathematics with their kids – even if they struggled with it at home themselves. They need maintain a positive attitude with their kids, and not make excuses for their kids. "Oh I was bad at maths at school, so that's probably why you're bad at maths at school."

Amanda Schofield: For a parent to say to a child, "I was poor at maths," is probably the worst thing that can happen because that gives the child the green light not to try themselves. Better to say, "I tried".

Josh Stevens: If you get frustrated, try to keep it in and just move on to the next question.

Laurinda Lomas: I tell parents not to be afraid of maths because we're using it a lot every day and we use it in very natural situations.

Michael Clark: What I generally tell parents though is if your kid is having a little bit of problem in their homework, just write the teacher a short note. Most teachers will find time then to sit down and revise that concept with the student till they can properly understand it. Basically all teachers are there to teach children and they don't feel successful either if the child doesn't know the concept.

End of transcript.


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