The advice given here is taken from 'Maths for Mums and Dads', Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew (Square Peg, 2010). They have also written 'More Maths for Mums and Dads' which is aimed at GCSE students.
The Big Questions
1. Why do they do it differently these days?
We called them maths lessons, then in primary they became numeracy and suddenly we are back to maths again. This introduces the problem that although parents are keen to help they realise:
- They don’t understand what the child is doing, and therefore don’t know if it is right or wrong;
- When they try and demonstrate how do something, all they manage to do is confuse the child.
Maths has changed; today’s lessons are much more about investigation and problem solving.
The techniques have changed; for example, to work out 79 x 43 most of us would have used the method “long multiplication”, but can’t explain how it works. Today’s methods are much more about teaching students how to understand the underlying maths; in theory, reducing the chance of them making mistakes and building the foundation for understanding more complicated mathematics later.
As a parent, it is important that you learn about the new techniques and hopefully the best teachers should be your children, which is a fantastic method of solidifying knowledge for students; for example, as them to explain the grid method for multiplication or chunking/grouping for division. However, don’t be put off by the new names as most methods and techniques are ancient, but straightforward
2.How can I overcome my own fear of maths?
If maths is a breeze you can skip this part!
Maths can be a living hell for some. It brings back memories from their own schooling where the teaching was more like a set of instructions for getting from A to B. With a list of instructions, if you make a mistake it can send you down the wrong path and it is difficult to get back on track. Having a fear of maths can make us terrified of being found out by our children. It is where the common phrase, “I always struggled with maths,” is used and the reason that your children stop asking for help.
Most of our fear of maths comes from our own experience of battling through the list of instructions before hitting the wall. However, your actual experience of maths will be far more sophisticated than you probably give yourself credit for.
3. How can I get my child to enjoy maths and be better at it than I was?
Simply, this is about helping your child enjoy maths and that is done through positive feedback. One clear strategy for helping students achieve in school is to praise the effort and not the outcome. So rather than saying how ‘clever’ or ‘quick’ they are, giving them positive feedback on the effort they have put in will encourage them to keep trying even if they are finding something hard.
When working through homework and they give a wrong answer, it is tempting to immediately tell them they have made a mistake and to then explain the right answer. Resist this temptation. Ask them instead to explain how they worked it out, and lead them on until (if you are lucky) they spot the error. You should attempt this method when they get the answer right as well!
However, you will never make maths enjoyable if you always describe yourself as ‘hopeless’ at maths. If you show an interest, your children will be curious too, and by talking about and playing with maths as a natural part of your daily life, rather than it being something that’s only done under duress, your child is bound to enjoy it more.
4. Why do they (or I) need to know this?
Some maths is very easy to justify because it has obvious applications in life. The students will see that basic arithmetic will be helpful in working out the ingredients for a recipe, calculate change, measure a height or how much pocket money they will need to save to buy a new game. There will be maths that you can see will be important, such as, percentages, estimation and interpreting statistics will prove essential life skills.
The problems arise when the maths becomes more abstract. When are they going to need to know about prime numbers? How could knowing the internal angles of a pentagon ever be of practical use to them?
Attempting to answer this can be an uphill battle, but you could quickly finding yourself asking what is the point of learning anything. What is the point of knowing that Henry VIII had six wives, or that magnesium makes a bright white light when you burn it? If you buy the idea that knowledge and learning are useful things for the sake of knowing them, then maths belongs in that foundation of knowledge.
One important reason why your child has to do so much maths, whether or not they like it or have an aptitude for it, is that a qualification in maths has become an essential ticket to the majority of professional and vocational skill based careers.
So the best response to, ‘What’s the point?’ is often to answer with another question: ‘Why does there have to be a point?’
Maths props for mums and dads
This list is not exhaustive nor exclusive:
- Prominent clock in the kitchen;
- A traditional wall calendar;
- Board games that involve dice, including those with unusual dice;
- A pack of traditional playing cards;
- A calculator;
- Measuring jugs with scales;
- A tape measure or a ruler;
- Family bar of chocolate;
- Kitchen scales;
- A dartboard;
- Indoor/outdoor thermometer.
Dos and don’ts
- Play (maths) with your child;
- Let your child win and be better than you;
- Make maths a casual part of what you do whilst you are doing something else;
- Do lots of hands on maths;
- Recognise that there is more than one way of doing calculations;
- Be a geek;
- Learn to be an actor if you don’t find maths exciting.
- Don’t expect them to ‘get it’ after you’ve explained it once;
- Don’t tell them you are hopeless at maths.
Rob Eastaway - Author of 'Maths for Mums and Dads'
Emaths - Interactive site
NRICH - Promotes the learning of mathematics through problem solving