Helping kids with maths
It’s not uncommon for kids to have problems with learning maths (hello understatement!).
As parents we try to support our kids' education, but what happens when the skills that the kids are learning are beyond our own skills? Many of us haven’t tackled the maths that our kids are learning for years or decades!
And if kids undertake advanced maths classes … oh hey where did I’d put my wine bottle???
The good news is, it’s not our skills that can help kids with learning maths, it’s our attitude that is most important.
It’s dry, it’s boring, it’s hard, it’s okay to be bad a maths. Attitudes are everything in learning. If kids have negative attitudes like these towards maths it could hold them back.
If kids have a positive attitude and the confidence to learn, they will succeed.
Nurturing a positive attitude towards maths will open a child’s mind towards the fantastic possibilities of maths, regardless of the age of the child and their intelligence. Oh, the power of positivity!
So dear parents, what can you do to help kids succeed with maths?
1. Have a positive attitude
Be a role model. You can do this (that’s you, parents). Stay positive!
Maths is an essential skill for life. Think about all of the amazing things that maths can do for ourselves e.g. make the most of our money, help us to schedule in more time for the things we love to do, get better results in our cooking by using the correct quantities and times, and grow our friendships through algorithms in social media.
What about the amazing things maths can do for our world e.g. construct that impressive building, get us to outerspace and back to run experiments in zero gravity (they’ve been cracking that nut for 50+ years), and help us to develop cures to illnesses.
Challenge kids to think of anything important that doesn’t involve maths. Can anyone think of any scenario where maths skills would be a hinderance?
Take this respect for maths through every day.
2. Focus on the basics of maths
Building a solid foundation in maths enables kids to add more advanced skills. If they’re comfortable with the basics, they can tackle harder maths with all-important confidence.
In Australian schools, maths is taught through 3 strands: number and algebra; measurement and geometry; and statistics and probability. Whether we know all of these terms or not, most of us know the basics of these - trust yourself!
Focus on the following basics in maths when helping or talking with kids:
- Counting and multiplying
- Ratios, such as bigger and smaller
- Symbols, such as + - = % and <
- Charts and graphs
3. Do your own maths out loud
Demonstrate how maths fits into our everyday lives by saying your maths out loud in front of the kids as you go about your activities. This helps kids to understand “why” - why maths is useful, important and relevant.
Teachers in Australian schools focus on 4 proficiencies in maths: understanding, reasoning, problem solving, and fluency. Teachers want kids to think about why they are using maths and how to apply it. You will be doing wonders for kids by showing them how you use maths in the real world!
Use everyday objects and everyday scenarios, such as:
- Read and say numbers out loud, especially the bigger ones and the ones with decimals such as money.
- When shopping explain how you are working out costs, totals, discounts and bulk deals.
- Are you measuring out ingredients, counting calories or feeling the heat? Talk about number scales, such as weights and temperatures.
- Talk ratios. Which one is bigger, higher, heavier? How much taller is one thing compared to another?
- Time tends to run our lives. Time is a measurement. How much time is left? How long ago was it?
- How many parts make a whole? Ask kids to describe how full is the cup or washing machine, and then how much space is empty.
- Discuss probability. What is the likelihood of something happening? Is there a 20% chance, or 100%? Why?
- Review a printed page with numbers and discuss what the symbols next to the numbers mean.
- Pick up a graph or chart - what story does it tell us?
It’s good to keep it simple and basic. For kids learning more advanced maths, there is no need to feel intimidated to go beyond your own maths skills (other help is available for that, which is detailed later in this article). Reinforcing the basics of maths with questions still feels like a win for them and it builds their confidence and speed. It’s the KISS principle!
4. Make it fun with games
There are plenty of great board games and card games that make maths fun, such as Numero and Make 7.
There are also great activity books on seeing maths from a different perspective, such as maths-based art or games to the play in the car. Check out the art activity book This Is Not A Maths Book.
Online maths games are immensely popular, such as Prodigy and Mathletics, though playing a board game will enable parents to be more involved with developing other skills, such as persistence and resilience.
Informal maths games can be fun too. How about a cooking competition at home - baking with a recipe is a yummy way of applying maths! Driving in the car gives you a captive audience in the backseat, so challenge them to some speed mental maths (tip: use a printed multiplication table printed from the internet if your kids are faster than you).
5. When kids get stuck, help them to make a plan
If kids knew the maths already, they wouldn’t be learning!
Kids will get stumped many times in maths classes and with maths homework. Read that sentence again. Accept it.
Firstly, when they get stumped, encourage them to do what they can and try as hard as possible.
Secondly, help them break the challenge down into sections or logical steps if possible (without actually completing the homework for them of course!).
Kids should attempt the parts of the challenge that they are able to - this will be beneficial and help reinforce learning.
Thirdly - and most importantly - help kids not to become stressed if they cannot complete the task. Rather than becoming frustrated or upset, take a short break, then help kids to make a plan to overcome the challenge.
When a kid gets stuck with maths, a plan could include:
- read the instructions given by the teacher together
- meet with their teacher after school to get one-to-one help
- search for a video online (here's a shoutout to Eddie Woo and his Wootube channel)
- explore the maths activities for the Australian school year level at ABC Education
- go old-school and consult the text book
- use a social media group for the parents to find one that can help, or ask parents at school pick-up time.
If a problem is occurring regularly, speak to the teacher about their recommendations for tutoring (online or face to face), in-class help or other forms of support – they may know some free options before you venture into paid help.
6. Keep listening
Regularly ask kids to explain what they’re learning in maths and how they feel about it.
One of the warning signs of not doing well in maths is avoidance, so pay even more attention if kids seem to be avoiding talking about maths altogether.
Venting? Just listen. Sometimes kids need to voice their frustrations to help them process and put things in context. Listen to what is going wrong as well as what is going right.
Chat to their teacher to keep engaged with what is happening in the classroom.
Finally, don’t forget the praise – praise hard work, praise communicating, praise positivity.
It’s a natural part of learning to face challenges and overcome them. Parents you are perfectly positioned to help kids with their maths coursework regardless of your maths skills – all you need is a good attitude. Enthusiasm is contagious!