Check out the first post in the series here.
By Janet Goodall
In the second blog post of this series, I’d like to talk about how families can support their children’s learning in and around mathematics.
Many parents shy away from helping young people with anything more than simple addition and subtraction, often because of their own experiences around maths when they were at school. This feeling even has a label, ‘maths anxiety’; if the thought of helping with maths bothers you, you’re not alone! In this blog post, I want to give you some ideas that might help overcome that, so you can support your child’s learning during the lockdown. This post is about maths, but a lot of it will apply to other subjects.
First, to reiterate something from the previous blog post, your children are not ‘missing out’, in the sense that they will ‘be behind’ others when they go back to school, because no one is able to follow the ‘usual’ curriculum at the moment, and no one has ‘school as normal’. Being safe and secure is more important than anything else.
Secondly, you probably already do a lot more maths around the house than you realise. Researchers Dr Tim Jay and Dr Jo Rose found that parents engaged in a wide range of activities that related to maths, without using that label. There are the obvious things – counting, working out a budget, and measuring and weighing ingredients when cooking. But there are a lot of other things that relate to maths as well. Matching socks when doing the laundry, working out football rankings, deciding how much paint will be needed to redecorate a room, filling holes in a card or stamp collection, discussing shapes… these all relate to mathematical concepts.
Here are some ideas which can help support maths learning:
- Count the stairs on the way up to bed and, for slightly older children, count in twos or threes.
- You can also count the number of steps between different rooms.
- If you have access to outside places for exercise, count steps there as well! Who can run faster or further?
- For older children, use those step counts to create a map of the house and perhaps populate it with interesting imaginary creatures. If you have access to outside spaces, they can be mapped as well.
- Many families are finding they are doing more cooking now. Your children can help not only weigh and measure but plan meals – how many onions will be needed for which meals in the week? This could lead to work with fractions as well – half an onion is needed on Monday and we can use half of the remaining half on Tuesday.
- This could also lead to other ideas, such as working out if it’s cheaper to buy a large bag of something and whether it will all get eaten by the use-by date.
- Ideas about space are important for a lot of subjects, including maths. Look up places on maps (online or paper) and work out how long it might take to get from one place to another.
- You could also create maps from places in favourite books and do the same calculations. How long would it take to walk from one place to another? To ride a horse? To drive a car?
Confidence and self-esteem
- Try to avoid being very negative about any subject. Don’t let your children hear you say, ‘Oh, it’s too hard. I hated it in school.’ Even if you found maths hard in school, try not to pass that on to your children.
- Older children will probably have work sent to them from school. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do the work. In fact, you could ask your child to explain it to you, as you were taught differently (which will almost certainly be the case). Explaining what they are doing is a very good way to cement learning and it can increase your child’s self-esteem and belief in themselves as a learner.
- If you and your child find that there’s something you can’t do or can’t work out, the important thing is to talk about problem-solving. How might you find the answer? How else might you work it out?
In maths, as in other subjects, what’s really important at the moment is the learning journey, not its end: keep the conversations about learning going. Share what you’re learning, as well as what your children are doing. Let your children know that you are proud of the work they are doing and what they are learning.
Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.