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Supporting maths at home

Throughout primary school it is important to make maths as enjoyable and memorable as possible for your children. Once children start to enjoy maths, they will understand the concepts.

The right attitude is key. Try to discourage the idea that particular people ‘aren’t good at maths’, and instead promote the idea that even things that seem really hard can be mastered with hard work and perseverance, and that mistakes are opportunities to develop. When children say ‘I can’t do this’, say ‘You can’t do it yet!’

Games, puzzles and jigsaws are a great way to start helping with maths at home. It's also important to show children how we use maths skills in our everyday lives and to involve children in this.

We’ve put together some top tips to help you support your children with maths at different stages.

Maths at home with children 4-5 years old

The adage about children learning when they're having fun is especially true when it comes to maths. So the challenge is how to make playing around with numbers part of children’s everyday games and experiences.

Talk about numbers you see around you, such as house numbers, the buttons on the TV remote, car registration plates, bus numbers. This will help children to recognise digits 0 to 9.

Read counting books and recite number rhymes to build children’s confidence in the order of numbers, and counting both forwards and backwards.

Play games involving numbers, such as dominoes and snakes and ladders. Dice games are great for helping children learn to subitise (recognise how many dots they can see without having to count them).

Match numbers to objects when counting, e.g. laying out toys in a row and saying the numbers in order as you place each toy down, and emphasising that the last number you say tells you the total number of toys. If the toys are moved around (but none added or taken away), they will learn that even if they are set out differently, the number remains the same (this is important mathematically).

Use concrete objects for counting, and for simple addition and subtraction. E.g. How many grapes do you have? If you ate two, how many would be left? You can also introduce the early stages of multiplication and division in a similar way. E.g. If you gave two grapes to each of your three teddies, how many grapes would we need in total? Or: You’ve got nine grapes there. Can you share them between your three teddies so they each get the same amount?

Whenever you play or carry out any games or activities involving numbers, try to keep it enjoyable for both you and your child. Little and often is best.

Praise and encouragement when your child finds a task difficult is very important. And little children (but plenty of older ones, too) like playing games they can win, so make it easy for them to win (and let them occasionally).

For more ideas watch the video 'Patterns everywhere' on YouTube here.

Maths at home with children 5–6 years old

The two most important things when it comes to learning maths are enjoyment and motivation - and they are closely related. Children will improve at maths with practice, and then will enjoy it when they succeed. A great deal of this depends on the experiences children have at home, and it helps if you praise them for their efforts and are patient when they're slow to grasp a new concept. Practise counting in 1s, 2s and 10s, e.g. looking at house numbers as they usually go in 2s. You could also start to talk about the idea of odd and even numbers, e.g. using pairs of socks.

Rehearse number bonds, as these will really help children to develop fluency in maths. You could do this in a practical way, e.g. using small toys and two trays. To practise the bonds to 6, put six toys on one tray, and challenge children to find as many different ways as they can to split the toys between the two trays: 6 + 0, 5 + 1, 4 + 2, 3 + 3, 2 + 4, 1 + 5, 0 + 6.

Have a collection of ‘mathematical’ objects available, such as cards numbered 1–10, dice, dominoes, small toys, buttons, linking cubes, counters, etc. Children will be learning at school how they can use a range of objects to help them with their maths.

Draw or print out ‘empty’ number lines and add them to your 'maths collection'. Have some with 10 divisions and some with 20, and you can add numbers on to fit what you’re doing. E.g. use a number line with 20 divisions, label the ends 0 and 20, then label most of the other divisions with the correct numbers; ask children to fill in the missing numbers.

Play simple adding and subtracting games. E.g. put 10 objects on a tray and ask your child to choose two (or more) numbered cards, e.g. 2 and 5, then put the correct number of objects against each card and find the total. Children will gradually learn that in addition the numbers we add together can be in any order, but in subtraction the larger number has to come first.

Ask children to explain how they worked out an answer. This will show you how they're thinking, what skills and knowledge they used, and if they’ve made a mistake it might help to highlight what has gone wrong.

Continue to play games involving numbers, such as dominoes and snakes and ladders. Let them win frequently (but not always).

For more ideas watch the video 'Number Tracks' on YouTube here.

Maths at home with children 6–7 years old

By this stage, your child should be aware that making mistakes is part of learning. They will know that if they get something wrong, they need to check their workings and find out where they went wrong or get help from their teacher.

Practise counting in 2s, 5s and 10s. It's important to not always start from 0, but sometimes to count on from a different number, e.g. count in 2s starting from 12. You can go on to higher numbers, but ensure your child is keen to do so. This will help them to carry out mental calculations more efficiently.

Practise the 2, 5 and 10 times tables. Keep it simple and fun. Practise in the car. After some practice, ask questions such as: Which times table is easiest? Why?

Give children problems involving money, e.g. You have £1 to spend. What will you buy? Will you have any change left? What else could you buy? Use real money, if possible – and perhaps a small amount of pocket money for real-life shopping. If maths is a natural part of daily life, your child will find it much more enjoyable.

Ask doubling and halving questions, such as What is the double of 5? What is half of 8? Use concrete objects such as small toys to help.

Pose simple multiplication and division problems. E.g. for multiplication, you could ask questions about the total number of wheels in a group of three toy cars. For division, ask questions about ‘sharing equally’, e.g. You’ve got eight sweets; if you shared them equally with your brother, how many would you each have?

Talk about simple fractions, focusing on halves and quarters. E.g. How would you share a pizza between two (or four) children? How much will each person get? Try with chocolate bars. Share into quarters. How many pieces do you have? If you give half away, what is left?

Have a collection of ‘mathematical’ objects available, such as cards numbered 0–20, dice, dominoes, small toys, linking cubes, counters, beadstrings, etc. Children will be learning at school how they can use a range of objects to help them with their maths.

Draw or print out 1–100 squares and add them to your ‘maths collection’. A 1–100 square can help children in lots of ways, e.g. they can see what happens when they add/subtract 1 or 10 to/from a number (they move up/down/left/right by one square on the grid); they can see the patterns in number sequences, by e.g. colouring squares to show the numbers they say when they count in 2s/5s/10s.

Maths at home with children 7–8 years old

Keep counting: counting on and back is still very important for children of this age and helps to reinforce their understanding. For example: count on from 100 in 2s, 5s, 10s. Count back in 100s from 1000 or 740, etc.

Give children problems involving money, e.g. Take them shopping with £1 pocket money. What can they get for 20p, 50p, etc? How much change do they expect? Is it correct? How much have they left? (Don't make the amounts too difficult, though, be guided by your child.)

Ask simple multiplication and division questions, e.g. There are four cakes in a box. How many cakes would we have if we bought five boxes? We have ten sandwiches and five people. How many sandwiches each? How can we make sure we all get the same number? If children find it too much of a challenge to work it out mentally, find ways to make it visual, such as drawing five squares each with four small circles inside them, to represent five boxes of four cakes.

Talk about simple fractions, focusing on halves, thirds, quarters and eighths. Try to find practical situations. E.g. Give half your cake to your friend. Divide the pizza into quarters – how many pieces each?

Use number fridge magnets to pose questions for each other. E.g. make ‘8 × 9 =’ on the fridge, then wait for children to discover it and add the answer. Challenge them to create calculations for you too!

Continue to play games involving numbers. Games such as Monopoly can be very useful, as children learn to handle large denominations of money. Ludo and dominoes help them perfect strategies that give them the edge, such as which dominoes to get rid of early and those that offer many options for play.

Maths at home with children 8–9 years old

A good understanding of maths helps hugely in our everyday lives, so it's important to help our children to develop these skills: to think, reason, see patterns, estimate and make predictions. Use anything your child is interested in as a means of developing these skills. At all levels, play is an essential part because it helps to build confidence.

Practice ordering large numbers, e.g. write 6247, 1059, 939, 3642, 7512 on small squares of paper and ask children to put them in order. It is important for them to say the numbers out loud as well. You can make it more challenging by including similar-looking numbers such as 2545, 2535, 255, etc. so children really have to pay attention to which digits are in which places.

Practice the times tables, up to 10 × 10 (or even 12 × 12!). You could turn it into a game by timing children and seeing if they can beat their previous time, or just challenge them with times table questions, e.g. What’s six times five? The aim is not just for children to be able to say their times tables by rote; the aim is to become really comfortable and confident with these multiplication facts so that they can draw upon these quickly when working on challenging maths problems.

Challenge children to continue a number sequence, e.g. write 37, 46, 55 and ask children to write the next three numbers. Ask them to explain how they worked it out. At school, they will have become accustomed to explaining their methods and reasoning.

Talk about decimals, perhaps in the context of money and measurements.

Get cooking! Helping with cooking is an ideal activity for introducing and reinforcing all kinds of maths - using fractions, ratios, time, etc. E.g. This recipe is for two people, but we need to make it for four. What do we need to do? This has to go in the oven for 25 minutes and it is 10.20am now. When will we need to take it out?

Continue to develop children’s use of money, e.g. in the supermarket get them to shop for the ingredients for something they want to make. Get them to check the cost and work out how much money they think they will need to pay for it (estimate). Was it enough? If we pay with £10, how much change will we get?

Continue to play games involving numbers. Board games, darts, bowling and so on all contribute to developing children's maths skills. In Monopoly, for example, suggest that your child is the banker and then ask the banker to give you change from £500 in 100s and 10s. But, as with younger children, don't make it too difficult - games need to be easy enough for them to win (although not all the time) otherwise they will lose confidence in their abilities and won't want to play again.

Maths at home with children 9–10 years old

Not every child finds maths exciting, but if you are positive and join in maths games and activities, they're more likely to be confident and, in turn, enjoy themselves.

Keep practising times tables, as it is really important for children to have quick recall of these number facts, to help them when they tackle more challenging maths. Time them and encourage them to beat their previous time.

Look for number patterns. E.g. get them to choose any three consecutive numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 3 or 15, 16, 17) and add them together. What do you notice? (The total is a multiple of 3.) Why do you think that happens?

Ask children to help with shopping, as this is a great opportunity to reinforce money-handling and number facts. E.g. Is it worth buying 3-for-2 on these biscuits? How much will we save?

Find example of percentages in everyday life, e.g. if something children want to buy has 10% off, see if they can tell you what the new price will be.

Continue to play games involving numbers. Continue to play any kind of games that involve developing your child's number and money-handling skills. A useful game to develop decimal skills is to use a pack of playing cards with the picture cards removed. Shuffle the cards. Each player takes three cards. Make as many decimal numbers as you can using the three numbers chosen. For example: 2, 4, 7 could make 24.7, 2.47, 7.24 etc. Ask questions such as, Which is the largest/smallest number? Could you add any together to make a whole number?

Maths at home with children 10–11 years old

You can really help your child at this stage by continuing to take an interest in the maths they're doing, and bringing numeracy into as many aspects of life at home as you can on a practical level (e.g. the value of 3-for-2 or ‘bogof’ sales and discounts when shopping).

Talk about decimal numbers. Some children find decimals difficult, so it can be helpful to encourage them to read and say decimal numbers digit by digit. For example: 0.125 is nought point one two five, not nought point one hundred and twenty-five. Some children think that the more digits, the bigger the number must be – a great deal of practice is needed. You could write similar-looking decimal numbers on small squares of paper, e.g. 0.314, 0.34, 0.341, 0.134, and ask children to put them in order.

Cook together, and get children helping to solve maths problems in a real-life content. E.g. halving and doubling quantities depending on the numbers involved (converting a recipe for two people into a recipe for four).

Continue to play games involving numbers. Games are still important, so any games involving an exchange of large sums of money, such as Monopoly, are very useful for extending maths skills. There are also many electronic games available - the important thing is that they have some mathematical content. Games of chance are also helpful. You could try 'Dice bingo' to get them started with the idea. Each person has a bingo card with eight squares. Each player can choose eight numbers to put on their card, between 2 and 12. (They can also choose several numbers that are the same.) Roll two dice, if the total is on your card you can cross it off. The first card to be completed is the winner. The game is a combination of luck and skill - skill because you can increase your chances by carefully considering the numbers you choose. Children soon realise that some number combinations come up more often than others. For example, 7 can be 6 + 1, 5 + 2 or 3 + 4, whereas 2 is only 1 + 1. See how quickly your child realises this.

Set challenging problems for children to solve. At this stage, children should be able to solve problems using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and explain their reasoning. They are likely to have well-developed computation skills and be able to solve problems involving money, time and measurement. They should have a variety of methods they can draw on, and make their own decisions about which methods to use and when. E.g. you could ask children to solve 749 ÷ 7, and explain their thinking. (They might work out that they could split 749 into 700 and 49, divide each of these by 7, and add the results: 700 ÷ 7 = 100, 49 ÷ 7 = 7, answer = 107.)

Reviewed: July 2020

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