If you had known me in school, you would know that I am the very last person you would expect to be working at a numeracy charity. I avoided maths whenever I could and refused to fully engage when I was in class. I didn’t pass my Maths GCSE at 16 and I spent the next decade and a half of my adult life believing that I couldn’t do maths.
I eventually returned to education and retook my Maths GCSE, overcoming my anxiety to pass with flying colours. You can hear more about my experience with maths anxiety and get further tips on helping children with maths anxiety here.
When my eldest son was small and starting to bring home maths homework, I still believed that I couldn’t “do numbers”. I would try to help him, but got caught up in thinking I might be doing more damage than good, and would unthinkingly say things like “I’m not good at maths”, and “I hated maths in school”.
However, by the time my youngest son started to bring home maths homework I had returned to education and found that I was, in fact, a numbers person. My attitude towards helping him with maths was entirely different. I felt positive about my own ability and was able to encourage him. When it was a bit tricky, we could calmly work through the problem together.
My eldest is now 17, and although he passed his Maths GCSE last year, he is not very confident in his ability and will avoid having to work with numbers wherever possible. My youngest is in secondary school, and his attitude towards numbers is entirely different. He loves maths and has no fear of numbers. He is always the first to try to answer any maths question and if he’s wrong, he isn’t concerned, he’ll just rethink and have another go!
Confidence with numbers is giving UK parents homework headaches
Almost a quarter of parents say they're not confident helping their children with their maths homework (23%) (Ipsos MORI, 2019), but this doesn't have to be a barrier. If you don’t feel confident with maths yourself, you can still make a huge difference to the development of your child’s confidence and ability–and maybe even improve your own at the same time.
1. Be enthusiastic! Being positive about numbers is the simplest and most powerful thing you can do to help your child with maths. Being negative about the subject might rub off on them, leading them to believe that numbers are something best avoided.
2. Praise your child for effort. Praise your child for how hard they have tried rather than putting it down to them being “clever”. This helps them to understand that by working hard they can always learn and improve.
3. Give them time. Be patient and encouraging to help your child work things out for themselves. Resist the temptation to jump in and solve it for them!
4. Make it part of something. You don’t need to be a genius to give your child the right head start. Point out the maths in everyday life by including your child in activities involving numbers and measuring, such as shopping, cooking and travelling. Check out our Family Maths Toolkit if you need some ideas.
5. It's not all about numbers. To develop your child’s sense of shape, space and measures you can stimulate their development with shape sorter toys, pouring liquid from one cup to another in the bath, and even lining up teddies in height order! Take older kids on a nature hunt and task them to find as many shapes and interesting angles as possible in the park.
Bonus tip! Practise your own number skills. If you struggle with maths yourself and would like to improve without the pressure of exams or a classroom, you can get help online for free at the National Numeracy Challenge. The Challenge is also packed full of advice and encouragement about how you can begin to feel more confident and positive about the numbers in your everyday life.
This article is adapted from an original piece written by Kayla Fuller from National Numeracy for Maths Week London
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Supporting Parents: The Maths Mum on why maths is still maths
Start improving your numeracy – register on the National Numeracy Challenge now!
National Numeracy has developed an online tool to help you improve your everyday maths and boost your confidence. This interactive website is free to use at home, at work or on the move. You can assess your current level of numeracy – completely anonymously – and then begin an online journey to getting the Essentials of Numeracy.