Learning maths at school

Learning maths at school

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Learning maths: connecting school and home

Learning maths doesn't begin and end in the classroom. Your child has been learning about maths since she was born. And once your child starts school, you still have a big role in helping her continue to build maths and numeracy skills.

Here are some ways that you can support your child in learning maths skills at home at all ages:

  • Ask about what maths topics your child is learning at school and talk about how maths can help with everyday activities. For example, understanding fractions can help you measure ingredients when cooking.
  • Be available to help your child with maths revision. You could ask one or two questions from a topic your child already knows so that he feels encouraged when he answers correctly.
  • Use objects, words, numbers, pictures, drawings or symbols to help your child understand maths problems. For example, you could cut an apple into pieces to help your child understand fractions. Or you could add up the items on your family shopping list.
  • Encourage your child to show you how she worked out a maths problem. For example, you could ask her 'How did you figure that out?' or 'Is there another way to figure this out?' And you could both do the same maths problem and compare how you worked out the answer.
  • Encourage your child to try different ways to solve maths problems, especially when he gets the wrong answer. Learning maths isn't just about finding the right answer - it's also about learning different ways to solve problems.

Some primary schools have maths information sessions to show parents how their children are learning maths. If this doesn't happen at your child's school, you can ask the teacher how the children are learning maths in class. This can help you understand how to help your child at home. You might even be able to help in the classroom during maths sessions.

Maths skills and everyday numeracy

Numeracy is the ability to apply maths concepts in all areas of life - and there are endless ways you and your child can do this together.

For example, by bringing maths questions into activities that your child enjoys, you're helping your child make sense of everyday situations and develop numeracy skills at the same time.

Here are some examples of questions you could ask your child about different everyday activities:

  • How many oranges did we get in the bag?
  • Can you pack your lunch box so that everything fits?
  • What's the volume of the milk carton?
  • Which way will we go when we get to the end of the street?
  • What's the fourth item on the shopping list?
  • How much money do you need for the canteen at school?
  • Do we have enough strawberries so that everyone can have three each?

And here are some examples of everyday activities you can do with your school-age child:

  • In the car: look at number plates or street signs and ask your child to read the numbers, order them from highest to lowest, and add them up or multiply them.
  • On public transport: look at maps, timetables and signs to work out how many minutes between each bus, how many stops to your destination, or how long it will take to get there.
  • In your neighbourhood: talk about the shapes and patterns of tiles, bricks and stones on houses and driveways. Ask your child, 'What's the same about these patterns? How are they different?'
  • At the playground: count out how many times a child throws a ball through a hoop or how many rungs there are on the monkey bars.
  • At the park: ask your child, 'How many steps do you think it will take to get to that tree?' Count and compare the number of steps it takes you to reach the tree. Talk about why you and your child might take a different number of steps.
  • At the shops or markets: look at price differences. Guess how many apples you get in a kilogram and then compare this with another fruit. Talk about which item is cheaper and why something is a good buy.
  • In the kitchen: ask your child to measure out different ingredients. Ask your child how much of each ingredient will be enough for a family meal. Ask your child to sort ingredients into groups and explain to you how she grouped them.

When you and your child apply maths knowledge and numeracy skills in everyday situations, it helps your child see and enjoy the value in using maths.

Concerns about your school-age child's maths learning

If you're concerned about your child's maths skills, it might help to know that sometimes children need to practise the same maths concept many times and in different ways before it starts to make sense. This can take time.

But difficulties with maths can affect your child's motivation and confidence, and stop him from enjoying maths activities with his peers.

So if you notice that your child is becoming very frustrated or is consistently making the same mistakes, it's a good idea to talk with your child's teacher. The teacher can tell you more about your child's maths skills in class and whether there might be an issue.

Your child's teacher might suggest ways to support your child's maths learning. For example, you and the teacher might talk about:

  • activities and resources that you can try with your child at home
  • classroom changes to suit your child's learning needs - for example, seating your child closer to the front of the room
  • an individual learning plan for your child
  • additional support available from the school - for example, time with a classroom support worker
  • professional support - for example, an educational psychologist can assess whether your child's maths skills are appropriate for her age.

You can ask your child's teacher for records of your child's progress in class and a copy of the maths topics to be covered for the term. You might also be able to sit in class to watch how your child learns at school. All of this can help you keep track of your child's maths learning.

Your feelings about maths influence how your child thinks about maths. Even if you've grown up thinking that you're not very good at maths, you can show your child that you appreciate how maths helps you to do everyday activities and things that you enjoy - for example, cooking and playing card games. This is important for your child's success at school.

How children learn maths at school

Mathematics is one of the key learning areas in the curriculum at school. Children will probably spend a minimum of five hours each week formally learning mathematical concepts.

Maths today is about understanding numbers, patterns and problem-solving, not just memorising information. Maths education in the primary school years focuses on:

  • counting
  • learning numbers
  • linking numbers with quantity, size and order
  • learning maths language
  • recognising patterns and shapes
  • showing numbers as numerals, groups of objects, dots on dice and so on
  • understanding statistics.

Your child will look at things like numbers, money, patterns, measurements, shapes, fractions, statistics and probability.

In the classroom, your child will learn maths in lots of different ways - through watching the teacher work out maths problems, doing problems, talking about problems, drawing and writing, playing games, and using calculators, computers and other materials.

Your child will also develop numeracy at school as he learns how maths skills are important in everyday experiences. For example, the concepts of first, second and third will come up when your child takes part in school athletics - or even just lining up for class.

As your child moves through primary school, teachers will give her opportunities to use maths knowledge and skills in other subject areas. For example, she learns about volume when she measures ingredients for a recipe. This helps your child see that maths is connected to all parts of life and it further encourages her numeracy development.