7 steps to help parents support their children's Maths learning

Alex Athienitis

Alex Athienitis is a primary school teacher who helped raise attainment in a Tower Hamlets primary school, founding the popular ZedTeach Facebook group to share winning resources and teaching strategies. He now works for Matr providing fun and affordable online one-to-one maths tuition for ages 7 to 11 at home.

Find out why you should recommend Matr to parents at your school: matr.org.

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Parental engagement in any subject is key to academic success - some studies show a probability increase of more than 50% for children who are supported by parents in their learning to achieve top grades versus children who receive little or no support.

From our experience working with over 45,000 children, families and schools across the UK to provide one-to-one maths tuition, parental support for their child’s maths learning journey in primary school has a significant impact.

The Education Endowment Foundation has recently published a guidance report Working with parents to support children’s learning. Here’s what it states:

“Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children’s learning, and levels of parental engagement are consistently associated with better academic outcomes. Evidence from our Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that effective parental engagement can lead to learning gains of +3 months over the course of a year.”

So why is it so hard sometimes to get parents involved in their children’s Maths education?

As teachers, we often worry that parents might be put off supporting in Maths at home as they might simply think of themselves as “not being a Maths person”, but when we asked 1000 parents for their views on maths at home, only 16% of respondents agreed with that statement.

Similarly, less than 20% confirmed that “My child refuses to let them teach”.

In fact, the most common concerns were about parents own knowledge and skills.

Over 62% of parents agreed with the statement: “I worry that I will confuse my child by teaching them a different method to the one they learn in school.”

And 54% agreed with the following: “I don't understand all the new terms schools use”.

The EEF Guidance Report On Working With Parents to Support Children’s Learning gives four key recommendations which are a great place to start.

1. Critically review how you work with parents

2.  Provide practical strategies to support learning at home

3. Tailor school communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning

4. Offer more sustained and intensive support where needed

Specifically when it comes to supporting parents and carers with maths at home, here are the 7 steps we recommend all schools start with.

1. Don’t keep your calculation policy secret!

Every school should have a calculation policy and all teachers should know where to find it and how to teach to it; however, ask a parent about the calculation policy and you’ll be amazed to discover they probably don’t know it exists and they certainly wouldn’t have thought to ask for it. ‘It’s on the website’ isn’t good enough. Get it out there, share it every year with parents. Point out what changes as they move through the school.  

2. Emphasise the importance of conceptual understanding

Many parents will still just be thinking about helping their child to get the answer right. Given schools now are much more likely to be following some kind of mastery approach we recommend you try to educate parents that understanding the reasons behind the result are as important as the result.

3. Show parents how to use concrete materials or pictorial representations

Encourage parents to get out the pasta pieces, use leaves for place value, draw their pizza shapes, and manipulate dots and circles on a page. Take a look at Matr’s Youtube channel which is full of ideas of physical maths activities for parents to do at home.  

4. Give them strategies not just instructions

If you want parents to practise times tables with their children, then give them some suggested ideas and games or even apps to help them do this. Teach them which number facts they should know at every stage, and also how to use the partition method to avoid the dreaded counting in ones! Send home a list of recommended maths homework apps or websites. Just don’t expect them to know how to help without your support!

5. Support parents to focus on positive feedback

Confidence is key in Maths, and mistakes should be seen as something to learn from. We still believe that encouraging a growth mindset in our one-to-one lessons can help pupils take risks and achieve further than they imagined. We like to share phrases for parents to use at home like ‘‘thank you for your effort on X” and we also reward our 1-to-1 children with effort points that they collect avidly!

6. Give parents questions to help develop pupils’ reasoning skills and metacognition

As teachers, we naturally use questions from an assessment for learning approach in our lessons. Show some of these to your parents too and they can start to probe and supporting their child’s deeper thinking and awareness of their own learning stages.

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you know?
  • Which skills have you used or improved?
  • Have you learnt something new?
  • What do you need to remember?
  • What did you do well today?
  • What was difficult about the task?
  • How is your work different?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What else could you find out about this?
  • Could you discuss what you have learnt with a partner (a sibling, friend or cousin)? / How would you teach someone else how to do this?
  • Is there a more efficient strategy you could have used?
  • How do you know your answer is correct?
  • Can you prove and explain your answer to me?
  • What were the key steps in reaching your answer?

7. Offer regular opportunities for parents to ask questions and keep updated

As the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) states: “Focus on building parents’ efficacy: that they are equal partners and can make a difference.” Upskill your parents and carers with training sessions or workshops (at a time that suits them!); focus on key skills and concepts, start with place value and the four operations - division,  multiplication, addition and subtraction. Lots of schools now even get pupils involved in this!

Those are our 7 first simple steps for school leaders and maths coordinators to take on board the EEF recommendations and set the ball rolling for excellent Maths support from parents. For more detailed curriculum guidance aimed at a parent readership, the series of blog posts on how to support your child in Maths on the Matr website is a good place to start. 

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