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Maths, yay!

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Love it or hate it, you’re going to need to do some maths. And so are your children. But don’t worry, maths is fun! At least, according to the people who never had any problems with it. Confession time here – I am absolutely one of those people. All the numbers fit together so neatly! There are patterns within patterns! Ahem. Anyway. The goal for today is to get some of that into your kid’s head, whether you enjoy it or not.

So the first rule is – you love maths. Whether you love maths or not, you now love maths. In just the same way that you’ll never get your kid to eat broccoli if they see you rejecting it, you have to pretend to be enthusiastic. If you’re grumbling under your breath, sighing deeply, or actively criticising the moronic damn exercise that doesn’t make any stupid sense… that will definitely put your kids off.

Next top tip for if you struggle – stay just one step ahead. Back in school, I was the kind of kid who… ahem… did extra maths homework for fun. I’d read up on the next day’s lesson in advance and do all the exercises. In the lessons I had people queuing up to ask me how to do things. They thought I knew everything! And they had no evidence to the contrary. Of course, I didn’t – because you only have to stay one step ahead. So don’t worry if there are a thousand things you know confuse you about maths. Just get the next lesson in your head, check the questions, check their answers. That’s all you need.

So now we’ve sorted you out – you love maths, and you know the next topic – now we can do the lesson.

This is one area where you will definitely need some outside resources. For all my enthusiasm even I did prepare sheets of questions for my kids. At least, not often. Sometimes, when I couldn’t find the exact questions they needed extra practice on, then I prepared some. So feel free to do that, if you’re so inclined. But in general, you’re going to need a syllabus and questions. Doodle Maths is a great app that guides kids through years’ worth of school lessons. MyMaths is another one used by many schools. Google will find you ten more. I haven’t done an exhaustive survey, sorry, so I won’t pretend I have. I’ve used those two, and they were good.

But those sites, all of them, are just the start. They will guide you through the different topics in order, but they don’t do any teaching. If the learning curve is gentle enough then it may be that your child can move from topic to topic apparently needing very little guidance – but they do. They have questions, even if they’re not saying them out loud. They are confused, even if they are getting the questions right.

One problem with maths is that it’s full of short cuts:

Link these questions to their answers:

2 x 157 388

2 x 163 326

2 x 194 262

2 x 131 314

No, don’t work them out. But look, on the left, 2x 131 is the smallest. And on the right, 262 is the smallest, so that must be the answer. Or you can just multiply the last digit – 2x157. Well, 2x7 is 14, so the last digit will be a four. There’s only one of them, so 314 must be the answer.

So those are two short cuts. Randomly guessing will do pretty well most of the time too. Your kid could well be doing that instead of working them out 'properly', and the only way to tell is to work with them. This is especially important when using apps what often offer multiple choice answers; it works less well in an exercise book with blanks for them to fill in.

Any questions they get wrong, you’ll definitely need to talk through those – how did they try to do it, how they should have done it instead, and what’s the underlying principle they hadn’t applied. Ideally, you’d then do several more questions using that same principle just with different numbers, to make sure they have understood it. A good maths app will do just that – it’ll detect errors and give extra practice on those questions. But they also need your input.

But also randomly pick answers they’re getting right and check how they’ve been doing them. I’m always shocked when they’re happily working through a set of questions but they’re only getting them right because “I remember the answer from last time,” or “because the answer was in the blue square.” At which point stop them and go through the exact same steps as if they’d got the answer wrong. This really annoys my kids! “But I got the question right!” They yell. Yes, I say, and now you know why you got it right.

Leaving them tapping on an app for half an hour is an ideal time to catch up on the hundred other things you’re supposed to be doing. But resist the temptation. For at least some of the time, talk to them, see what they’re thinking, help them out.

See also

It's never easy

No they're not 'good at maths'

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