Q.1 Rosemary, as a mother yourself, what would you say is the most important way I can help my child?
A. Without a doubt, the most important way you can help is providing the right, loving environment. One of the things that are true at any stage in a child’s education is that, as a parent, your love, care and support has possibly the biggest positive influence on your child’s achievement. You can help in this way even if you think (probably wrongly) that you are ‘rubbish’ at maths. Make sure they have a good diet, which includes fruit and vegetables, and are getting enough sleep. Let them enjoy a mixture of social activities. Have a laugh with them. Organise trips out like going swimming, visiting places of interest or going to the theatre. Having this balance is important, especially during exam times when they are older.

Q.2 What about helping my child with maths, what is the best way I can do that?

A. Making maths part of everyday life is one of the best ways for children to feel confident in using and working with numbers and shapes.

For example, look out for sequences in patterns on curtains, fabrics and wallpapers. Being able to predict when the pattern next occurs helps mathematical thinking.
Practise matching objects and getting over the concept ‘same as’: Please fetch me a spoon the same as this. Use words which communicate comparisons: Which is the tallest / shortest tree?

For older children, shopping gives many opportunities for practising numeracy skills. Look out for offers: Buy two get the third free. Work out with them how much each item costs, and how much has been saved.

Q.3 The way my 10-year-old son does his subtraction looks very weird. It is so different from how I was taught. Is this a new method?

A. Firstly let me say, it comes as a surprise to many parents to realise that there are many valid ways of carrying out a calculation.

In fact, there are two main ways of carrying out a ‘pencil and paper’ method of subtraction: Equal Addition and Decomposition. The two methods have both been taught in schools for years. However, very few people apart from specialist maths teachers seem to know about this.

Decomposition is the method that tends to be taught in schools today, but it is not new: my father was taught it in the 1920s, and my husband was taught it in the
late 1950s.

I have discussed subtraction very fully in my book, Help Your Child With Numeracy: Age 7-11 years (Continuum, 2009). Complete our simple Questionnaire and find out how you do subtraction.

Q.4 When I try to help my child with homework and explain how to do a calculation, she doesn’t understand me. She says stop confusing her.
What can I do?

A. This is a very typical response; you are not alone in experiencing this.

There are many reasons why parents today find it difficult to help their children with their maths homework. Hopefully as I discuss some, it will help you recognise what
to do.

One main reason is that parents are not familiar with methods used in schools, so try and find out about these. It is best to try and work alongside school so as not to confuse your child.

The books Help Your Child With Numeracy: Ages 3-7, and Help Your Child With Numeracy: Ages 7-11 aim to help parents by explaining the methods used in schools today to teach key areas of maths. Do take advantage of and go to any parent events that are aimed at helping parents at your daughter’s school. In many areas there are Local Adult Education classes to help parents help their children with maths. Do attend these if you can; these are normally free of charge. See also the list of useful contacts for help too. Many give good and useful information on their websites.

Importantly, remember to be gentle when offering help, and try and avoid just saying ‘You’ve got that wrong, this is how to do it’. Try asking your daughter to explain how she got her answer. Often you will find she will self-correct her work anyway, and come out with the right answer! You may find as she explains, you might understand a bit more of how she works out a calculation.