Maths and parents - the fears that don't add up

Maths and parents - the fears that don't add up

To many parents, the word "maths" conjures up some pretty negative emotions. With the very mention of the word some of us are transported back in time to a moment of public humiliation -

"Seven times eight please"

. . .    "Hurry up"

. . .   "Don't know it?"   . . . .  [Insert 1970's sarcasm here]

Is it any wonder that when we become parents ourselves and we're faced with the prospect of helping our own kids with maths homework we shudder with fear and often hide from the opportunity.

In this article, I'd like to explore some of the reasons why parents might dread maths and I'll try to demystify some of the primary maths topics we fear most.

Reason 1  - The maths confidence trap

Parents fear maths homework

The first reason for fear I'm going to call "The Confidence Trap". It's powerful, invisible and you can happily live with it all your life. You can tell if you're in the confidence trap when you hear yourself say "I'm useless at maths".

The truth is the vast majority of people who say this aren't useless at maths. In fact, they're probably okay but they just don't know it. My friend thinks, she's "crap at maths" in her own words, but wow you should see her work out special offers at the supermarket. In seconds she'll work out which offer is best - 3 for 2 or 20% off.

That's different I hear you say, but it isn't, in fact working out shopping offers is just maths - and it's not far off GCSE level.

The confidence trap can be harmful when you become a parent - because it's very easy to inadvertently pass it on to your kids. It would be a great shame if your kids thought it was okay to "be useless at maths" before they reached their potential.

We all know how many careers need maths so opting out early on could seriously damage their future options.

Most parents aren't in the confidence trap but we still have felt uncomfortable helping our kids with maths. Here are some more possible reasons behind our fears.

Reason 2 - The unfamiliar new methods

Maths education has changed over the past 30 years and that makes our generation feel a bit out of the loop - they even renamed it "numeracy" to add extra confusion.

One obvious aspect that's changed is the way our kids are taught some simple arithmetic skills. The reason for the changes is that educationalists felt arithmetic operations like long multiplication and division were too opaque to learners. Learners were simply following the various directions to get the answer without any sense of how the answer came.

It's hard to disagree with them - but the change has left us out in the cold. I'll be writing about some of these changes in more detail later - so please sign up to receive email updates.

For now I'd like to highlight two new arithmetic methods that are sure to baffle parents. These are explained in separate blog posts:

Long Division by Chunking

Multiplying with Grids

Reason 3 - New curriculum topics

Parents fear New Maths Topics

One thing that unsettles some parents about helping with maths homework is new topics that they didn't study at school - Data handling, sets and some aspects of shape and measure are relatively new to the curriculum.

The thing you have to bear in mind is that these topics are usually taught pretty well in class. So if you don't know the difference between a rhombus and a cuboid the chances are you won't need to. What's important is that your child has a really solid grasp of  arithmetic and particularly mental arithmetic and you can help with this.

Reason 4 - The learning plan

Knowing what to teach your kids, when, and in what order is difficult for parents. If you're just helping your kids with homework this isn't a concern because the teacher has this in hand. If however you need or want to go further in helping your child you'll need to find a plan.

Some maths topics come after others - so learning them out of order can cause problems - but don't worry, help is at hand.

In Komodo we've created a maths learning app for ages 5 to 11 that provides parents with an effective, rewarding and enjoyable way to help their children master maths at home. It complements school studies by focusing on essential skills, like mental arithmetic, that really benefit from extra practice.

Importantly we realise that learning at home is different to school - so we've designed a few clever ways to ensure you can keep your child motivated and you're always in the loop with what's being studied - even when you're still at the office.

On sign up each child does a short diagnostic test and a qualified maths teacher assigns  - that's me! - an individual learning plan based on your child's attainment and needs.

I'm Ged, Co-founder of Komodo, ex-maths teacher and dad. If you have any questions please get in touch.

About KomodoKomodo is a fun and effective way to boost primary maths skills. Designed for 5 to 11 year olds to use in the home, Komodo uses a little and often approach to learning maths (15 minutes, three to five times per week) that fits into the busy routine. Komodo users develop fluency and confidence in maths - without keeping them at the screen for long.

Find out more about Komodo and how it helps thousands of children each year do better at maths - you can even try Komodo for free.

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