Article published 9th March 2009
Children, who are supported in their studies by parents, can make great strides both in performance and a confidence.
How you help your child depends on your own interests and confidence; if you enjoy maths and are fairly confident about your ability to enthuse and inspire there is no reason why you shouldn't do a bit of home tuition. If in doubt, leave teaching maths to the professionals and make your task one of reassurance and encouragement.
Your child's class-work
Look at your child’s work - their exercise book or maths file; can you tell from what is written what mathematical topics they have been covering or, is it a book full of answers? If the latter, then you are going to have your work cut out and so, sadly, are they. Answers alone (for the most part) tell us very little; on the other hand, clearly presented work highlights any stumbling blocks, shows thought processes, aids revision and provides a solid base on which to build.
Don’t be afraid to actually offer your child the answer at times and get them to show you how they can arrive at the answer- it’s not cheating. A level maths papers used to be full of such, though they were termed proofs!
Make sure you have a maths set (they cost a couple of pounds in Smith's, Tesco or other high street stores) - a calculator, tracing paper, graph paper, square and triangular spotty paper. Useful aids include: money (not for bribes but for calculations), dice and counters or, better still, bricks such as Lego®. Have them at the ready; your child will think maths is one big game – which it can be, if taught with understanding.
Even if you are mainly covering work from school, a good study guide will act as a useful aid.
We'd also recommend purchasing a maths dictionary and encouraging your child to use it, whenever it's needed. Although study guides are sequential they are usually structured to work through the whole of number, then algebra etc. You may wish to work through the first part of number, then onto some shape and space etc rather than all number, then all algebra which can be a little tedious – especially if you are continually working on a child’s weakest areas.
Working with your child
Don't fall into the trap of thinking maths can only be delivered once a week, chained to a desk. Use every opportunity to bring maths in to your child’s experiences – shopping, cooking, games, in the garden, around the house, out and about - the possibilities are endless.
How long should each session be, how many sessions and when?
This is as individual as your child. As a rule of thumb Fridays are a complete non-starter. Little and often tends to work well - though sometimes a large, concentrated maths session in a non-threatening environment can work wonders – especially for the older, keener or more able child.
Where do I begin?
Start by asking your child if there is anything they would like to cover and if there is anything in maths they have really enjoyed doing. Don’t try to cover everything at once. Maths is sequential and a good text or revision book will help you work through the topics sequentially.
Starting the session
Don’t work religiously through a text book – inject some fun, you’ll be surprised how much they (and you) learn. It’s often the case that children who are otherwise bright but may be experiencing difficulties in maths are visual or kinaesthetic learners, that is they need to see and do, so let them.
Don’t get bogged down by the syllabus. Interest and motivation are key to learning; a great trick is to turn a negative into a positive. If you’re working on ‘area’ and your child is clock watching seize the opportunity to discuss time or fractions by negotiating how long they should be spending on the topic, what time they started, how much time is left, what proportion of the lesson that is, what would happen over the course of a year if they shaved 5 minutes off each lesson etc. You can even discuss what area of the clock is covered when the minute hand moves through 5 minutes! Offer praise and encouragement throughout – there will be good days and bad – don’t be afraid to call it a day if you sense your child - or you - are about to turn into an emotional wreck.
Presentation of work and answers
When you begin working with your child, get them to start setting out work clearly and underlining, or making clear, answers. Answers alone are not only (usually) fairly meaningless but a child cannot revise or consolidate from a set of answers and you (or their teacher / tutor) cannot tell at what stage the process broke down (if it did). This makes correction and consolidation all the more difficult and time-consuming. They may find it a trial initially but don't give in – even if your child is dyslexic or has any kind of learning difficulty. As maths gets progressively more difficult, problems become multi-layered – good habits from the outset: a logical, methodical approach simplifies complex problems later. However that doesn't mean work has to always be copperplate; presentation is important but handwriting, as long as it is legible, is less so.
If your child has a learning difficulty that makes writing tiresome, do the 50-50 split, they write half, you write half but only write what they say. Similarly, if reading is problematic help them, especially at the start of a topic when they are trying to master new mathematical concepts. Gradually withdraw the help unless they have access arrangements for the exam (some very bright children with special needs may be assigned a reader, amanuensis, prompter or any combination of these).
At the end of a session
Discuss anything you’d like your child to think about or agree aspects he or she should work on before the next session. If you're using a work book it’s fine to take a quick look at what’s coming next – especially if it’s one of the fun topics.
Praise and thank your child; they may find this a little odd at first but one day they may just thank you!