Parental engagement in Maths is increasingly becoming an issue in UK primary schools, despite the fact Ofsted have clearly stated that parental engagement can raise achievement in schools.
This in itself isn’t surprising. As teachers we’ve long understood that including parents with their children’s education can be really beneficial to their learning.
But, even less surprisingly, we all know this is easier said than done.
Why parents find it hard to engage in Maths
It can be particularly hard for parents to know how to help support their children with Maths at home. Often they complain that they themselves are “bad” at Maths or that they “never learned anything useful in Maths at school”. Unfortunately some are also willing to say these negative comments in front of their child, which then passes a negative attitude towards Maths or their ability in Maths onto the child.
Parents sometimes also complain that the mathematics curriculum doesn’t teach their children any life skills which again can quickly influence a child’s own attitude to Maths.
The final most common reason is that parents are scared of Maths or of teaching their child the wrong method or getting the wrong answer.
What we as teachers can do to support parental engagement
Firstly we need to reassure parents and provide them with the tools to support their child. This can be as simple as reminding them of the Calculation Policy which will be on your school website, or giving them some useful home learning websites such as Oxford Owl which has some good advice for parents and methods explained. Some school even create their own videos to share with parents if say, a particularly tricky method is being taught that week. Do share yours with us on Facebook or Twitter if you’ve done this. We think it’s a great idea!
It’s also often helpful at primary school to explain how much of the curriculum does directly relate to real life. As a maths teacher, I always made sure I wrote down how each of my lessons was related to everyday life so I always had some good examples up my sleeve and never got caught out!
In fact parents are in the ideal position to build their children’s real life maths skills by involving them in real life Maths problems. Every day adults have to negotiate Maths problems around which car insurance company is providing the best deal or comparing a “buy one get one free” deal with a “buy 3 for 2” deal in the supermarket. Encourage them to get their children to have a go at helping them!
Finally, there’s a lot of evidence around mindset in Maths and the difference it can make to a child’s learning so you might find parents interested in some of Jo Boaler’s Youcubed work on Unlocking Children’s Learning.
For 15 ways to kick-start better home learning for your pupils, download our free Guide to Maths at Home. It's easy to follow, easy to use, and contains ideas that tie in closely with what you're teaching in class
So here are five ideas for how you can help parents to help their children with Maths at home, but better still download our free resource of differentiated top tips for KS1 and KS2 parents and carers to hand out at parents evening or pop into the schoolbag home.
1. Positive attitude to Maths
Before any learning can take place at home, some parents will need to change their attitude towards maths themselves. Many parents have the attitude that they are “bad” at maths and pass negativity about maths onto their children.
If parents are at least aware of the effect of this attitude, then they can take steps towards being more positive about Maths around their children.
2. Growth mindset
Parents should be advised that Maths is not just about getting things “right” every time. A lot of Maths involves problem solving which is not a quick and easy exercise, as such pupils need to build up persistence and resilience.
Parents can support this by encouraging mistakes being made and viewing this a normal learning process, rather than a negative experience. This kind of approach to learning will help parents to enable the child to develop a growth mindset, where the pupil is more willing to make mistakes and try again. This is an essential part of effective learning and one which we have discussed before in our blog post on how 1-to-1 tuition can encourage a growth mindset in pupils.
3. Learning new Maths teaching methods
Lots of parents want to help their children but are not sure how, or they try to teach their children the methods they learnt in school which can confuse pupils. Instead, schools can help minimise this confusion by being open with parents about the methods they are using in Maths in school and could offer to teach parents these methods so they can help support their children at home. You’ll be amazed at how many parents don’t even know about your school’s calculation policy for example.
It’s quite possible for parents to learn the new methods that are now used in classrooms, such as the grid method and bar modelling (see a previous post on using bar modelling to solve multi-step problems, which includes a brief introduction and relevant links to the basics of bar modelling) In turn, this will ensure continuity between school and home learning and reduce and lead to a more solid understanding of mathematical methods for the child.
4. Playing games
Games can be a really positive way for children to learn – if correctly implemented. Many games actually involve Maths and can help children with counting, problem-solving, learning shapes and spatial awareness.
Board games are a great way for parents to engage with their children and games such as snakes and ladders and chess and even Minecraft can encourage the development of mathematical skills and spatial awareness that are transferable in school!
5. Maths talk and topicality
Talking about Maths is really important for children to practise, as this allows them to explain their reasoning which will help them access harder questions. Parents can encourage their children to talk about Maths in everyday situations, such as prices at the supermarket or counting physical objects. This is also really useful for helping children understand how Maths links to the real world. If you want ideas on how to do this download our free resource packed with Topical Maths Problems for Spring Term 2017, or read our blog post on the importance of topical Maths in the classroom.
Advise parents that it’s more useful to develop their child’s questioning – just like a teacher would – than to give them the correct answer, even if they’re tempted! Why not provide parents with example questions such as “why did you write that down?” or “how did you get that answer?” so they can then develop their own questioning skills for the benefit of their child.
This, in turn, means that the child can become a more effective independent learner and also master whatever skill or method they are attempting to learn, For handouts that include prompting questions for parents, download this free Maths at Home Guide for Parents and Carers.
Once parents can develop a positive mindset and learn a few methods and techniques to support their children’s maths education at home, they can be a very useful resource for the school and teachers to utilise.
They key is to broaden parents’ awareness of Maths at home and provide them with specific examples of how they can support their children. Though it might not be all that easy, it really can help them to use Maths as much as possible in their everyday life with their children – which can only be a good thing!
To help you generate some parental engagement in your school, our sister site Matr has created a guide for any parents who find themselves asking the question “How can I help my child with maths at home?” It covers everything from important terminology through to how to help 7-11 year-olds with maths, so take a look at share it around!
Interested in the wider issues of running a school? Read our most recent primary school leadership blog: ‘Confessions of a Primary Headteacher’. A thoughtful response to the hectic nature of running a school from 4 time headteacher, @OldPrimaryHead1.