What To Do When Your Child Is Struggling With Learning Maths: Advice For Parents
Children can struggle with maths at any age. With primary schools being such a hotbed of learning, it can often be hard for parents to keep up with how their child is progressing. But at one time or another you may be told or find out the hard way that your child is struggling with maths.
There are a number of reasons why a child might struggle with maths, ranging from maths anxiety through to a range of special education needs (once referred to as maths difficulties and learning disabilities). Your child might be a reflective learner and already thinking to themselves, “Why do I struggle with maths so much?”
Whatever the reason behind the struggle, in this post we will be running through how you can figure out whether or not your child is finding maths frustrating, and how you can help them master maths!
What do we mean by ‘struggling with maths’
It’s definitely hard to judge whether a child is having mathematical teething problems, or if your child really is a KS2 pupil who is struggling with maths.
Determining where your child is within the expectations of their age range or year group is definitely a good start – if your child is in Year 1 and can’t solve quadratic equations, that certainly doesn’t mean they will become a 6-year-old who struggles with maths!
We’ve put together some guidance to help you figure out what’s going wrong and how you can help your child in their maths learning covering:
- How to identify out what your child is struggling with in maths; and
- How to help your child in maths once you’ve figured out what’s holding them back, including techniques to make sure your child catches up, keeps up – and even – gets ahead in maths.
How to figure out what your child is struggling with in maths
Really, to figure out whether or not your child is struggling with maths and any particular areas they may find tricky, you need to understand what they are expected to know and be able to do at that point in their learning.
Your child’s teacher is the best person to advise you on this but if you want more detailed insight, we recommend giving your child some low stakes test questions (examples of these follow below) or, even better, doing a full diagnostic assessment of your child’s knowledge and understanding relevant to where they are in their school career.
How to know if your 6-year old or 7-year-old is struggling with maths (Year 1 or Year 2)
By the end of Year 2, children are expected to have developed a range of knowledge and skills including:
- counting in steps of 2, 3, and 5 from 0, and in tens from any number, forward and backward;
- comparing and ordering numbers from 0 up to 100; using <, > and = signs;
- recognise and use the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction and use this to check calculations and solve missing number problems;
- recognise and use symbols for pounds (£) and pence (p);
- identify and describe the properties of 3-D shapes, including the number of edges, vertices (corners) and faces.
Here are three sample questions from Third Space Learning’s Primary Maths Intervention Programme you could try to find out if your child is struggling with maths.
Comparing and ordering numbers
Recognising and using symbols for pounds and pence
Many children who fly through arithmetic and have number facts memorised struggle with shape and other areas of mathematical vocabulary so this is a good one to assess on.
Identify the properties of 3D shapes
How to know if your 8-year old or 9-year-old is struggling with maths (Year 3 and 4)
By the end of Year 4, children are expected to have developed a range of knowledge and skills including:
- count in multiples of 6, 7, 9, 25 and 1000;
- round any number to the nearest 10, 100 or 1000;
- recall multiplication and division facts for multiplication tables up to 12 × 12;
- multiply two-digit and three-digit numbers by a one-digit number using formal written layout;
- add and subtract fractions with the same denominator;
- measure and calculate the perimeter of a rectilinear figure (including squares) in centimetres and metres;
- complete a simple symmetric figure with respect to a specific line of symmetry;
- solve comparison, sum and difference problems using the information presented in bar charts, pictograms, tables and other graphs.
As children move up from the infants (KS1) to the juniors (KS2), there is a big shift in the amount they need to know and the skills they have to acquire to keep up in maths. They might have sailed through maths in their earlier school years, and it might be now that difficulties in learning mathematics are starting to appear.
Here are three sample questions from Third Space Learning’s Primary Maths Intervention Programme for Year 4 you could us to find out if your child is struggling with maths.
- Interpreting bar charts
Some children might have their number facts and operations secure by the time they are 8 or 9 years old. Struggling with maths might be more apparent when they are removed from the comfort of arithmetic and thrown into the murkier mathematical waters of reasoning and problem-solving.
- Calculate the perimeter of a rectilinear figure (including squares) in centimetres and metres
When it comes to perimeter, it requires a number of mathematical competencies. A child needs to have spatial intelligence – being able to visualise the shape, partition it into its sides or constituent parts, recall the correct formula to calculate the side length, and then draw on their knowledge of addition to find the total.
- Add and subtract fractions with the same denominator
Children using our online learning programmes have opportunities to attempt and practise the skills relevant to their age group (or year group). During the one-to-one sessions their online tutor will identify any barriers which might be preventing a child from acquiring a given skill or maths fact and then address these immediately.
Using age group-specific test papers to figure out what maths your child has mastered
Once children get to Year 3 or 4 they are also much more able to sit down and complete a full test of mixed questions suitable for their age. We have produced year group level test papers to help you identify how your child is progressing relative to children of the same age.
Example questions from our Year 3 Maths Arithmetic paper
An early question in our Year 4 Reasoning Paper – it gets tougher!
How to know if your 10-year old or 11-year-old is struggling with maths (Year 5 or 6)
Pupils in these year groups are heading towards the end of primary school and are preparing for the SATs or the transition to secondary school and the challenges maths in Year 7 will bring.
Children in Year 5 or Year 6 are expected to be able to know or do the following:
- identify common factors, common multiples and prime numbers;
- divide proper fractions by whole numbers;
- solve problems involving similar shapes where the scale factor is known or can be found;
- generate and describe linear number sequences;
- recognise when it is possible to use formulae for area and volume of shapes;
- illustrate and name parts of circles, including radius, diameter and circumference and know that the diameter is twice the radius;
- draw and translate simple shapes on the coordinate plane, and reflect them in the axes.
Here are three sample questions from Third Space Learning’s Primary Maths Intervention Programme for Year 6 you could try to find out if your child struggles with maths.
1. Recognise when it is possible to use formulae for area and volume of shapes
2. Identify common factors, common multiples and prime numbers
3. Generate and describe linear number sequences
Year 5 and Year 6 are important years – it’s not like when we were at school and it was only grammar schools or private schools that have children sit exams for Year 7 entry… A lot of academies ask children to sit tests at the end of Year 5 or at the beginning of Year 6 as a part of drawing up their future Year 7 intake.
Again, the amount of knowledge and range of skills required to keep up in maths in Year 5 or Year 6 is huge. The step up from Year 4 to Upper Key Stage 2 is quite the jump!
If your child is in Year 5 or Year 6, it is important to have an idea of what it is exactly about maths your child is struggling with…
Is your child struggling with maths facts, causing difficulties in their mathematics learning?
Is it worthwhile asking their school about a dyscalculia test.
What you can do to help your child if they’re struggling with maths
Stay positive – It sounds simple but many forget to do this
First things first – don’t highlight the issue and definitely do not say, “I am not a maths person” or encourage your child to write themselves off as “not a maths person” either.
Numerous studies have proved that a young person’s future attainment in maths can be affected negatively more than any other factor by parents leading them to believe that “I am not a maths person-itis” is a congenital, hereditary family trait.
It is not.
If you struggled with maths yourself, it probably had something to do with how you were taught by your teachers in the way-back-when.
You might even be suffering with ‘maths trauma’ – for example, consciously or subconsciously deterred from engaging in maths having been ridiculed by classmates or, even worse, a teacher when called up to the board to solve a problem at school.
Following an event of that kind, it creates a debilitating fear of being wrong – a terrible tragedy, as maths learning should be about making mistakes and learning from them!
‘Maths trauma’ as one might expect is the leading cause of maths anxiety, but there is lots you can do to help.
As parents, it is important to support children in believing they can succeed in all areas of learning. By closing a door on a particular subject area it could mean putting a roadblock along the way of a career path your child might find harder to pursue later on in life.
To help your child if they’re struggling in maths three words can guide you: slow, simple, supportive.
These three words are all you need to help your child achieve everything they can in their maths learning, so we’ve looked at them in a little more detail below along with a few additional pointers for parents and carers.
1. Take things slowly
If you’ve noticed or been alerted to an area of a struggle in your child’s maths learning your instinct will likely be to go all guns blazing and to throw the kitchen sink at the issue to get them up to speed.
By taking a moment to step back and figure out what might be best for your supporting child rather than forcefully plugging a specific gap in their knowledge, you stand a better chance of building towards sustained progress and improvement in their learning.
2. Keep things simple
At school, if a child is struggling with their work in maths their teacher will give them a simpler question or provide them with more concrete resources like number lines, times tables grids, counters or multi-link cubes to simplify the task.
People often think that it’s only younger children that use these pieces of equipment and supports; however, the best teachers use them with pupils throughout primary school and these resources are more commonly used at secondary school nowadays too.
You could do the same at home by drawing a number line, having a times tables poster at hand, keeping your maths dictionary at the ready, or using pasta pieces or lego to represent amounts.
It is best not to overload your child by dumping overly complicated tasks; however, over-simplification is a problem too.
Having them learn their times tables by rote is only helpful if they can draw links between knowing that, for example, 2 x 7 = 14, 7 x 2 = 14. 14 ÷ 2 = 7 and 14 ÷ 7 = 2, allowing them to recognise the relationship between multiplication (which should be introduced as repeated addition, adding 7 lots of 2 or 2 lots of 7 together) and division and allowing them to identify numbers’ factors too.
3. Be supportive
Patience truly is a virtue when passing knowledge or a skill from one person to another.
Perhaps you can remember moments in your own life where you didn’t get something immediately and being put off the task or the instructor as they vented frustration at you – learning to drive being easier to stomach with one parent rather than the other, or an exasperated teacher at school whose lack of composure and consideration put you off their subject area.
4. Get more involved
Don’t be afraid to ask your school for more help; find out what homework your child has been given each week and to start with, if they’re struggling with the maths you may need to sit down next to them to encourage them.
Build a regular time slot for the maths homework and if there’s something you can’t help with, find out the answer together. It’s actually a great learning opportunity for your child to see that we all need to look things up, find out answers – nobody knows everything. Start with this blog for more tips on how to help your child with homework.
5. Talk about maths at home.
Find ways of building maths into day-to-day life, all the old favourites, like asking your child the prices of items in shops, having them work out the cost of that day’s groceries, or identifying the shapes of windows and other features on buildings to incorporate some shape too.
There are many free maths websites and homework sites online to assist you in supporting your child in maths. Equally, real-world or paper-based games can help with mathematical thinking like Su Doku, card games, Battleship and chess.