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Learning maths at school

5-12 years

Children are exposed to maths every day and everywhere. But once your child goes to school, she’ll start learning maths in a more formal way. You can help your child with maths by supporting her schoolwork at home and highlighting maths in daily life.

Learning maths: connecting school and home

Learning maths doesn’t begin and end in the classroom. Once your child starts school, you still have a big role to play in helping him build maths and numeracy skills.

Here are some ways that you can support your child in learning maths skills at home at all ages:

  • Show an interest in what your child is learning at school, and be available to help your child with maths revision.
  • Use objects, words, numbers, pictures, drawings or symbols to help your child understand maths problems. For example, you could cut an apple into four to help your child understand the basics of fractions. Or you could add up the items on your family shopping list.
  • Encourage your child to show you how she worked out a maths problem. For example, you could ask her ‘How did you figure that out?’ or ‘Is there another way to figure this out?’.
  • Welcome wrong answers. When your child shows you how he worked out a problem, you can see what he does and doesn’t understand. Learning maths isn’t just about finding the right answer – it’s also about learning processes for solving problems.
Some primary schools have maths information sessions to show parents how their children are learning maths. If this doesn’t happen at your child’s school, you can ask the teacher how the children are learning maths in class. This can help you understand how to help your child at home. You might even be able to help in the classroom during maths sessions.

Maths skills and everyday numeracy

Numeracy is the ability to apply maths concepts in all areas of life – and there are endless ways you and your child can do this together.

For example, by building maths questions into activities that your child enjoys, you’re helping your child make sense of everyday situations and develop numeracy at the same time.

Here are some examples of questions you could ask your child about different everyday activities:

  • How many things can you name in one minute?
  • Does this block fit in that hole?
  • What’s the volume of the milk carton?
  • Which way will we go when we get to the end of the street?
  • How much money do you need for the canteen at school?
  • Will there be enough pasta for our dinner tonight?

And here are some examples of everyday activities you can do with your school-age child:

  • In the car: look at number plates and ask your child to read the numbers, order them from highest to lowest and add them up.
  • On public transport: look at maps, timetables, numbers and signs to work out how many stops to your destination and how long it will take to get there.
  • In your neighbourhood: look at patterns of tiles, bricks and stones on houses and driveways. Look at house numbers too. Ask your child, ‘What’s the same about these patterns? How are they different?’.
  • At the playground or oval: count out how many times a child throws a ball through a hoop or how many rungs there are on the monkey bars.
  • At the shops or markets: look at price differences. Compare prices of fruit and vegetables. Guess how many pieces of fruit you get in a kilogram. Talk about which item is cheaper and why something is a good buy.
  • In the kitchen: ask your child to measure out different amounts of ingredients. Ask your child how many ingredients will be enough for a family meal. Ask your child to set the table and see how many different ways she can arrange the settings.
When you and your child apply maths knowledge and numeracy skills in everyday situations, it helps your child see and enjoy the value in using maths.

Concerns about your school-age child’s maths learning

It can take time for children to develop the confidence and understanding to handle maths problems. But if your child has been struggling for several months, even with one-to-one help, it might be a sign that your child needs extra support with learning maths.

If you notice any of the following signs by the time your child has entered Years 3 and 4, it might be a good idea to talk with your child’s teacher.

Numbers and counting
Your child has trouble:

  • naming numbers quickly and correctly
  • counting in order
  • using memory strategies to remember basic number facts – for example, your child still uses her fingers to count instead of knowing that 5 + 5 = 10 or 3 x 4 = 12.

Quantity, size and order
Your child has trouble:

  • understanding relationships between numbers – for example, greater than, less than, difference between, equal to and so on
  • knowing how many objects are in a small group without counting them – for example, your child needs to count four toy cars on the floor or five dots on dice.

Maths concepts
Your child has trouble:

  • linking maths symbols to objects – for example, your child doesn’t understand that the number 3 is the same as three marbles in a group
  • telling basic time – for example, your child doesn’t recognise 1 pm on a clock.

Symbols and rules
Your child has trouble:

  • knowing the difference between maths symbols and signs – for example, your child forgets the difference between +, -, x and =
  • learning multiplication tables, rules and formulas.

Your child has trouble:

  • copying a repeating pattern of five things – for example, beads or blocks
  • explaining how a simple pattern is formed or organised.

These difficulties can affect your child’s motivation and confidence with learning, and stop him from taking part in and enjoying maths activities with his peers.

Your child’s teacher might recommend a range of supports, including assessment by an educational psychologist. This is often the first step towards getting the right support for your child.

Your feelings about maths influence how your child thinks about maths and about herself as a mathematician. Even if you’ve grown up thinking that you’re not very good at maths, you can show your child that you have a positive attitude to maths. This is important for her success at school.

How children learn maths at school

Mathematics is one of the key learning areas in the curriculum at school. Children will probably spend a minimum of five hours each week formally learning mathematical concepts.

Maths today is about understanding number patterns, not just memorising information. Maths education in the early school years focuses on:

  • counting
  • learning numbers
  • linking numbers with quantity, size and order
  • learning maths language
  • recognising patterns
  • showing numbers in different ways – for example, as numerals, groups of objects, dots on dice and so on.

Your child will look at things like numbers, money, patterns, measurements, shapes and fractions.

In the classroom, your child will learn maths in lots of different ways – through watching the teacher work out maths problems, doing problems, talking about problems, drawing and writing, playing games, and using calculators, computers and other materials.

Your child will also develop numeracy at school as he learns how maths skills are important in everyday experiences. For example, the concepts of first, second, third and place order will come up when your child takes part in school athletics – or even just lining up for class.

As your child moves through primary school, teachers will give her opportunities to use maths knowledge and skills in other subject areas – for example, she learns about volume when she measures ingredients for a recipe. This helps your child see that maths is connected to all parts of life and it further encourages her numeracy development.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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