How to help with maths homework: a non-expert's guide

Page of maths work
Maths is one subject that fills many parents with dread - but is it really so hard? We talk to author and deputy head teacher Matt Revill to find out how parents can help their children's maths learning.

Your child brings you their maths homework and points out an instruction they don’t understand and asks for your help. Do you, a) bumble your way through? b) brush your child off, claiming you are ‘too busy’ to help, or c) approach the problem with the confidence that you know the answer?

For many parents, the first two answers are the most common. Maths is taught in a different way from ‘our day’ and according to recent research, many adults lack basic numeracy skills with their maths knowledge being on par with a 10-year-old.

"I just can’t do maths"

Parents say this regularly but it doesn’t help their children argues Matt Revill, a deputy head teacher and author of I Know My Time Tables and Parents’ Guide to Year 2 Maths. Revill says that parents probably have more maths skills than they realise: “Look for the uses of number all around us and see how you use these skills in everyday life, for example, timetables for buses, measuring weights or working out the family budget. How lost would you be without these skills that you do almost automatically now? Once you break down all of the different times in a day you use numbers and solve problems, you will start to see that you actually are a good mathematician!”

Revill warns against appearing negative, or speaking negatively, about maths to your children. “Children look to their parents for everything and if they see or feel you being negative about something, they will react the same way,” he explains. “Even if the idea of maths fills you with dread, try to be as positive as possible. This will help your child see it is something not to be scared of and will hopefully make their maths learning more enjoyable...and therefore easier for them!”

"How can I help my child when I’m not sure of the answers?"

Parents often think they must be fountains of knowledge with answers on tap, but many of us are stumped by our children's inquisitive questions. However, Revill suggests not knowing the answers every time might actually be helpful when your child is learning. “Children respond so much better if they see us as learning together with them,” he says. “I often used to find aspects of maths work difficult or worried about spellings but I always tell the children that we are learning together and need their help to support both my own learning as well as theirs.”

One easy way you can support your child’s maths learning is to get them to help out with the maths you do in everyday tasks. “Involve them in weighing out ingredients in the kitchen, ask them to help add up the shopping bill or see if they can work out how long it is until the next bus arrives. These simple tasks help them see the everyday application of maths,” says Revill. “Using fun games, songs and activities with children will also really help with learning together. Children learn best when they are having fun and playing maths games together is a great way to spend time with your child and support their learning.”