Teachers' tricks for KS1 maths

Little girl doing sums
Some young children just can’t get their head around adding numbers together. Education writer Phoebe Doyle explains some helpful strategies that are most often used in primary teaching today.

Since the advent of the Numeracy Strategy teachers have been using various methods to tune children into maths. Here are a few you can try to support your child’s learning at home.

Put the larger number in your head

When encouraging children to do mental arithmetic, teach them to put the largest number (of the two you are adding) in their head. Model this physically as you say it. For example, if the addition is 9 + 4, say: “Right, let’s put the largest number in our heads, so that’s nine.” Then tap your head and say: “So we’re putting nine in our heads and then counting on four.” This clear, precise modelling will help them to learn this useful strategy. Once they have put the largest number ‘in their head’ they can then use their fingers to count on.

Use tangible objects

Many children (more often boys) are kinaesthetic learners, which means they learn through doing. As children move tangible objects around it helps them comprehend the concept of numbers more deeply. You can use anything you want – buttons, pebbles, or, if you’re struggling to get them enthused, something they’re crazy about like cars or Lego.

Look at number lines and 100 squares

At school, children in Key Stage 1 will be using number lines and number squares (or 100 squares) regularly. Depending on their learning style some will find it more beneficial than others, but it’s certainly worth a try.

Draw pictures

This works first of all because many children enjoy drawing and secondly because it gives a physical representation of the addition. Urge your child to keep the drawings small and basic (otherwise you’ll be there all day!).

Practise rapid re-call

In Key Stage 1 learning number facts is a principal focus. For example, children are expected to learn number bonds to ten (e.g. 7 + 3 = 10, 9 + 1= 10 etc.) Support your child by reciting the possible combinations together. Also explain that you can always swap the number order around when it comes to addition, so if 6 + 4 = 10 so does 4 + 6.

Encourage adding in real-life situations

The fundamental point of numeracy is that children (and the adults they’ll grow to be) can use it in their everyday life. Giving them real-life opportunities to practise their addition skills also makes them feel grown up and boosts their self-esteem. So at the supermarket get them to put, for example, five oranges and four apples in your basket and ask them how many pieces of fruit you’ll be buying. Similarly learning money basics when you’re out and about can be a great incentive for getting their number brain working!

Invent story sums

Devising and working through story sums is a crucial element of KS1 numeracy. Children can really enjoy this especially if you make the stories about something they have an interest in, e.g. using characters from their favourite book or TV programme, food they love or their school friends. A story sum (also known as a word problem) might read as follows: There were seven cupcakes and six biscuits on a tray. How many treats were there altogether?

Moving into Year 3 and beyond? Read our Teachers' tips for KS2 maths.