Improving Math Skills: A Guide for Parents

  • Wherever your child attends school, no matter where in the world, math will be of premier importance in the curriculum they study. As a parent, you understand that your child needs to perform well in math. It can sometimes be hard to know how to help them, however.

    It may be a while since you studied math yourself and you may not recognize all the techniques or mathematical language your child is taught in school. Perhaps, your child is struggling in one or more areas of math. Perhaps your child is gifted in math and you would like to know more about how to further their abilities. Maybe you just want to help your child get the best possible grade in their end of school examinations.

    Whatever your reason for wanting to know more about math teaching and math programs for kids, this guide is here for you. It will help you understand the kind of math skills your child needs to be learning for the 21st century, the math they will cover in school, and how you can help them attain their goals.

    Why does math matter?

    Math definitely matters. 

    First of all, there are countless applications for math in everyday life. Some good examples are timekeeping, money management, financial planning, cooking and baking, and shopping. Absolutely everyone needs a good enough grasp of math to manage these tasks easily.

    Secondly, math is used in virtually every career. Some more than others, of course. At the very least, your job will require basic skills in time management, number, understanding probability, and the principles of risk and return. However, careers in science, technology and IT all require a much deeper understanding of the principles of math, and many others, too. For this reason, college and university admissions panels usually insist on good math grades. 

    Math is also an important communication tool. Wherever you travel in the world, you can be assured that math will be a common language. The fact that math is a universal language makes it a particularly powerful tool to have at our disposal. 

    Learning math helps children develop reasoning and logic and thus helps their problem-solving skills. 

    And finally, math is all around us. We even see math in nature, from the symmetry of snowflakes, to the Fibonacci sequence in sunflower heads, to the hexagons in a honeycomb. Math helps us understand the world around us. 

    What do I need to know about math learning in the 21st century?

    In many ways, math has been taught the same way for centuries. However, when technology and modern science arrived, there was a move in how math was used in daily life, business and jobs. A shift in math education responded to this. 

    Now, in the digital and information ages, there must be a further shift as we prepare young people for the demands of the future. Artificial intelligence and automation will be a part of this future. There will be an increasing array of careers working with technology. More of the workforce will need a command of advanced math than ever before.

    Skills most needed in the 21st century will be problem-solving and critical thinking. Already, there are many people who are working with vast data sets and using statistical reasoning to make sense of them. Many others are solving problems using computers and thus are applying computational thinking. Engineers are using mathematical modeling to solve problems in systems. These are just a few examples. 

    Good math educators are recognizing the need for a generation of problem solvers. Rather than expecting rote or passive learning, they are encouraging active learning. Students are encouraged to investigate mathematical problems, use trial and error, make mistakes and learn from them, ask questions themselves, and explore possible answers. 

    What math should my child be learning? 

    The kind of math and the topics your child should be learning will be age-related. However, at every stage, there should be an emphasis on:

    • Developing problem-solving skills

    • Communication (learning and using math language)

    • Using logic and reasoning

    • Real-life applications of math

    These are the math skills that young people will be applying to their future careers. 

    Whilst the exact curriculum will be decided by your child’s school and the statutory frameworks it works within, here is a brief overview of how student progression across a math curriculum may look:

    Grades 1 and 2 (6-8 years)

    This is where the foundations for math are put down. They will learn to use the four basic arithmetic operations (+,-, x, ÷). They will then learn to apply these to real-life scenarios like money and measurement. They will learn the basic language of fractions, too (i.e., half and quarter).

    As they progress, they will be expected to solve word problems using logic alongside the four basic operations. The unitary method is also introduced. 

    Grades 3 and 5 (8-11 years)

    Students’ work on the basic operations continues. However, they are now expected to apply them to more areas of maths, such as area, perimeter, shape and other geometry work. Decimals, percentages and fractions may be introduced and students may also begin to work on simple equations. 

    Grades 6 and beyond (age 11 upwards)

    Now that the foundations have been put down, your child will be challenged to extend and deepen their knowledge in the four key areas of the math curriculum.

    Each year in school, your child will work on elements from each of these four key areas:

    • Numbers

    • Algebra

    • Geometry and trigonometry

    • Statistics and probability

    Towards the end of your child’s time in school, they will be preparing for math examinations and learning the syllabus for those specific exams. These might be GCSE/iGCSE, A-level, IB, SAT, ACT, PSAT or many others. 

    What might hinder my child’s math learning? 

    While there are many children who enjoy math and excel in this subject, there is also a significant proportion who have difficulties. There are several possible situations that may be causing your child difficulty in math.

    Lack of enjoyment is one possible factor. It may be down to previous math learning experiences that continue to haunt them, or it may be the current teaching or learning environment. Lack of enjoyment can affect motivation and, thus, progress. Some children even develop a fear of math, believing they cannot do it. 

    Good language and communication skills are vital to math learning. If a child finds reading, writing or listening difficult, this will have an impact on their math learning, too.

    There are also some specific learning difficulties that will impact a child’s math learning, including dyslexia and dyspraxia. Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that specifically affects a student’s ability to understand numerical concepts (“number sense”) and memorize number facts. 

    How can I support my child’s math learning?

    There are plenty of ways parents can support math learning. One of the most important things you can do for any age child is to stay up-to-date. Know what your child is currently studying in math so you can look out for further opportunities to practice.

    In addition to this, for younger children:

    • Get them involved in everyday activities that use math (i.e. cooking, shopping or timekeeping). Get them weighing, measuring, counting, and telling the time as often as possible.

    • Play math games with them. Many classic board games involve counting, such as Snakes and Ladders. You can easily find educational math games that practice the different operations.

    • Read books and share stories that involve numbers.

    For older children and teenagers:

    • Continue to involve them in everyday math, such as budgeting and time planning.

    • Provide practical support by ensuring they have acquired the right equipment for math lessons and that they have prepared a study timetable for homework and exam revision.

    • Encourage them to complete fun number puzzles and games that help develop logic and reasoning, such as chess.

    • Provide a supportive, encouraging home environment. Keep lines of communication open between you, your child and their math teacher.

    • Consider providing extra tuition to help them overcome difficulties, to extend their knowledge in areas of interest or talent, or to prepare for examinations or competitions.

    Being supportive of your child’s education in math is one of the most crucial ways you can help them prepare for adulthood, for their everyday life, and for their career. Helping them get practical help when needed and offering unending encouragement are two ways you can best support them.