Maths is a difficult subject for many students. If you have a child struggling with maths at school you will know how frustrating this can be.
During my time as a Year 6 teacher, I had many children who were near the bottom of the class; they could do mental arithmetic, but couldn’t show their working out or explain how they’d got the answer.
Knowing that these children could solve the maths problems illustrates the fact that there was some good understanding of mathematical concepts at work, but not being able to demonstrate this understanding on paper became an issue for them.
Here are some 10 tips which you can practise with your child to help them solve maths problems in the right way.
1. Get into good habits
It’s much easier to learn something well when you start off doing it right, rather than having to change bad habits later on. Your child should know by now, or will shortly find out, that all their work is displayed on a giant board in the classroom.
They should automatically try to use good handwriting, appropriate units of measurement and helpful diagrams in any maths work that they do at home too.
2. Check the numbers
Once your child has written or drawn their answer, double-check that it makes sense (e.g. check that the units are correct). Is there a number missing? Have they transposed two numbers?
Did they show all the working out required to solve the problem correctly? If necessary, prompt them by asking how they would find out what x is if they knew y was 5; what must be 15% of 80; which is bigger 3/5 or 4/7; etc… This can help them check their thinking before putting pencil to paper rather than after.
3. Show the working out
Your child will need to show their working out if they want a teacher or examiner to understand just how they got their answer.
This is much easier when the number of steps in the solution is kept to a minimum, so try to practice with them just one or two steps at a time rather than an entire page full of calculations.
If your child can write well it’s probably best for them to give verbal explanations and write only key words and symbols on paper, but if this isn’t possible then encourage them to write out all their workings whilst saying what each step means as they do it. This will help consolidate their understanding of important terms such as ‘divide’,factor’ and ‘coefficient’.
4. Work on your child’s handwriting
Your child will have to show their working out for this topic so they must be able to write clearly and neatly. If you think their handwriting is poor, practise writing some problems together and get them to correct and improve yours too!
See our article ” Help Your Child with Handwriting: A Self-esteem Issue ” for more information.
There are lots of good books available on teaching your children how to write neatly and quickly at the same time; we recommend ‘Handwriting without Tears’ which is a fun programme that gets children writing in lowercase, upper and mixed case alphabets from the start (it takes about 6 weeks).
They go on to learn cursive script as well asary. They also need to be able to quickly draw diagrams or write symbols that represent different numbers, or have a good knowledge of these so they can use them flexibly without always having to look at their notes.
5. Talk about the answer
After your child has written or drawn their solution, ask them what it means and why it is correct. For example you could say “If I had 8 boxes in one line and 4 lines in total how many would there be altogether?”
– If they said 32, then you could point out that the number before the ‘x’ affects all subsequent calculations as this will show why 9+4×2 isn’t 12+(2×4). If you don’t understand any part of the solution (and they can’t explain it to you) ask your child to try again.
If they are still struggling, have a look at their working together – patience is key here! We find the questions “What will happen if…?” and “How do you know…?” are very useful in helping to understand what needs to be done next or how it works.
6. Make sure that mistakes are corrected
If your child says something that’s obviously incorrect then check that their mistake has been corrected before moving on. This may seem painfully obvious but students often can’t see their own errors even when they’ve finished an entire page of work!
To help them see where they need to put things right you could try asking them enough times until either the problem or the solution is correct. For example you could say “You’ve made a mistake here, what have you done?” – if they answer correctly then it’s not a mistake so you might need to ask again until they do make a mistake and can see it (and correct it).
If your child still insists that there’s no mistake after many repetitions of this process then move on for now and come back to it later; if they’re very keen to get on then try checking their work closely yourself before getting them to double-check too.
7. Unlock similar questions
If your child gets stuck on one question and keeps repeating the same steps over and over without making progress, try taking the problem apart into smaller parts using words or symbols to represent different numbers. For example you could say “If I have 3 boxes in one line, how many are there in total?”Share