When we made the decision to set out to home educate the children, we didn’t have many firm ideas, but we did know that we wanted to make sure we got the basics in hand – maths and English. We wanted to make sure we facilitated learning to read and getting maths right.
Maths is one of those things where people routinely say they’re rubbish at it – and do so as if it’s something that doesn’t really matter. I’m not brilliant at maths, but I can do mental arithmetic and know my time’s tables. Damian is much quicker at mental maths and I want the children to have that ease and confidence.
I’ve learnt a lot this last year about maths and I thought I would share some of the things I learnt in these five tips for teaching maths.
Choose a scheme to follow
We follow the Maths no ProblemMaths no Problem (MNP) scheme. I chose this because a friend was using it and it looked like it might be a scheme that would work for us. It’s clear to follow and I like the fact that the lessons and short and sweet. I use this with both Emma and Daniel and it is, so far, working well for us. For me, personally, I find using a scheme gives me a logical basis to build on with the children. I know many home educators simply use workbooks that they have picked up in WH Smith, or online. I do this as well to supplement the Maths no Problem scheme.
I intend to take a look at Galore Park when the children are a little older, as I have heard great things about that scheme but, at the moment, I think it’s aimed at a slightly older age than my children are.
I find that following a scheme of work means that I am keeping the children more or less in line with where they would be expected to be at in school. This might not be for everyone, but it works for us and it’s something that is important to us.
Little and often
Last year, we had some real issues with Daniel grasping and retaining some basic mathematical concepts. I think he just wasn’t ready for maths at that time and was busy working on his English skills. We ended up taking a step away from the MNP scheme and went back to basics. I reviewed the things we had covered with MNP and looked at what he was struggling and we got some different workbooks. Both the older children like that Letts workbooks and I’ve also used the Schofield and Sims ones too. I made the decision to do a short spell of maths each morning for a few months. It could literally be just a few sums to something more in-depth like a couple of pages from the workbooks.
It worked for us. Daniel’s confidence has increased with his maths now and he doesn’t moan and complain when we get the books out. I would say we cover maths each day in a formal way using the MNP books which we have since returned to and worked through at a good pace. I also keep notes of the areas he is looking for more support from me in, or areas that I think we should look back at and consolidate the learning in.
By doing maths little and often I am not rushing the children through a particular area of knowledge and I can see what information they are retaining or struggling with.
Power of Play
Another big thing for us has been playing number games. Games like Plyt and Numbugz (both items that we were gifted for review) have been really good at building up Daniel’s confidence, as well as helping Emma develop her mathematical skills too. We also play games where one of us chooses a number and the other people have to guess the number by asking questions. Things like is it higher than 25, is it lower than 100. Is it an even number and so forth.
One of the big things that I have learnt is that singing skip counting songs is a brilliant way to help children retain the times tables. Personally, Damian and I see value in the children learning their tables (I object to the testing in schools where I understand they have to answer in a very quick time). We learnt many of the skip counting songs and we still use these now when looking at times tables, division or just when counting things out.
One of the big barriers I had with Daniel was that he couldn’t see a value to learning maths. He was motivated to learn to read because the pay off is in the book itself, but maths was a bit more abstract for him. I made a conscious effort to start using a lot of the language that was in his maths books to help him see the practical, everyday applications. We talked about volume and weight. Things being more or less, higher and lower and how we could quickly work out if his siblings have more sweets than he did! Bringing maths to life really helped him to understand it’s importance.