Most parents want to see their children do well in maths, but do not always know what help to give. Now some north Hertfordshire primary schools are helping parents learn how to support the early years maths curriculum at home.
Angela Renshaw is a basic skills lecturer at North Hertfordshire College in Stevenage. She explains how the courses started as a joint project with Peartree Way nursery school: "In 1994, the headteacher Lyn McLeod and I devised Help Your Child modules in maths, reading and writing. We wanted parents to be able to help their children at home as well as increase their own confidence. With funding from Hertfordshire TEC and the Further Education Funding Council the scheme is expanding into other schools across north Herts and we now offer it to parents of three to seven-year-olds."
Some parents who attend Help Your Child with Maths sessions move on to take a City and Guilds 3750 maths qualification themselves, and children benefit when parents can give more effective help at home. In 1999, additional tutors were recruited and trained to deliver the programme.
Courses are run as partnerships between North Hertfordshire College and participating schools. The school buys the course manual, with the college supplying a tutor who works closely with the school to deliver the course and ensure that it is tailored to the particular needs of individual schools.
Over six weeks, parents spend two hours a week looking at how maths is now taught in primary schools, and testing a variety of activities and games to try out at home. The emphasis is on fun and enjoyment, with a wide range of ideas such as weighing and measuring in home cooking sessions, sorting, matching and counting with bricks and puzzles, projects using home-made charts and graphs, role-play with shops and money, and "number trail" treasure hunts and timed races in the garden.
Parents are also encouraged to do "everyday maths" with children, counting fruit in the supermarket or talking about odd and even house numbers while out for a walk. Te emphasis on home activities and games can demystify numbers for parents who may not have studied any formal maths since their own school days.
Aileen Morley, tutor for a recent maths course at Oughtonhead primary school in Hitchin, says: "It was a very positive experience. Parents had the chance to observe a classroom numeracy hour in progress, to try out lots of simple, enjoyable ideas for sharing maths with children, and to become familiar with current maths vocabulary."
Courses are free to parents, and most schools organise a cr che. A Help Your Child course demands commitment from many members of the school community, and can sometimes involve the wider community too; one recent course, for a small village school with limited space on the premises, was held in a room over the local doctor's surgery, with the practice helping out with the loan of video equipment for part of the course. The cr che was held in a neighbouring house, and the chair of the governors helped with the cr che as well as the vital biscuits for the students' coffee break.
At the moment there are eight schools in towns and villages across north Herts taking part in the Help Your Child With Maths scheme but, as a result of the numeracy hour, demand for courses is rising as schools seek to communicate new maths methods and vocabulary to parents.
Teachers have welcomed the opportunity that the Help Your Child programme creates to involve parents in their children's learning, with school maths co-ordinators often offering information sessions as part of the course. Carol Arrowsmith, head of Strathmore infant and nursery school in Hitchin, is enthusiastic: "We're keen to inform and support parents in developing and extending their children's learning. I am sure that as a result of the maths course, parents' confidence will be raised and they will enjoy interacting 'mathematically' with their children at home."
Belinda Copson is a tutor for the Help Your Child programme, and a freelance writer. Angela Renshaw may be contacted at North Hertfordshire College Basic Skills Office, tel: 01462 424242