Maths - Across the generations

Boost parents' skills so they can help their children to learn

Although parents will admit to struggling in maths at school, many still yearn for the methods they remember from their own learning. And the parents of students at Hunslet Moor Primary School in Leeds are from a wide range of countries, so the differences between their experiences and those of their children are greater than usual.

The maths coordinator and I planned four 30-minute sessions, staged over a month, for a small group of parents of Year 1 students. We aimed to bridge gaps in their knowledge and develop their confidence in supporting their children's learning, particularly in terms of their calculation skills. We also wanted to work on their maths "language" - especially important as the majority of the parents were learning English as an additional language.

The first session was on "number recognition", and we drew on the diversity we had in the room by teaching each other to count in our first languages, including Czech, Albanian and Mandarin. This put the parents in the position of "knowing". It also gave me an idea of where they were mathematically, and I promised to learn the numbers 1-20 in different languages for future sessions. We helped them to make mathematical learning resources to take home and scanned a newspaper for numbers, dates, temperatures, prices and phone numbers. The parents promised to look out for numbers on the way home - something that could be developed into a treasure hunt for them to use with their children on walks to school.

The second session focused on addition and, after my halting attempt to count in Czech, the parents gave feedback on what they had been able to use from the previous week. It became clear that many of them were learning the English pronunciation alongside their children. Two of the parents had noticed that their children were starting to group numbers in order to count and one father talked about how he had used stones at home to carry out an estimating activity.

Over the month we used the Numicon approach and pegboards to explore number bonds, and gave the parents packs of Numicon and digit cards to take home. We also looked at subtractions, introduced whiteboards and asked parents to record solutions pictorially. And we played a board game based on collecting and losing worms. Finally, we explored multiplication and division, and explained multiplication as equal addition by using cartoons of cats - how many eyes, how many whiskers and so on.

The evaluations from the parents were very positive. They reported an increase in confidence and said that they had particularly enjoyed playing the maths games. Arguably their greatest pleasure, however, came from my attempt to count to 20 in Albanian. The project proved a valuable and relaxing gateway to talking about the importance of shaping our mouths and tongues correctly when learning a new language.

Tony Cotton is a writer and author of Understanding and Teaching Primary Mathematics. He delivered the sessions with maths coordinator Rachel Parkinson, who is now developing sessions for the parents of Year 2 students.

WHAT ELSE?

Try slieber24's Mathematics Guide for Parents, a booklet that explains how maths is taught in primaries. bit.lyMathematicsGuide

Maths for the Terrified: Involving Parents, a Teachers TV video, offers suggestions on how to break the cycle of fear and make maths accessible to all. bit.lyFearOfMathsVideo.

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