“What can they be doing at home?” How to suggest primary maths activities to parents

|6 min read

Editor’s Note:

This is an updated version of a blog post published on 12 November, 2020.

“What can I be doing at home?” It’s a common question asked at parents’ evening, and it’s not always obvious how to answer it. Here are some ideas that may help.

A parent’s idea of maths support at home might be additional homework, structured worksheets or flash cards. But there are a number of other activities parents can do with their children at home that might not feel like ‘maths’ but will really benefit their child’s learning.

Next time a parent asks you how they can help their child with maths at home, try suggesting the following activities.

Ask children to write their own maths problems

Typically, sending maths work home goes like this: the teacher sends home a word problem and it’s the learner’s job to figure out the abstract maths that’s required to solve it.

But what if we flipped this idea on its head?

Try asking your learners to write a story for an equation — essentially writing their own word problem. This is one really valuable maths activity children can do at home.

Asking children to write a story for the equation encourages them to link abstract maths with their real world, helping them develop an understanding of mathematical language. Using this mathematical language requires a different logic than simply deciphering a word problem to solve the maths.

This activity can be adapted for any age group:

  • Ask younger children if they can write a story for the equation 10 – 3 = 7
  • Ask older children how many different stories can they write where the answer is 9

Play spatial thinking maths games at home

Research suggests that spatial thinking is directly linked to performance in mathematics, and there are a number of fun maths activities parents can do at home to develop learners’ spatial reasoning skills.

Spatial thinking or spatial reasoning involves the location and movement of objects and ourselves, either mentally or physically, in space. It’s not a single ability or process but actually refers to a considerable number of concepts, tools and processes.

Spatial thinking and reasoning is an important skill for children to learn, and it’s essential to our everyday lives. The world is 3-D so we need to be able to navigate it.

Research suggests that learners who have stronger spatial language perform better in spatial-reasoning tasks. Parents can support the development of spatial thinking at home with activities that emphasise spatial language.

Here are a couple of ideas.

Spatial thinking barrier game

You will need:

  • A barrier (cardboard or a book)
  • 3-D objects like blocks, counters or lego

How to play:

  1. Players sit opposite each other and place a barrier between them so they can’t see the other player’s 3-D objects. Each player needs exactly the same objects.
  2. Player one makes a 3-D figure or arrangement, using blocks, counters or both.
  3. Player one explains to player two step-by-step how to construct the figure they made, using spatial language like, “place a block on top of the first block.” Player two completes the instruction, then player one gives another instruction like, “place the third block to the right of the tower with the ‘letter A’ facing the front, then rotate the ‘letter A’ 90 degrees to the left”. This continues until the figure is constructed.
  4. Once player two has completed the construction, remove the barrier to see if the figures look the same. Take turns.

Maths obstacle courses

You will need:

  • Space and materials to create an obstacle course

How to play:

  1. Create an obstacle course either inside or outdoors.
  2. Player one directs player two around the obstacle course using spatial language.
  3. Take turns and challenge player two to direct player one around the course using a different route.

These activities can be adapted for all age groups.

  • For younger children, the designs will be simple and the language used will relate to location, orientation, distance and direction. For example: left, right, top, bottom, between, in front and behind.

Introduce number pairs or number bonds

Number bonds are fundamental to developing number sense and mathematical fluency.

Number bonds or number pairs are pairs of numbers that add together to make a given number. For example, 7 and 3, or 1 and 9 are number bonds to 10, whereas 26 and 74, or 42 and 58 are number bonds to 100.

Number bonds to 10 are particularly important and we can encourage parents to practice number bonds at home.

Encourage parents to practice these in a concrete way using a ten frame. If parents don’t have ten frames at home, they can make them by cutting the last two egg cups from a dozen sized egg carton. There should be two rows of five egg cups in each row, making a ten frame.

Using two different coloured counters, buttons or types of pasta, use the ten frame to explore number bonds to 10. For example, 10 is the same as 6 red buttons and 4 blue buttons. Children should see that 6 and 4 is 10 because the ten frame will be full.

Number pairs activities can be adapted for all ages and levels.

  • For younger children, number pairs can be looked at for any given number, for example, the number 5 can be 2 and 3, or 4 and 1. Parents can make a five frame using the egg carton.
  • For older children, look at greater numbers, or decimal or fraction pairs to 1.

Try quick and simple maths activities at home

Sometimes we don’t always have time to explain maths activities to parents because they’ve asked as they’re going out the door, or in the last 30 seconds of their slot. If you find yourself in that situation, here’s a list of quick and simple suggestions you can pass on to parents:

  • Prove it! Rather than just expecting children to find the answer and have parents confirm if it’s correct or not, ask children to also provide proof and explain how they know their answer is correct.
  • Mentally add up the shopping list in the supermarket. Here’s a tip: have parents put a few things back to give their child some subtraction practice.
  • Baking and cooking. To extend this activity further, they can double or halve recipes, or only give them certain measuring cups to use.
  • Shape hunts. Spot 2-D and 3-D shapes throughout the house or when you’re out and about. This can be extended for older children to discuss properties of shapes. If parents aren’t sure, ask children to explain and describe what the different properties of shapes are, it will only help them develop a deeper understanding.
  • Connect maths to everyday life, distance to school, time until dinner or how to share the pudding equally.

Next time you’re asked the infamous question of how parents can support their child with maths at home, help parents see that it doesn’t always have to be times tables and flash cards. There’s a lot of valuable learning in everyday activities and interactions with their child — it’s just about recognising them as opportunities for maths.

Looking for more activities that parents can do at home with their children? Head over to School at Home to find more distance learning activities.

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National Research Council. (2006). Learning to think spatially: GIS as a support system in the K–12 curriculum. Washington, DC: National Academic Press.