Tag Archives: maths

Managing homework (maths)

One of the things I have found hard about the boys being back at school is not having such a good overview of their learning and where they ‘are’, making me a minority parent in that I like homework!  On the other hand, we have far less time together and I don’t want it to feel pressured and become all about homework (tempting as that may be with my controlling teacher hat on!)

Number arrays allow a young learner to see that 3 lots of 2 is the same as 2 lots of 3

Finding a balance then has been key and we have tried to ensure that the homework feels just as purposeful and engaging as other activities may be around the house.   Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve been doing and how I have managed to incorporate school expectations with my family time.

L loves to help, with anything and so incorporating his targets into dinner preparation is easy.  He may count out grapes or strawberries into pots for everybody, and as he does so I can ask him “how many in each group now?”  “How many altogether?”  This language is key as it is reinforcing the visual, helping him to understand that 4 lots of 3 is 12, 12 shared by 4 is 3 and so on.  When it then comes to working from a work book we can refer back to this and link the language.  Often just because it is called ‘times tables’ it can feel like it’s something more challenging when in fact at Y1 level these practical experiences are invaluable.

Cake making or anything that involves laying out in rows (arrays) like our easter eggs are another powerful visual to aid with learning times tables.

A chocolate workshop at christmas – not an obvious homework activity but it naturally allowed for counting, multiplying, working out how many more…
Sometimes it’s not about the activity itself, but how you question and prompt the thinking as they work / play.

Pocket money is obviously a great opportunity for maths.  I was astounded by my 6 year old counting in tens to work out how many pounds he had to spend.  Not so much the tens but the fact that he was so quickly scooping a handful and saying how much he had without counting in steps.  So for example, he had 8 ten pence pieces and immediately knew he had 80.  By being aware of the class targets the adult role at home is easy, as in this situation I could ask him how many more to make 100, how many to make 200 and so on.

Laying out pocket money like this enables a child to see the relationship between the coin values

In KS2 the concepts often still need to be reinforced with concrete experiences so the above may still apply.  I tend to drop in maths at any opportunity.  There was 30% off of an item we wanted last week.  Perfect.  Our decision making around the purchase may have taken 5 minutes longer, but C applied his understanding of fractions, converting to decimals and then mentally subtracting, all in one go.  We bought what we wanted (we had to after all that!) and I felt satisfied that concepts he had been working on in school could be applied to real life.  Setting into context like this may seem obvious but it is such an important life skill to realise the importance of everyday maths.  It really is about creating or capturing the opportunity and reinforcing the language and imagery.

So my tips as a teacher and parent would be:

  • to find out from school exactly what areas are being worked on.  You won’t be pestering as most teachers will be glad of the support at home.  5 minutes spent with a parent after school finding out how you can help at home will have huge benefits back in class.
  • Find fun ways to reinforce the language.  Many maths skills can seem to be solid but then a child can’t apply this to other areas.  So, for example, once they begin to have an understanding of grouping, get them sharing and dividing, counting money, sorting action figures.
  • If the school sends home a sheet don’t try to force the homework if one of you is simply not in the right mood.  I guarantee it will not only take longer, but there is likely to be stress on both sides (resulting in zero learning!) and possibly even tears (from either adult or child!)
  • Go online to find times table songs that you can handle listening to.  There are loads, but there are also loads that will just irritate!  We particularly enjoy Mr DeMaio and his covers of current songs. 
  • Make the most of the free games online too, one of may favourites is topmarks; http://www.topmarks.co.uk/maths-games/5-7-years/counting.  You can filter by age and category.  The games are simple enough to be able to focus on the maths, rather than be distracted by over detailed graphics or game rules, and they can be played independently.  A great way to reinforce tricky areas or consolidate.

For an able mathematician more of the same can get boring.  Take a look at https://nrich.maths.org/about  There are lots of open ended problems and challenges that get children thinking more creatively.  I have often used the frogs on lily pads activity.  It works for various ages and is fun to follow up with a practical activity if needed.  We gave it a Valentines twist for a tutor group back in FebruaryThere are lots more ways you can turn homework into activities at home, food is always handy…

visualising equivalent fractions 3/3 is the same as 12/12,         1/3 =4/12 and so on
relating numbers to fractions to understand division










If you are interested in more personalised ideas or advice to help with homework, please do get in touch.  It’s what we love to do!

Santa’s little helpers do maths

Christmas is busy enough at the best of times but trying to prepare when you HE can make it even more so.  No popping to the shops while they are at school, no commute to stop off en route and get some late night shopping done.  It’s all shopping online and  having helpers in tow 24/7.  Does this sound familiar? To help a little with this, I thought I would share some maths we did  last year, which C and I loved, and shall be repeating this year with an extra elf on the team!

Once we had printed our wrapping paper (star potato prints, but this could easily have been more mathematical with repeating patterns or sequences), we set up an elf workshop n the lounge.  Nothing fancy Just 4 work stations:

Weighing area

Measuring area

Cutting area

Wrapping area


We planned these together with C making the signs and then preparing our resources before we set to work.  I think the areas speak for themselves.  What was key here though was how the learning was extended so that it was fun, but he was still learning at a level suited to him.  We devised a basic chart for him to record the weight and length of each present before he moved it to the cutting area where I had to follow his recorded measurement to accurately cut the paper.  He ‘quality controlled’ this!  We then wrapped together and placed presents in weight or size order before placing under the tree.

... and under the tree
… and under the tree

With gentle questioning, whilst keeping in role, I got him to find the difference between parcels, ” How much more does x weigh than y?”  “Let’s see what the combined weight of ….. is?”  “If we put these two side by side, I wonder how much space will they take up in the van or sleigh?”  And so on.

These ‘wonder how’, ‘wonder why’ type questions are a perfect way to stimulate thinking without the pressure of feeling there’s a right or wrong answer.  Obviously for these examples there is a right answer, but by phrasing it as an open question it can often mean that children are more inclined to offer a solution.  A closed question can lead to resistance or a barrier and instant feeling of ‘I don’t know’.  It’s worth taking a few seconds to mentally rephrase, particularly during hands on activities like these.  Theres a more comprehensive list of examples on the NRICH site for more ideas and an explanation of why this is important in maths.

I do try to keep structured with our HE, or at least semi structured.  So for me, planning activities like this gives a real purpose to the learning while satisfying my need to ensure that there is still curriculum coverage and evidence ofprogress being made on a weekly basis. This year I will be extending the elf helper’s learning with some time word problems to solve too.  If you want to give it a go, you can download the delivery notes  here.   These will be appearing at our breakfast table sometime soon in a suitably sparkly envelope and a letter from either the post office or the elves.  Possibly via one of the fairy doors, but either way, set into an imaginary context to set the scene!

santa delivery notes download increases slightly in difficulty;  working out the dispatch time is the hardest as the children  will need to work backwards from the arrival time.  I would start with the delivery notes that give the dispatch and length of  journey, before moving onto these.  If you would like a blank version to enter in your own times, please drop me a line and I can send this to you.

Back in time

Ever since taking part in Oliver Twist my little boy in rags has wanted to learn more about Dickensian times and I’ve been promising this topic for ages.  Lets hope it’s all he imagined it to be!

Having spent a week or two learning about WW1, we looked at what life was like at home; particularly how the roles of women changed which led us nicely back to how men and women had been treated differently prior to the outbreak of war.  We’ve had some interesting discussions about the expectation for girls to look after the home and how poor children were sent out to work from an early age.  In his usual dramatic way he has then wailed back at me (after a bit of an argument about the need to work hard), “don’t send me to work up a chimney…”  and, “You can’t make me go to work!”  We also had a worrying moment when I created some maths problems about sharing coal into groups and he

using smarties to understand fractions of number
using smarties to understand fractions of number

imagined he was a child worker who needed to be quick or the boss would be cross.  He was really engaged in this role play until he got stuck and went into a complete panic that he was going to be beaten by this imaginary boss for not being quick enough… I think my son immerses himself a little too much into character.  Maybe I should look into method acting for him!




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