Page 2 | Having trouble helping your kids with maths? Q&A with maths expert and co-author of Maths On the Go Rob Eastaway

(32 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 18-Jan-16 12:31:24

We're running a Q&A this week with Rob Eastaway, co-author of Maths On The Go with Mike Askew. If you're having trouble helping your child build their confidence in maths or have a real maths conundrum of your own, tap into Rob's knowledge and post a question on this thread before Monday 25 January. We'll upload his answers to your questions on 1st Feb.

Rob’s books include Maths For Mums and Dads and How Many Socks Make a Pair. He is the Director of Maths Inspiration and a regular on BBC Radio 4 and 5 Live talking about the maths of everyday life. His latest book Maths on the Go (co-written with Mike Askew) offers 101 simple tips, games and activities to make practising maths more enjoyable and engaging for both you and your child. Rob has recently shared some of his tips on how to help your child learn their times tables.

OP’s posts: |
RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:24:51


What do you feel are the key core skills for a KS1 child to have got consolidated before moving up to KS2? What would be a way to help a child who is struggling with maths and feels left behind at school as the current pace of maths on the curriculum is beyond their capabilities?

Rob: With the new curriculum introduced last year, primary school maths just got a lot tougher, which can be distressing for children for whom maths does not come easily, and for their parents. All the more reason why the maths they experience at home should be ‘happy’ maths. Perhaps the most important thing is for your child to be comfortable doing maths activities with you, without the expectation of being told they are wrong. This means that both of you should at times be working things out together, and if YOU make a mistake, laugh and have another go to show that getting things wrong isn’t the end of the world. By the end of year 2 – so when they are seven – you want your child to be confident reading and interpreting numbers, for example knowing that 143 is bigger than 138, and you also want them to be comfortable counting up or down in twos, threes and so on (the foundation of times tables). So when you are out and about, look for things to do with numbers. Play games like ‘Higher or Lower’ – when you see the number on bus or a building, say ‘Do you think the next bus number we see will be higher or lower?’. When walking past terraced houses you can ask ‘What number house do you predict will be three doors along?’, so if you are next to house number 37, then if the numbering is normal, the house that’s three along will be 43 or 31. You can adapt these games to be as easy or as difficult as you like, depending the size of numbers your child is confident with.

Mike Askew adds: For younger children it’s important to keep maths connected to things they understand, physical objects and stories. A lot of research shows that setting maths into a simple story context and acting out that story can help. Think about a subtraction such as 17 - 5. Get your child to suggest characters for a maths story (silly is good) - there were seventeen sprouts to eat, but Jo only ate 5. How many were left? And while counters can be good stand-ins for sprouts, counting out real sprouts makes the learning stronger.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:25:35


I have a copy of Maths for Mums and Dads - it's really helpful. If DC need help and are saying that their teacher 'didn't explain it' I'll get the book out and go through it with them. They then seem to recognise what I am talking about and it clicks that they did learn it after all.

Before we had The Book I would be googling under the table and trying to show them in my way which isn't how it's taught anymore and we all ended up stressed and confused.

Do you do a version for secondary school maths too?

Rob: It’s great that you’ve found ‘Maths for Mums and Dads’ helpful. As you know, that book covers maths for your child up to the end of primary school. The sequel is called (surprise surprise) ‘MORE Maths for Mums and Dads – The Teenage Years’. It picks up where the other book left off, and looks at the main bugbears of secondary maths for both teenagers and parents: algebra, geometry, trigonometry... and also the biggest issue of all, ‘When am I ever going to need this stuff?’. It isn’t a GCSE book as such (textbooks will cover that for you) but we have tried to step back from the detail to answer the really important questions of which school maths is the most important for later life, and what the point is of some of the more obscure maths topics. Our new book, ‘Maths on the Go’ is less concerned with the school curriculum and more about how busy parents can explore maths with their children as part of their everyday lives. And let’s face it, for most people the most important use of maths is helping you to deal with the world around you.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:37:34


My daughter gets so cross in the face of any maths homework.

Before she's even given it a chance, she does random guesses and gets frustrated.

If we can get past the fury, she's normally perfectly capable of working it out but already aged 8 claims to hate maths.

If she practiced more, she'd feel more confident but how do we deal with this barrier she's already constructing?

Literacy homework she'll run off in 10 minutes, practicing the 8 times tables today took 20 mins of arguments before we got started.

Rob: She might claim to hate maths, but I’m going to guess she still enjoys lots of games and also magic. Dotted through some of the other answers in this Q&A, you’ll find examples of games and tricks that appeal to most eight year olds. So perhaps the most important thing you can do is to draw a boundary between homework (a necessary evil) and the fun sort of maths that you do together. I suggest you don’t call it maths when you play a game of pub cricket in the car (scoring one point for each leg on the sign of a pub), or when you work out together when the cake will be ready if it takes 35 minutes to bake. The main thing is to just make numbers a normal thing you deal with as part of day-to-day life with your daughter.
Mike Askew adds: See my point about motivation and getting started (for Naytaali above). If your daughter has come to expect that she will have to endure maths for a long time, then she’ll be resistant. Just ask her to spend five minutes on it (no more). Next time that ‘five minutes’ will, with any luck, run on several minutes more.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:42:01


My daughter has maths GCSE coming up and has always had real difficulties with maths. She works so hard but just got her mock results back and got a D. Have you any tips on maths revision and also on exam technique that can help her bring it up to a pass rate?

Rob: Perhaps now is the time to reassure her that, while it would be great for her to get a pass at GCSE, there is far more to maths than taking exams, and that when it comes to life skills, only some of the things she’s studied at GCSE will turn out to be really important. Cramming and question-spotting can help improve your grade, but that’s not the same as making you ‘better at maths’ – in fact, children who concentrate on exam techniques at the expense of longer term understanding often end up being less engaged with maths as a result.

Mike Askew adds: When learners get a grade like a 'D' they label themselves as 'not good', and their opinion then becomes hard to shift. If she attempts some old exam papers, I’d advise against you ‘marking’ the questions as right or wrong, but instead talk through her answers and get her to decide if she got it right or not. It is also helpful to read through the information at the start of the question together while covering up the question itself. Talk about what the covered up question might be - often the real question is not as hard as might have been expected.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:44:57


What wonky said exactly. I had no need for maths in school. I'm very literate. I didn't know my tables. Or basic addition off the top of my head and I use a calculator now. So it was all rather pointless.

I now use maths a lot at work, basic percentages, lots of excel and adding up. Manage huge budgets. And I'm good at it. Because I have a use for it, I know more.

DD age 8 Yr 4 cannot retain number facts.
Not her number bonds nor her tables.
She's an excellent speller though. And her grammar is also great. She's within top sets but because she's fairly smart and accesses curriculum with her excellent literacy skills. Maths is such a struggle and she always counts on her fingers.

What sort of help is there for this child ? Why is there so much hype about dyslexia but not dyscalculia?

Rob: There has been less research into dyscalculia than into dyslexia, though it seems that on average perhaps one child in 30 has the condition in which their brain has a particular deficiency in processing numbers. Many children might appear to have dyscalculia when the real problem is a lack of confidence or a lack of practice – and if a child isn’t confident with numbers, the last thing they wants to do is do any maths practice.
When you were at school you couldn’t see the point of maths, and your daughter may well feel the same way, so look for things in her life where doing maths has some purpose. For example, if she has a party coming up, get her to help with the planning – set a budget and get her to work out how much to spend on party bag items and so on.
Children can also see a ‘purpose’ to maths if it’s part of a game that they enjoy. Since she struggles with basic arithmetic, try a game where you start with a score of zero and build up. On a car journey, we sometimes play ‘One for a cow, two for a sheep…’ in which we allocate a certain number of points for spotting different animals (or in urban areas, spotting different types of shop). Starting at zero the first to spot sheep in a field gets two points, spotting horses gets 5 points etc) and so scores steadily build up and mental addition is being used throughout.

RobEastaway Mon 01-Feb-16 14:45:28


What does it mean to put 1.9 in an image?

Rob: Without seeing the image or the context, your ‘1.9’ could mean anything – at the moment it means nothing at all. But there’s (maybe) a serious point here, that when maths appears to be just an abstract task with no connection to anything you or your child are familiar with, it can become little more than gobbledygook. That’s why finding maths in your everyday life (by looking out for numbers, patterns and calculations when you are cooking, travelling, shopping etc) is so important. Decimals are particularly relevant to measurements: where is 1.9 metres on the tape measure? What does 1.9 kg feel like? How close to a full 2 litre bottle is 1.9 of a litre?


wonkylampshade Tue 02-Feb-16 14:09:49

Rob and Mike - just coming back to this thread and wanted to say thanks for the advice!

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