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6yo dd in yr1 struggling badly in maths. Best ideas to support her and help improve ?

(11 Posts)
Honesttodog Thu 06-Nov-14 21:17:23

Dd is brilliant at reading but just doesn't seem to get maths. She can add up perfectly well but beyond that she struggles with the language of maths and cannot count on, subtract etc. She is at a private school and receives support during lessons but I obviously need to support this at home. Meeting with teachers soon but DH and i would like to start helping her.

She has to physically count everything on her fingers. How do we help make the leap to visualising or holding numbers in her head, accepting that one hand is 5 fingers and counting on from there etc (essentially she is checking she has 5 fingers every time she has to work with a number over 5...)

Really hard to remember these early stages of learning maths - can you recommend any good materials or books? I have an abacus which I thought would help, I have tried to point out that we know the coloured ones add up to 5 so we can count on from there but she still insists on counting out each one.

My plan is to get some smarties and have her eating them to really understand subtraction grin

PesoPenguin Thu 06-Nov-14 21:31:35

Ds is similar, brilliant at reading/ writing but not quite getting maths. I recognised that he is a visual learner and had no real concept of bigger numbers and how the number system works ie the relationship between 5 and 50 etc. We have been working with a hundred square and I made my own 'tens and units' by cutting strips and squares the same size as the lines and little squares on the hundred square, which I laminated. We've done lots of make X number, what is X number made up of,1 more and 1 less, 10 more and 10 less. He can now work with numbers up to 100 and can count to 199. I plan to keep reinforcing the things he is learning in school with lots of visual resources.

For counting on, I always say, 'put X number in your head ( and mime physically putting it in his head) and count on Y number'. Or you could use a hundred square/ number line and say, 'point to X number and then count on'.

Ds has the 'Schofield and Sims' workbook for problem solving and mental maths. You can get them from Amazon for £2 odd. They are simple in design but d's actually enjoys them.

Honesttodog Thu 06-Nov-14 21:47:23

Thanks, that's really helpful. I remember those little blocks that clicked together from school - might also help with seeing the numbers... Perhaps we should use Lego.

Can you remember how long it took your Ds to get subtraction and count in his head etc?

Ferguson Thu 06-Nov-14 22:18:27

I was a primary TA / helper for over twenty years, and this is my standard advice, which - Yes, includes Lego. It is important children start to UNDERSTAND number concepts, and not just learn by rote without the understanding:


Practical things are best for grasping number concepts - bricks, Lego, beads, counters, money, shapes, weights, measuring, cooking.

Do adding, taking away, multiplication (repeated addition), division (sharing), using REAL OBJECTS as just 'numbers' can be too abstract for some children.

Number Bonds of Ten forms the basis of much maths work, so try to learn them. Using Lego or something similar, use a LOT of bricks (of just TWO colours, if you have enough) lay them out so the pattern can be seen of one colour INCREASING while the other colour DECREASES. Lay them down, or build up like steps.


ten of one colour none of other
nine of one colour one of other
eight of one colour two of other
seven of one colour three of other

etc, etc

then of course, the sides are equal at 5 and 5; after which the colours 'swap over' as to increasing/decreasing.

To learn TABLES, do them in groups that have a relationship, thus:

x2, x4, x8

x3, x6, x12

5 and 10 are easy

7 and 9 are rather harder.

Starting with TWO times TABLE, I always say: "Imagine the class is lining up in pairs; each child will have a partner, if there is an EVEN number in the class. If one child is left without a partner, then the number is ODD, because an odd one is left out."

Use Lego bricks again, lay them out in a column of 2 wide to learn 2x table. Go half way down the column, and move half the bricks up, so that now the column is 4 bricks wide. That gives the start of 4x table.

Then do similar things with 3x and 6x.

With 5x, try and count in 'fives', and notice the relationship with 'ten' - they will alternate, ending in 5 then 10.

It is important to try and UNDERSTAND the relationships between numbers, and not just learn them 'by rote'.

I am sorry it seems complicated trying to explain these concepts, but using Lego or counters should make understanding easier.

An inexpensive solar powered calculator (no battery to run out!) can help learn tables by 'repeated addition'. So: enter 2+2 and press = to give 4. KEEP PRESSING = and it should add on 2 each time, giving 2 times table.

There are good web sites, which can be fun to use :


Loobylou3 Thu 06-Nov-14 22:24:29

we have made bundles of ten straws secured with elastic bands and also individual straws for units. works great. would also recommend a resource called Numicon. fantastic for getting children to really understand what numbers are all about.

PastSellByDate Fri 07-Nov-14 11:12:40

Hi honestdog

Ferguson has given lots of great advice & I totally second the vote for Woodlands junior school Maths Zone - brilliant games there - just chose area and follow links.

What we found with DD1 (who also struggled at this stage) was that she got counting up to 20 and could sort of add (with fingers) but then lost the plot with subtraction (short of counting backwards from 20).

Our solution was working with food.

So showing that 8 grapes take away 3 grapes (and eating the grapes) makes 5 grapes.

Once they get that concept with numbers <10 - then show the problem on paper 8 - 5 = 3 (using correct terminology 8 minus 5 equals 3) [do accept that in school they're likely to use 'take away' and 'makes' at this age]

The transition to numbers >10 (in addition or subtraction) is tricky and also involves understanding place value - so understanding that the position of digits in a number like 3567 does relay the value of those individual numbers - so 3 in 3567 indicates 3000, 6 in 3567 indicates 60 etc.... ye olde thousands/ hundreds/ tens/ units. The way we write numbers is such that we only use 0 - 9 and when we have more than 9 of something we start another column to the left. (under Place value on Woodlands Junior School Maths Zone there's a bead game - like an abacus - that really helps explain what the position of the number indicates visually and how our base 10 system works:

With subtraction we started with simple problems which never involved borrowing and then worked up to problems with borrowing. If you're adding 13 + 8 - with objects try to use big and small versions of the same object (so we use raisins for units and grapes for tens quite a lot):

so on one plate have 1 grape and 3 raisins. (this is reinforcing visually tens and unit columns and how they operate). Now ask your child to take away 8 units (at first we did this by having 8 raisins on a plate in a row and then making a second row matching those eight so DD1 could 'keep track'). Well they can take 3 easily but then they only have a grape - so that needs to be cashed in for 10 raisins. Now you can take away the remaining 5 raisins. That leaves you with 13 raisins take away 8 = 5 raisins.

Again once they 'get the concept' - reinforce this kind of work by showing the problem written out on paper (13 - 8 = 5 saying 13 minus 8 equals 5).


During this process of addition/ subtraction to 20 with foodstuffs we really worked on number bonds to 10. So understanding all the ways to make numbers between 1 and 10. Easy up to 4 - but progressively more complicated after 5. This is important when it comes to carrying or borrowing.

You can play BOND SNAP - but just work with numbers needed. So for example number bonds for up to 8. Ace = 1 and all cards up to (but not including 8) - so Ace - 7. shuffle - and place face down. Write = 8 on a post-it and set it near the face-down deck. Flip the card. Say it's 5. What + 5 = 8? First to say 3 keeps the card. Start of gently - letting your DC win a bit - but get faster and try harder as your DC's ability with this improves.

Once you're good to 10. Try playing BlackJack - 21 - really works those number bonds.

We also play snakes and ladders forwards (for addition) and backwards (for subtraction) - and jazz it up by playing with two dice. (you can either play the board 2x forward or 2x backward or do both).


Once they're pretty solid on that you're ready for multiplication.

at the moment around here schools gloss over x0 and x1 (so worthwhile just ensuring your child understands anything x0 = 0 and anything x 1 is itself).

Most Year 1 classes work x2, x5 and x10.

x3 is really logically the next step (either in Y1 or Y2).

Once you have those - believe it or not the rest is easy....

If they get doubling (which is basically x2 facts) - then you know that

x4 (is just double x2 facts)
x6 (is just double x3 facts)
x8 (is just double x4 facts or x2 facts doubled and double again)
x12 (just double x6 facts or x3 facts doubled and double again)

x9 has all sorts of patterns going on:

1 x 9 = 09
2 x 9 = 18
3 x 9 = 27
4 x 9 = 36
5 x 9 = 45
6 x 9 = 54
7 x 9 = 63
8 x 9 = 72
9 x 9 = 81

pattern to 9 x 9
the first digit is always one less than the multiple
the second digit can be thought of as what + 1st digit = 9

in the 9s times tables the digits always reduce to 9

so 9 x 9 = 81 (8 + 1 = 9)

in fact works all the way through - but you have to add digits in totals - so 33 x 9 = 297 (2 + 9 + 7 = 18 and 1 + 8 = 9)


x11 - well up to x 9 it's just the multiple written 2 times

1 x 11 = 11
2 x 11 = 22
3 x 11 = 33
9 x 11 = 99

you should know that 10 x 11 = 110

but anyway from 10 x 11 to 99 x 11 there's a trick

take first and last digit of multiple - separate them and put their total in the middle.

so 14 x 11 = 1 - (1 + 4) - 4 = 154

have to carry if middle number >9

so 28 x 11 = 2 - (2 + 8) - 8 = 2 - (10) - 8 = (2 + 1) - 0 - 8 = 308


so that just leaves x7. But if you think about it you actually know all your x7 facts for x1 - x6 and for x8 to x12 you only need 7 x 7. There's no trick except to remember that 7 x 7 is a swine which of course rhymes with 49.


It's also important to understand that times tables work both directions - 8 x 7 is the same thing as 7 x 8 (this is always tricky but if you remember 5-6-7-8 it's somehow easier to remember 7 x 8 = 56).


once you get times tables the next steps are building up speed of recall (ideally to near instant) and then being able to cope with inverse facts so 81 divided by 9 is what? And just knowing it's 9 because 9 x 9 = 81.

Maths is ideally suited to video games so visit Woodlands Junior School and have an explore - I used to play games a bit beforehand to ensure they weren't too hard and were the right type of level.

Like number bond SNAP - we used to play multiplication SNAP to work on speed. Simply choose a table - and the cards are Ace = 1, 2 - 9 as shown, Jack = 10, Queen = 11 and King = 12. First to shout out correct answer keeps the card and the winner is the one with most cards. (can be a bit boisterous - so probably best to avoid our mistake and don't play this in a restaurant whilst waiting for your food).


KnittedJimmyChoos Fri 07-Nov-14 12:39:19

she sounds like me, the key is to present the problems to her in a way she can understand, so keep changing tactic if you can rather than approaching in same way.

i had to physically touch and see things, telling me to do x and y and z never sunk in. for instance on driving lessons, man showed me laminated pictire of how a round about worked with arrows, it never made sense to me or meant anything but physically doing it helped.

RunAwayHome Fri 07-Nov-14 12:48:00

I think it's helpful to keep children using physical objects as long as they need to, because if you encourage them on to abstract methods when they're not ready, it will leave a gap of understanding. If she is still checking that she has five fingers on one hand, then she hasn't got to the point where she can make that leap of faith herself, and rushing her by trying to 'teach' a more abstract method won't address that gap.

In the meantime, you can play games like asking what number is one more or less than 5, what is two more, etc, and then doing quick flash of fingers and getting her to guess how many you've shown, etc, and then she may come to realise herself that she can ignore the information on one hand because it's always 5, and then just use the other to tell. But it needs to be her realisation, rather than something taught.

You can keep giving her all sorts of physical materials, so that she starts to generalise, and eventually, you can make it so that the physical materials get a bit inconvenient, and she develops her own shortcuts - e.g., after a while, if you are counting out 13, you realise you don't have to count the first ten, but can just remember that you used all your fingers/used a ten-rod/etc. and keep going from there. Or when counting a huge pile of stuff, you can be more accurate if you count piles of ten, and then separate them off a bit, so that you make fewer mistakes and don't lose track of where you are. If she has to do repeated tasks like that, and there are rewards for speed and accuracy, then it becomes easier to develop the short-cuts for herself, which are what aid understanding. But it takes time and patience to get there!

When she does have the understanding, you can get her to use number lines instead of physical objects, or eventually symbols and diagrams instead, and then start to imagine some of it instead of needing to see/draw it, and then eventually being able to do it totally in the abstract.

iseenodust Fri 07-Nov-14 13:24:44

The game Shut The Box
Disney's Frozen top trumps really good for a stocking filler !

PesoPenguin Fri 07-Nov-14 16:33:10

Tbh he could takeaway numbers to 10 before he started school, but made little or no progress in that area in reception as they didn't cover it and I admit I didn't do as much maths with him last year. He can now add and subtract numbers to 100 ( since we started working on it, so the last few weeks. I should add he's also in year 1 and is 5.5)

He could count on by the end of reception and could count back from 10 but could only count back from bigger numbers in the last few weeks.

PesoPenguin Fri 07-Nov-14 16:34:32

Ooh forgot to add, I love the idea of using lego.

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