Over a period of eighteen years, my mum had a vested interest in the primary school that all six of us attended. For the first fourteen years, she had no reason to ask for a meeting since she had no concerns. However, when our youngest sibling was seven, Mum noticed that she didn’t have a good grasp of her multiplication facts whereas we were all fluent in the use of multiplication facts (up to 12 x 12) by that age. So Mum wanted to understand whether my sister was struggling with maths.
The teacher explained that within the gap of five years between myself and my sister, teaching styles had changed and there had been a move away from rote learning. So my sister wasn’t struggling and would become fluent in her multiplication facts but she would also understand the connections and patterns within these facts.
As a teacher, what strikes me about this story is that this change was not communicated with parents and carers when they are hugely important in a child’s education. They can provide so much support alongside the work that we are doing in schools. So how can we involve parents in our maths teaching?
It is worth holding a maths workshop for parents at least annually. Some parents will attend every event but each time it is likely that they will pick up something different. It also gives them an opportunity to ask questions that have arisen at home and ones that arise during the workshop itself.
You can split this into two events: one for younger and another for older pupils. However, parents often have children of both ages so if you choose this option, avoid holding them on consecutive evenings.
During the workshop, avoid lecturing. Give a general introduction and then have separate stations or mini-workshops so that people can pick those of most interest to them.
Acknowledgement that plenty of adults fear or lack confidence in maths
Explanation of why it is important to avoid sharing a negative maths mindset
Tips for helping with homework
Examples of curriculum content
Examples of any curriculum changes or new maths terms
These should be practical sessions so that parents and carers are working on tasks with plenty of opportunity for discussion.
Contacting parents beforehand and including a survey about how they feel about maths can be enlightening and can also feed into the content of the mini sessions. Asking for feedback afterwards can help inform decisions about what to include next time.
After School Sessions
Another way to get parents and carers into the classroom but for less time is to hold sessions at the end of the day, when some would be coming to school anyway to pick up their children.
This involves far less preparation since if the session is about maths games, for example, you choose games that the students are used to playing so they play the games with the visiting adults and explain what they are doing as they play. You can answer questions about the use of maths games and explain how students benefit from their use in the maths classroom as they play.
Help parents to understand why you are providing certain types of homework. This can be part of an introductory letter at the start of the year or included with curriculum information on the school website.
You want to avoid a situation where parents think playing games is wasting time that could be usefully spent completing a worksheet! This article highlights the benefits of playing maths games.
Also, allow parents and carers to provide feedback on a homework task. This is particularly helpful when the homework involves discussion such as a game or an explanation of how to carry out a written calculation. It is also useful to know how much help was needed or whether they used an estimate when a student has completed a written task. If you receive a piece of perfect work which was in fact completed by parents, you are missing out on a valuable assessment opportunity.
Advice for Negativity
Homework in primary school can be a contentious issue. Many parents are very busy so finding time to supervise homework can be a challenge. Having to nag children to complete homework is bad enough. Adding in laments of, ‘I don’t get it!’ can drive parents to pen an angry letter to their teacher demanding to know why their child understands nothing you have taught them.
Of course, this is often not the case although examples or advice can enable parents to be more effective helpers.
When a pupil faces something difficult to them and resorts to this phrase (which should be banned from all classrooms), encourage parents to ask some questions:
Emphasise that all ideas are valid. This can unblock any feelings of panic because there are no wrong answers to this question.
The homework probably links to something they have been working on in class.
So it’s not so daunting.
We can always go back and change what we’ve done.
We can then see how we are doing it with smaller numbers and apply the same idea to the larger numbers.
This can help them clarify their ideas and make sense of the question. It is worth making parents aware of tools used in class for representation such as number lines and bar models.
It helps if pupils are used to doing this in class.
Invite parents into school to talk about how they use maths in their work. This is a great opportunity for students to see how maths is applicable in real life.
One memorable visit was a workshop I ran with a parent who was a nurse. The workshop involved elements of her job such as weighing patients, measuring their height and then calculating the correct dosage of medicine. She pointed out that if she got these measurements wrong, it could be very serious for a sick patient.
This was followed by a visit from an engineer and they both tied into a unit on measuring. It was interesting to see how pupils were far more keen to measure accurately afterwards.
Hosting MyMoney week is another great opportunity to get parents involved.
Young Enterprise provides excellent resources, support and ideas to boost the financial awareness of primary students. During the week, parents who work in finance could host or help with workshops in school. In addition, parents could assist with home-based activities such as letting pupils help with budgeting or purchasing decisions at home.
One year, I even had a parent request that I host a parent’s workshop regarding the difference between credit and debit (which we had explored in school) since they felt that their partner had not grasped these ideas yet! This was in response to homework where students had to explain what they had been learning in money-week to their parents and carers at home.
Parents and carers can be wary of bothering teachers with their concerns or suggestions.
However, once they feel that you see them as partners in their child’s education and have acted on opportunities to become involved, they often become your greatest allies.