Maths in home education

Some adults have a horror of maths which convinces them that they could never teach their children at home. Yet they probably use numbers every day while following recipes, or checking mileage on the car. They can estimate the size of a room for wallpapering or fitting a carpet, and sort out groceries efficiently when they bring them home. For some reason maths, more than any other subject, causes panic and mental blocks – even though it is something we need and use all the time. Introducing maths in home education, it turns out, is no more complicated than introducing reading and writing.

Introducing maths concepts

To provide a good background for maths concepts, you can introduce your children early on to Duplo and then Lego. Building walls, they quickly discover simple arithmetic facts: for instance that two ‘two-bricks’ go together to make a ‘four-brick’. Talk to your children about arithmetic concepts as part of everyday speech: ‘There are three of us, and Grandma is coming to tea so we need four plates’. ‘We have eight little cakes here – how many will we each have?’

Counting aloud, showing practical adding and dividing provides the background a child needs to make sense of numbers when he comes to see them on paper. There is no need to teach rote counting before your child has an idea of basic numbers any more than you need to teach the alphabet by rote before he learns to read. There are more ideas for giving an informal introduction to maths concepts at my page maths for toddlers. If you want some books or printable pages to help your child understand the first ten numbers in an enjoyable way, you might like to look at the Numberline Lane site.

Chatting about fractions

You can introduce the concept of simple fractions at the same stage, in the same relaxed manner. Cut an apple into four, then show how two quarters are the same as a half. A child who has difficulty understanding fractions at the age of 8 probably never saw how they worked intuitively at the age of three or four.

Lego too can be used to demonstrate simply how fractions work: don’t deliberately set out to teach a maths lesson, but take the opportunity to point out how you can divide an 8-brick into four twos, or a 12-brick into three fours. This idea is expanded further at my page Fractions for four-year-olds.

You – and your children – might enjoy the Lego web-site, which gives ideas for construction. Young children learn primarily through play, so ensure that they have plenty of time to play with constructive toys; the understanding of maths will come as a by-product, painlessly and without any effort on your part other than casual conversation.

Take maths slowly and make it fun

There is no need hurry maths skills for a child learning at home. Gone are the days – even in schools – when children learnt a concept and did weeks of drill in the same topic, then moved on to something else. Maths is a gradual discovery and awakening, and your child will understand and enjoy it more if he works entirely at his own pace. Whenever you can relate something in real life to his maths topics, do so. However it’s probably not a good idea to tell your child that maths is difficult or that you hated it at school!

You will find lots of interactive maths games at the Math Playground site, and some inspiring crafts, art connections, games and story problems (with a cat theme) at the Maths Cats site. The NaturalMath website also gives ideas for some interesting games for young children: unfortunately you have to pay a small registration fee to get most of them, but one is given in full.

There are other links to maths sites for various ages and skills on my maths resources page.

Further reading:

number bonds – simple addition
introducing multiplication
multiplying on fingers
algebra for six-year-olds

See the next maths page for more resources and ideas appropriate for slightly older children.