Why does my child find maths so hard?
For many children at different ages, maths can be hugely difficult, creating anxiety and distress.
In today’s article, we explore why that is and what parents can do to help.
How children learn maths
Maths is a very abstract subject. Not all students can jump to understanding maths in the abstract form straight away. In early primary school, students are afforded the option of using equipment and visual supports. A number line or counters for example, can be very helpful. For a child that finds remembering times tables difficult, a times table square is a real help. Even at secondary school, visuals and reminders can be crucial in helping students to be successful.
The problem is, for some students, that maths jumps from the ‘concrete form’ (real life objects/equipment) or ‘visual form’ (pictures/number lines/visuals) to the ‘abstract form’ (numbers and equations) too quickly, making a deep understanding of mathematics hard to grasp.
In addition to this, I have always thought of students learning maths as kangaroos or caterpillars. Kangaroos, get numbers straight away and bounce to the answers easily. Caterpillars, take longer, having to revisit, practice, discuss and consolidate their learning before it is deeply understood. All get to the same end point and have the same capacity for understanding- the issue here is time and pace.
Maths in the classroom
Caterpillar learners struggle in the classroom. The speed of lessons in the abstract form can whizz past like a high-speed train. In maths lessons at school, if students need more time on one key aspect and then lesson moves on’ students can become entirely lost and it is not easy to find a way in/back.
Fear, shame and anxiety begin to present themselves which can spiral if not dealt with quickly and carefully.
This is when maths anxiety starts.
You may have heard you child say ‘I can’t do maths’ or ‘I hate maths’ or even ‘maths is boring’. When you hear this, know that your child may be having trouble and you’ll need to intervene before their confidence plummets and they begin to think they are just no good at maths.
How can I help my child with maths?
The first thing to do, is talk to your child’s maths teacher. All teachers will have individual targets for students. Then you’ll know how you can help and which direction to take.
Practise every day. Often, for primary aged children, there may be shaky foundations in maths; they may not be able to quickly recall addition/subtraction or multiplication/ division facts. Knowing these facts by heart can accelerate progress. 10 minutes of every day practise is recommended.
Give positive messages
It’s easy for parents to say their children ‘I was never any good at maths either’. This is largely unhelpful, however, messages such as ‘I know you can do it’ or, ‘some people just take a bit more practise’ are much more affirming and hopeful.
Talk to your children about how maths relates to real life. For example, learning about 3D shape can connect to shipping, moving house or planning big events. Learning about percentages can connect to shopping (discounts and sales) or interest earned etc. Students make deeper connections with maths if they understand the relevance to the world around them.
Make it fun
Maths is everywhere and bringing maths into home-life makes it fun and everyday rather than something to be scared of or avoid. For primary students, we love WhiteRose maths suggestions of maths in the home.
Playing family card games, dice games and board games really help early maths and we also like Common Sense Media’s list of apps and websites to make maths interesting and engaging for solo activities.
Khan academy for older primary/ early secondary students is good as it has visual representations and excellent explanations most maths topics. You can create a free account and have a great deal of explanatory videos and practice questions available to you.
Maths for secondary school and GCSE/AS/A-level
Two really great resources are:
- Maths Genie
and for outstanding explanations with clear visual representations, we like
2. ‘The Organic Chemistry Tutor’ – You Tube Channel.
Get a maths tutor
The benefits of a private maths tutor are numerous. For a student struggling with maths, the ability to target problem areas and to learn at the student’s pace are, without question, highly beneficial. A maths teacher can also answer questions that may not get asked in class due to anxiety and social embarrassment. Maths tutors that Elite Tutors Sussex introduce you to are patient, kind, knowledgable and incredibly helpful.
There’s no doubt that employing the services of a qualified maths teacher or experienced maths tutor can mean progress is made in a faster time, anxiety is reduced, and confidence is restored. Once students realise they CAN do maths, their confidence grows and their mathematical ability rapidly improves, making future maths easier and less fuelled with anxiety.
If you are considering a maths tutor, then talk to us. We are friendly, approachable and will be able to help your child achieve what they are capable of. Our lessons are tailored to suit, personalised to engage and will ensure that your child’ maths confidence is restored in the quickest time.
Written by Karen Ormerod
Education Consultant and Company Director