We need to talk about Maths

Are we there yet?

How many times have you heard your kids ask that?

If it’s not the 30th time they’ve asked, you may feel like answering “in about 20 minutes”. You’ve just used maths to estimate that answer – based on the distance and speed you are travelling.

So if you or your kids think you hate maths – think again. We use maths all day every day to make our lives easier.

If there’s one message our resident Department of Education Maths Gurus Nathan Duhig and Miriam MacGregor would like you to remember, it’s that maths is for everyone. If you are a parent, you may be reading this and thinking: “but I hate maths” or “I wasn’t good at maths at school”.

Where would Gran be in our latest Let’s Talk ad, if she couldn’t follow the scoring when her favourite team plays footy? Thanks maths!

Newsflash: if you get to work on time, shop, cook, pay bills, make plans, you’ve been calculating all day. Your maths is fine.

And more importantly:  Be positive when you are talking about maths with your kids. If you are negative about maths, they will come to class already thinking it’s too hard for them.

The good news is that the way maths is taught at school has changed. The days of maths speed tests and constantly reciting the times tables are over.

A lot of the maths your kids will be learning can be directly applied in everyday life. Just think about how you use maths when you are:

  • Shopping – how much milk, bread, cereal do I need to buy? If something is 20% off, how much will I save?
  • Cooking, sewing and DIY – a great way to practise measuring.
  • Travelling – what time do I need to leave to get to school/ soccer training/work on time?
  • Sport – whether you are watching or playing sport, scoring is an important part of the game.

The best thing about maths is that it teaches us to be problem solvers. Some of us know the times table off by heart. Some of us take a moment to calculate the answer. Some of us use a calculator.

Every maths problem can be solved in a range of different ways, and may even have different answers. And that’s the beauty of maths. You can solve problems in a way that suits you. And that’s the message we should share with our kids.

The next time your kids have a question about time, measurement, scoring or distance, try asking “would some maths help us here?”.

Here’s how you can get more maths talk into your day:

Top Tips for Maths talk

When you are cooking with your kids

  • Talk about weights, time, quantities, especially when adjusting recipes to cook more or less. 
  • Help your kids get familiar with fractions by talking about the different size cups –show your kids that they can use two ¼ cups of milk to make up half a cup and two ½ cups to make one cup of flour. Could we do it a different way?  How about ¾ of a cup?

Playing games

  • Add the total of the dice or cards, and/or find the difference between them.
  • Can you skip count on the Monopoly Board (or another board game)?  How much change from buying a house? How much would three houses cost?
  • Scrabble – why are some letters worth more than others?
  • There are lots of fun card games that involve scoring and are also a great chance to spend time talking with children.

Reading

  • There are many picture books that include lots of maths for different age levels– ask a librarian or teacher.
  • There are also lots of opportunities for maths talk in many picture books – counting, noticing patterns and shapes.

When you are out and about

  • Every time you come across some steps, get your 3-6 year olds to count them as you climb up or down.
  • Patterns and shapes are everywhere – get your kids to spot as many as they can.
  • Get your older kids to notice the speed signs when you are on the road. Can they estimate how long it will take you to get to your destination?

Watching and playing sport

  • Whether you are watching or playing sport, talk to your kids about the scoring. How many goals or points will your team need to win? How many goals or points have they scored this season? How many goals or points do you think they will score today?

The next time your kids say: Are we there yet?  Try asking: “Would some maths help us here?”

More Ideas

If you would like to read more about how you can help your kids with maths, check out:

Maths advice for Parents by Professor Jo Boaler – PDF, 128KB

Resources for parents at YouCubed

With thanks to Nathan Duhig, Curriculum Lead: P-10 Mathematics, Miriam MacGregor and Louise Hodgson, Lead Quality Teaching Coaches – Numeracy