This was a common question at parent’s evening when I was teaching, and something I’m asked regularly by the parents I work with now as a tutor.
My suggestions are below. Other than the first one which is the most important thing you can do to help your child with their learning, the rest are in no particular order.
Reading is the most important thing children can do to help their learning along. To find out more, have a read of my blog about the importance of reading here. It doesn’t matter what you read – books (fiction and/or non-fiction), comics, magazines, websites, computer games, instruction manuals, menus, shopping lists, cereal boxes…. just read! It is the key to everything.
Your child listening to other people read is also fine. It is important for children to listen to stories as much as reading them themselves. Hearing someone else reading fluently helps them understand word pronunciation, rhythm, and expression. It also helps them understand what is going on because they are not having to worry about “decoding” the words (turning the letters into sounds). If you are confident reading yourself, then sharing a story at bedtime is an enjoyable experience for both of you. If you don’t feel confident reading yourself, then audiobooks are also fantastic. Don’t stop your child from listening to stories once they can read independently either. Everyone loves listening to a story – even adults!
It’s OK for children to re-read stories they enjoy. I’m an avid re-reader. Familiarity develops confidence and enjoyment. You also notice new things with each reading. It’s also OK for them to sometimes read something “too easy”. A variety of difficulty is important. If they are always reading something that is a bit of a challenge, then reading becomes hard work and they no longer enjoy it. After a “heavy” book about something serious, I usually choose a funny easy-read after it.
Reading doesn’t have to be expensive either. I’m a huge advocate of libraries. They are free to join and are also now able to start running free events again. You can also borrow audiobooks from them. I used to love Saturday morning visits to the library as a child. Books for free – what’s not to like?!
Recall of times tables is an important skill because it is so helpful across many areas of maths, such as fractions, percentages, and area. It is a life skill. The children who struggle with maths invariably don’t have a solid recall of times tables.
There is a formal times tables test in Year 4 (which has been put on hold during Covid but will probably re-appear) and in Year 5 and 6 understanding of fractions, percentages, etc is made so much easier if children have good times table knowledge.
Don’t just learn them in order:
Eg 1X2, 2X2, 3X2, etc.
Do mix them up:
Eg 5X2, 8X2, 2X2, etc.
When we need to use times tables to access other areas of maths, it will be at random. Eg a rectangle that is 5cmX12cm to find the area. If we have to start at 1X12 and work though, it wastes a lot of time. We need to just be able to recall 5X12 = 60.
Don’t just learn the answers:
Eg 2, 4, 6, 8…
Do say the question:
Children who can only recite the answers in order have no access to what that number refers to and therefore really struggle to answer times table questions or apply them to other areas because they only know half of it. They have to count up on their fingers to find out “how many 2s make 12” for example. This is frustrating for them and wastes time. Say the whole times table out loud: “two times six is 12”.
Don’t learn the tables one at a time:
Eg, the 2s, then the 3s, then the 4s etc.
Do learn the associated facts:
Multiplication is commutative (it doesn’t matter which way round the numbers are on either side of the X). So, if you know 4X5 = 20, you automatically then know that 5X4 = 20. This means that there is no need to learn the 12 times table because if you know the others, you automatically know the 12s. There are only 21 times table questions you need to actually learn – the rest you know because you’ve learnt it the other way round!
It’s also important to know that the opposite of multiplying is dividing, so learning the division facts alongside helps enormously when applying facts to other areas of maths. So, if we are learning that 3X4 =12, we also learn that 4X3 = 12, and 12÷4 = 3 and 12÷3=4. That’s 4 facts for the price of 1!
Do use what you know to help you with what you don’t:
If you know your 2 times table, then double it to find the 4s. Double that to find the 8s. Double the 3s to find the 6s, double that to find the 12s. Alternatively, halve the 12s to find the 6s, etc.
Also, your child may know up to 5X something but is stuck on 7X something. Go back to 5X and count on 2 sets to find 7 times. So many children start from the beginning and work up. Instead, start from what they know. They probably know 10X but find 9X hard. Start at 10X and take away one set and you have 9X. So much quicker than counting up from 1X.
Don’t worry too much about speed:
There has always been a big emphasis on recalling times tables facts at speed. The Year 4 test does require questions to be answered at speed. Whilst this can be helpful, especially when using the facts to help with other areas of maths so that you can carry on with the actual problem at hand and not end up bogged down in an extra task of working out 7X6 for example, it is not the bee-all-and-end-all. There is a move in primary education now towards slower recall because speed can create anxiety. Not everyone’s brain works quickly, and the time pressure causes many children’s brains to shut down (and adult’s – I’ve always suffered with “maths brain”. I need time to think). It’s OK to have to work it out, using a time-efficient strategy (such as the ones described above).
There are so many fun ways to learn times tables. Have posters up (children enjoy making their own), find songs and dances online, or download or have a CD to play in the car. Use flashcards, or find games online (there are LOADS – Google “times table games”).
Praise effort not getting things right:
The children I work with who lack confidence in their learning all have one thing in common – fear of mistakes. This is the biggest factor holding them back. Before they can make progress academically, they need to reach the point where they are comfortable making mistakes. Because making mistakes is how we learn. Mistakes are fundamental and must be celebrated. It’s OK to get something wrong, so long as we tried, and learn from the mistake so that we can iron it out in the future. We need to practise things. In our world of instant gratification and short attention spans children can find it difficult if they don’t understand something, or can’t do something, straight away.
However, nobody ever achieved anything without trying. Behind “successful” people there is a background of hard graft, failure, and perseverance. It is effort, practise, and learning from our mistakes that needs to be recognised and praised, more than getting something right. For example, a child may be struggling to work out a maths question. They have tried to solve it but got the wrong answer. A great response would be something like: “Well done for trying that. We have learnt that that isn’t the answer so let’s try another way.” As the inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Each way that didn’t work, was part of his path to learning what did work.
We learn best when things are enjoyable. If your child is tired after school and needs some downtime, then this isn’t the best time to practise spellings, times tables, or reading. Find a time when they are rested and ready to learn for homework tasks. If it’s not happening that day, don’t force it. There’s always tomorrow.
We learn all the time from life in general. Get your child involved in the housework (pairing up socks is a great maths activity for younger children), cooking, shopping, etc. They love it and it doesn’t feel like a chore to them! There is maths and English to be practised all around us just from doing day-to-day things.
Go to the library, museum, park, a walk in the woods… Your child will be soaking up all sorts of information, such as: learning to cross the road safely; how to behave in public; finding out about cultures from the past and present; different plants and animals; how keeping fit helps us feel good, to name just a few. I learnt where places are in the country by watching the football results on a Saturday afternoon (“Mum, where’s Bolton?”) and I also remember sounding out the word “fog” when watching the weather forecast. Learning can happen anywhere, anytime.
If your child needs further help with their schoolwork, do get in touch to see how I can help.