Top ways to prepare your child for high school maths

Young girls doing her homework.

At a glance

  • Build your child's confidence levels in maths and help them believe they can succeed.
  • Encourage your child to know their times tables and how they come to each answer; it helps them to become a more powerful thinker.
  • The best way to help with fractions is to find out how your child is feeling about them and talk to the teacher if additional help is needed.
  • Play games with your child that help them learn to estimate things by length or weight.
  • Encourage your child to understand the value of numbers eg the ‘6' in ‘60' is 6 lots of 10.

Maths expert and parent, Associate Professor Janette Bobis from the University of Sydney lists seven top ways to ensure your child is ready for high school maths.

1. Build your child's confidence in maths

Building your child's confidence in maths so they believe they're good at maths before they leave primary school is a crucial element in succeeding in high school maths, Janette says.

"It means when they're faced with more complex maths problems they've got that resilience to fall back on because they have an identity as a mathematical thinker, an ‘I can do this' type of attitude," she says.

Having confidence in their ability to do maths will also mean your child will be much more motivated to learn it.

"So, if they do strike a mathematical concept in their first or second year of high school that's difficult, they're more likely to work at it rather than throw their hands in the air in horror and give up," she says.

2. Can your child do fractions?

Fractions are a major source of problems for kids, yet it's through fractions that they learn probability, scale, ratio, proportional reasoning and algebra.

Fractions and decimals are introduced in earlier grades but become more complex in Years 5 and 6. The best thing you can do to help your child with fractions is to find out how they feel about them, Janette says.

"If they are struggling, then it's really important to communicate with your child's teacher and ask what you can do to help them."

3. Does your child know how multiplication works?

Multiplication doesn't just mean having your child know their times tables, Janette says.

Understanding the structure of multiplication makes a child a much more powerful thinker. Professor Janette Bobis University of Sydney

"If they can't tell you how they got the answer it means they might not know what multiplication really means."

Encouraging your child to think ‘multiplicatively' means they understand the processes behind how numbers are multiplied and divided, Janette says. Fractions, measurement, algebra, probability and aspects of geometry all rely on this kind of thinking because it's about relationships between different numbers.

"Children can just keep adding and adding and adding to arrive at an answer, but understanding the structure of multiplication makes a child a much more powerful thinker," she says.

Again, if multiplication is something your child is struggling with, talk to their teacher about how you can reinforce what they're learning.

4. Help your child to really know their times tables

Understanding multiplication comes down to your child being  comfortable with their times tables so that if they're asked to multiply an unusual problem, such as 12 x 15, they can work out the answer in their head without too much difficulty.

"Understandably, children begrudge rote learning the times tables, but once they get past those early years of understanding what multiplication is all about then it becomes almost essential that they can instantly remember them," Janette says.

Knowing their times tables by heart helps kids when they get to high school because they won't have to waste time learning the basics, and can instead focus on learning new and more complex maths. It's about being efficient with their maths.

Encourage your kids to learn their times tables by pointing out to them instances when you use multiplication in everyday life. This can show them why it's important.

5. Does your child know the number system?

In primary school kids learn about ‘place value', which simply means the value of a digit according to where it is found in a number. For example in the number 35, the place value of ‘3' is 30 or three units of 10.

Understanding place value means kids have a deeper understanding of the structure of how our number system works, Janette says. Place value also enables kids to compute more complex maths problems.

"Place value is one of those foundational areas of maths. It enables kids to make more complex computations [sums] easier because they understand things like 60 x 6 will be the same answer as 6 x 6 multiplied by 10," Janette says.

Gauge your child's knowledge of place value by ask them what the digit means in a number you see in the street eg "What does the ‘5' mean in the number 254?"

6. Can your child estimate things easily?

Kids need to have a good ‘sense of number', and parents can gauge this by their skills in estimating, Janette says.

"It's all to do with reasonable judgements and the more a child understands maths the better they are at making estimates," Janette says.

To help develop your child's estimation skills ask them:

  • how long the backyard is? (length)
  • how heavy a partially used packet of flour might weigh? (mass)
  • how many jellybeans will fit into the jar? (capacity)
  • how much the petrol will cost if half a tank is needed? (multiplication and capacity)

In recent years there has been a growing importance upon estimation because of society's reliance on calculators and computers to work out maths problems, Janette adds.

"A child who can estimate will quickly know whether the answer makes sense or not, without having to do the exact calculation."

7. Can your child work out maths problems in their head?

Kids who can work things out mentally (mental computation) have a greater flexibility in the way they work out maths problems.

"Children who are good at mental computation usually understand their basic facts, have a good understanding of place value and can apply many different strategies," Janette says. "They're usually confident in their mathematics and can see patterns or relationships between numbers."

Challenge your child to work out things in their head when you're out shopping. It can be fun and also reinforces the relevance maths has to everyday life.


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