Published December 2011,February 2011.
Parents and adult caregivers often help children with their
schoolwork. They ''hear them read'' at home, typically discussing
the story afterwards and they help with spelling. Sometimes they go
into school and help with reading, even art or cooking. These
activities raise the status and interest of the subjects in the
minds of both parents and children. But, what of mathematics?
I know that many members of the British public (and have no
reason to think it only happens here) shrink in fear at the very
mention of the word 'mathematics'. Mention numbers, let alone
'geometry' or 'algebra' and nearly everyone has thought of
something more pressing to do. While most parents will not deny its
importance, maths is simply 'not for them'. Many parents will say
quite comfortably, even in front of their impressionable offspring,
"I hated maths at school" or "I never could do maths myself".
I presented the puzzles and games one after another. It was
hardly necessary to go round making sure that the puzzle had been
understood and giving the occasional hint, I merely had to judge
when to move on to the next activity. The session was, on the
whole, a success in that children and parents did maths together
and talked about it and that enthusiasm and enjoyment were
Since then, the pattern of the sessions has changed into what
has turned out to be a very successful formula. They now usually
take place immediately after registration so parents can simply
stay on in school after bringing their children. It has been called
variously a "Fun Maths Session", a "Maths Fest" and a "Maths Hour".
One school even put on a creche for younger sisters and brothers.
Maths2000 has helped by supplying stickers, balloons and even
The first time was 'class teaching'. I introduced a puzzle for
the parents and children to work on together. Inevitably, some had
finished long before others, and I felt compelled to go on to the
next activity while some were still immersed in what they were
doing. Any equipment required was also problematic, because
everyone needed it at once, so it had to be given out, and then
collected again because space was very limited with 17 extra adults
in a smallish classroom. At the end, too, it trailed off with no
very definite climax or finish.
Now I know what I am doing and have a well rehearsed 'lesson
plan'. The first thing to do is to organize the adults so that none
sit next to each other! Each time I have run a session pairs of
children have worked with a parent, teacher or classroom assistant.
Always I end the initial instructions with, "The most important
thing is for you to talk together about what you are doing".
Then I start with a problem for all do, usually involving
scissors, hoping that everyone will not finish at the same time. I
have available a selection from my collection of 'puzzle cards',
games and other activities on a table. Each one that requires any
equipment has a plastic bag that goes with it. When they have
finished the initial problem the children come and choose an
activity and take it back to their places.
The adults are there to help with reading instructions as well
as being involved in what the children are doing. Again, when they
have finished with what they have chosen, the children simply bring
it back and choose another. This goes on for about an hour.
When I, in consultation with the teacher, decide that it is time
to end this part of the session, the children are asked to return
We then have a 'plenary' in which children come to the front and
tell the rest of the class, and the assembled parents, what they
liked doing best, which puzzles they enjoyed solving most and how
certain ones were done. At the end everybody participating has been
offered a Maths2000 sticker with the legend "I have been good at my
maths today". Few of the parents refuse these and many go off to
work afterwards wearing them as proudly as do their children!
What has not changed since the first session is the atmosphere,
enthusiasm and the satisfaction.
The first time I had known that the children would become
involved, because children are great at participation. It is the
involvement of the parents which is so exciting to watch. Each time
I have put on a session there has been that wonderful working buzz
of collaborative work, which so warms the hearts of teachers.
The thanks afterwards have always been profuse and the feedback
most satisfying. One teaching head wrote: "The Maths hour was an
excellent opportunity for parents and children to have fun together
solving problems. The Hour was a good stimulus for discussion
between child and parent. It raised awareness of how children