Everyday Maths - A University of Bristol Research Project

Age 5 to 11 Challenge Level:


"Everyday Maths" is an exciting new project, run by Bristol University, working with parents of Year 3/4 children in 20 Bristol primary schools. The project aims to help parents think about the way they use maths in everyday life, so they can support their children’s learning. Most parents want to help their children learn, but often don’t feel confident with maths and aren’t sure how best to help. However, parents have a lot of experience using maths, even though this may be different from what is done at school. Parents sharing these experiences with their children can really help with maths learning.

There will be three parts to this project. The first part, from February to June 2013, asked parents about their feelings around helping their children with maths: the kinds of activities they do which involve maths, how confident they are at helping, how often they help, how much they think their children enjoy maths, and so on. During the second part, from September 2013 to July 2014, the project team will support parents from four primary schools in a series of workshops, to share the ways in which they use maths and develop ideas around how they can use this to support their children’s learning. These workshops will be led by parents and focus on what is important and relevant to them in their lives. The third part of the project will evaluate how effective the workshops were at developing parents’ confidence in helping their children, and how schools and parents can use the workshop approach for themselves, outside of the project.

The project will help us understand more about home-school partnerships, and ways that parents can support their children’s learning. A toolkit for successful and sustainable parent workshops will help schools to develop home-school partnerships to support children's maths learning.

For more information about the Everyday Maths project, please see the project website.  Alternatively, contact Dr Tim Jay on 0117 331 4225

First part of the project - parents' questionnaires and focus groups
The 'Everyday Maths' survey was distributed and collected during the second half of the Spring Term and the early part of the Summer term in 2013. 243 parents completed the questionnaire and initial analysis showed that:
  • The majority of respondents say that their children do school maths at home one or two days per week, and that they usually help their children with school maths one or two days per week.
  • The majority of respondents believe that a child's education is either equally the school's and the parents' responsibility, or mainly the school’s responsibility.
  • The majority of respondents are confident in their own maths ability, and in their ability to help their children with maths, and have communication and relationships with their children's school about maths (how their child is doing, how maths is taught and so on). However, a notable minority felt less confident about their own maths ability and about their ability to help their children, and were less satisfied with the communication with their children's school about maths.
You can read more about the questionnaire results here.

During the summer term in 2013 the researchers ran focus groups in 15 schools across Bristol, and 1 inner-city school in Birmingham. They also spoke to parents at the end of the school day.

Here is a summary of what parents said:
  • Maths at home: Even though a few parents felt that they did not engage their children in maths at home, most could talk about how they supported their children’s learning in ‘everyday’ contexts. Common examples included parents and children talking about money, particularly when shopping or saving pocket money. Cooking was also talked about lots, with children helping to weigh food, time how long food is in the oven, and estimate portion size.
  • Maths and play: Parents felt that maths emerged naturally out of children’s play, e.g. when children shared sweets, played games like hopscotch or Top Trumps.
  • Homework: Parents recognised that the maths taught in school today was different to the maths taught when parents went to school. Whilst some had the confidence and resources to help with homework, most felt unable to help properly. Parents said they felt ‘lost’, ‘confused’ and ‘left behind’. Because of this, a few parents avoided helping with homework.
  • Support from schools: Some parents were happy with the support they got from schools, particularly if those schools ran maths workshops, told parents the topics being taught each week, and if teachers came across as ‘approachable’. However, some parents felt frustrated over the lack of information about how to do the latest maths techniques taught in school. Other parents wanted to know how to motivate children to do homework, and how to make maths creative and fun.
  • Value of maths: Parents often talked about how important maths was in everyday life.  They wanted their children to do well so they could go to university and get good jobs.
  • Maths and gender: Some mums made a special effort to appear confident about maths in front of their daughters.  They were worried about the stereotyped view that girls were not as good as maths as boys.
You can read more about the focus groups here.

Update February 2015
The parents’ workshops which were run by the Everyday Maths project last year went really well. The workshops aimed to support parents to recognise and discuss mathematics as it appears in everyday life, distinct from curriculum or school mathematics (and moving beyond the examples of shopping and baking that are often used in textbooks as examples of “everyday mathematics”). Over the course of the workshops, parents enjoyed working together, and became much more adept at recognising where there was mathematics in everyday situations. This resulted in them becoming more confident about their own mathematics ability. The workshops also helped them recognise ways in which they could have conversations about mathematical ideas with their children. A key part of this was understanding that it was ok to ask questions and not necessarily know the answers – parents began to see mathematics as a way to help them (and their children) explore the world. Another important aspect was the recognition that mathematics does not have to have a distinct disciplinary boundary – mathematics, science, geography, economics, history, art and design were seen as inter-linked and sharing common ideas.

More information can be found about the workshops at our website, everydaymaths.org. There are resources for teachers who would like to run the workshops themselves, and for teachers to give to parents who are participating in the workshops (or for parents to download themselves).

Everyday Maths has also received funding to develop a video resource for teachers, to help explain and illustrate the idea of the workshops. We have recruited a video production company, and are working with a consultation group of teachers to help us understand how best to put the Everyday Maths ideas across through video. The video resource is scheduled for release in Autumn 2015 and will be freely available through our website.

Update October 2015
The Everyday Maths Project Team has been developing some free video and PDF toolkit resources designed to help schools run workshops with parents, and to support parents developing their discussions with their children around the kind of maths that appears in everyday life. These resources were launched at two events - one at the ESRC Thinking Futures Festival in Bristol, on 9 November 2015 and one at the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences in Sheffield on 10 November 2015.  The resources are now available free via the Everyday Maths Project website, and are aimed at parents of primary school children (4-11 years)

This article was first published in January 2013 and updated in July 2013, then October 2013, February 2015, October 2015 and November 2015.