Maths tips for starting school

numeracy leaders teachers Nov 02, 2023


Over the last ten years my three girls have started school. They are currently in Year 9, Year 6 and Year 1! 😲 My youngest, Mr 4, will be joining them in 2025! 

Whether it is your first child starting school or your seventh, the emotions are still high, as is the desire to want them to feel prepared, happy and excited to walk through those gates.

Combining my own experience as a parent and my knowledge as an expert in Maths Education, I wanted to share with you my top maths tips for starting school.

  1. Be positive about maths- Research has shown that a parent's level of achievement in maths has nothing to do with your child's potential for achievement. What matters is your attitude. So, if you are worried because you were no good at maths, and you think might have somehow passed this genetic profile onto your child… worry no more! What children pick up on is your attitude to maths. My advice to parents is always- ‘fake it until you make it’. If you struggled with maths- it was most likely because of the way it was taught- not because you are not a ‘maths person’. In fact, there is actually no such thing as a ‘maths person’- it is just a person who does maths!! So, if you do nothing else, let go of those negative feelings your feel towards fractions or the fear you have for times tables, and for the benefit of your child, pretend you LOVED maths and it was your favourite subject as school! Banish all those “I was never good at maths” sayings and replace them with “Ooh I love maths, it is so interesting”! It will make a BIG difference, I promise! 
  2. Look out for maths- Maths is everywhere. And whether we notice it or not, we use it everyday of our adult lives. Now you may not be using Algebra all that often, but I can guarantee you are using money, time, measurement and counting skills every day. What often happens is we tend to think of maths as just the (often dry) content we learnt at school- fractions, algebra and times tables. Maths can (and should) be seen as so much more! You find maths in art, in sport, in cooking, in shopping, in gardening- pretty much everything you love in your life will involve some maths. So tune into these authentic applications of maths. And share them with your child. Say things like- “look at that footy score, they have 5 goals and the other team have 2, how more more goals do they have?”, or “We need to be at kinder at 8:15, let’s set our alarm for 7:15”. All these experiences allow your child to see maths is MUCH more than they learn at school- it is something they will use every day of their lives.
  3. Play Board/Card Games-We have all heard the recommendation to read a book every day to support our child’s early literacy development. But what do we do in maths? Well, it’s pretty simple in my mind- just play a game. I am pretty obsessed with board and card games- some people have a thing for shoes- I have a thing for board games! I love buying my children games. Every birthday and christmas they receive a book and a game. At least once a week we have a “games night” where we play together. Everyone loves this- it is screen free, family time, that is lots of fun. The secret sauce though, is that there is maths in EVERY game we play. Whether it is Twister (recognizing left, right) or Uno (counting, number recognition, matching colours) my children are engaging in mathematical thinking and problem solving and they don’t even realise! Dice games provide an extra bonus as children get to learn the dice patterns. If there is one thing I recommend working on before children start school it is being able to recognize dice patterns. This develops a special mathematical skill called subitising and makes life so much easier when they play (and they will) dice games at school !
  4. Share maths moments/be interested in maths-Have you noticed that your children are interested in the things you are interested in? Do they follow the same football team, have they same interest in exercise, are interested in fashion or make-up…Spoiler alert it is because they think you are cool! I can say this rubs off by the time they are 13…But capitalize on this power while they are young! Show them you are curious and interested in maths- this will spark their interest and show them that maths is “cool”. You might see a Suduko in the paper and say “do you want to watch me try some fun maths?” or you might say “look at where we are on the football ladder” or “I wonder how many pieces of bread are in a loaf?” It doesn’t matter how small it seems- just share the a ‘maths moment’ with them. If you use maths in your day make sure you point it out to your child. You might have done a quote on a job at work, or used a spreadsheet, or used a ‘spend and save’ discount to grab a shopping bargain. Tell them- the more exposure they can have to maths the more confident and comfortable they will become.

5. Do Maths- Being good at most things takes practice and exposure. For example, were you/are you good at basketball? I’m tipping you had a basketball ring at home to practice on… were you excellent at braiding hair? I’m tipping you had a doll or a cousin/sister to practice on.

It’s not about being born with skills- it is about developing the neural pathways in your brain through practice. If you were good at maths, think about the experiences that helped you. You most likely played games at home, or you were into sport and always calculating scores…see it’s not about being a ‘maths person’ it’s just about being a person who does maths- so give that gift to your child and they will thrive at school!

6. Count, Count, Count- Have you ever thought “Why do we count”? Counting provides a super important foundation for early mathematical understanding. So as you prepare to send you child to school, take as many opportunities as you can to get them counting. Ask them to count plates for dinner, birds in the park, ducks on the pond, flowers on a plant- anything. Count as you go up stairs, count as you come down stairs, count how many mouthfuls they need to have before they can leave the table, count how many yellow cars you see on a walk. Sometimes you can model counting for them, sometimes count things together, sometimes invite them to count on their own. It doesn’t matter if they make mistakes… it is the exposure to the counting process, patterns and structure that makes a difference. Most children need to hear things over 400 times to understand them, so makes sure they are hearing that counting sequence over and over and seeing the contexts in which counting is useful.

So, there you have it, my top tips for preparing your child for school maths- hopefully nothing too challenging, just some small changes that with make a big difference in your child’s confidence.

If you would like some board game recommendations, or fun, easy ways to incorporate maths into your life, you can find me on Facebook or Instagram @numberdoctors

And finally good luck to you and your family next year- starting school is a big life change… and takes some adjusting from everyone, so just enjoy the process and take lots of photos! It only happens once!

PS: If you are interested in hearing more tips I am running a webinar for parents called 'Maths Tips for Starting School' on the 13th of November 2023. You can register here for $29.

Want to learn more from Dr Ange Rogers? Click here to find out about her 'Quality Place Value Assessment in Years 3-6 Mini Course'

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