This blog post from Maths Ireland was written for parents of children at secondary level but I think it will be of interest to all. It was written by Georgina Murphy, Deputy Principal of a school in Kilkenny.

Early education experts stress reading to children every day, and maths should be part of a daily regimen as well. Since most parents use maths in some form every day, they should be able to help their children develop mathematical reasoning without going too far out of their way to design lessons or learn more maths themselves (although this certainly helps if parents have the time). Here are a few ideas:

Estimate, estimate, estimate
When grocery shopping, estimate how much all the groceries will cost. When driving, estimate how long it will take to get to your destination. When you’re on a road trip and you can see the road miles or kilometres ahead, estimate how many miles/kilometers away the furthest point is (and use the odometer (milometer) to check your guess). You can make this a contest; whoever is closest to the actual amount gets a prize!

Read the news
The news is filled with statistics, all of which must be taken in with a critical eye. Students should know the source, year, sample size (if applicable) and methodology used to find these statistics. This isn’t to say students should conduct a research study of each news article, but they should at least be aware of these vital pieces. This also helps them remain up to date on current affairs and become informed citizens and critical thinkers.

Be financially savvy
When you’re grocery shopping and there are multiple brands for the same product, look at the price per ounce / gram (usually in small letters at the bottom of the price tag). Ask them to work out which of competing items is the best value. What does 3 for the price of 2 mean? What is 50% extra free?  Is it better to buy a big jar or two small jars?

Get them to do personal budgets – track their mobile phone bills and usage. Open a savings account.  This way they start learning financial responsibility (arguably one of the most crucial application of maths!) and are forced to regularly practice estimation (always be aware of how much is in their bank account), percentages (spending/saving) and basic arithmetic.

Play games
Chess, card games and Monopoly are great games for developing mathematical thinking. In chess, there are many options for where to move. Players need to predict their opponent’s best moves and calculate responses. As players get better, they think several moves ahead. (Grandmasters can think more than twenty moves in advance!) Chess helps with calculation, prediction, strategy and analytical thinking. Card games such as poker are great for developing a sense of probability. Calling, raising, folding, bluffing are all decisions that should be based on the probability of the player’s cards being better than the other players’. Monopoly is a fun simulation of real estate investments and also allows for good arithmetic practice.

These are just a few suggestions, but mathematical opportunities arise everywhere, all the time. Parents and students should always keep their eyes out for a chance to utilize math concepts. When doing any calculations, avoid using calculators (unless a mathematical problem involves a complex decimal, square root or other calculation that can’t be accurately derived or estimated in the head).

Turning everyday occurrences and household tasks into lessons not only helps students with their mathematical reasoning skills and sense of applied math, but prepares them for adulthood.


Georgina Murphy, Deputy Principal, Duiske College, Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny

Parents Supporting Children with Maths Learning