We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

by | May 23, 2019

Overcoming maths anxiety and being #PositiveAboutNumbers

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how new research revealed that ‘maths anxiety’ could be fueling a numeracy skills crisis. One in ten children in the UK suffer from ‘despair and rage’ when learning maths, and 33% of 15–16 year olds reported getting very tense when they have to complete maths homework.


As a parent, and with my children spending more time with their grandparents as we are a working family, I really understand that our children’s anxiety can leave us and our families with a sense of dread when homework comes back or when tests are looming. I hope that some of these ideas will help you and your families to think about how you see maths, and show you to make maths a little less scary (and maybe even fun).

1. Find out how school can help

Make sure that you have asked your child’s school what they can do to support you and your family. Schools spend a lot of time thinking hard about how they teach maths and will have both a policy and a curriculum for maths that they can share.

In some cases, your school may even offer to run a workshop for you to get to know some of the new ways maths is being taught. This can be rewarding for everyone when the homework comes home!

2. Be positive about maths

Think about how you feel about maths and try not to let your children know if you are anxious yourself, or if you feel like you ‘don’t know anything about maths’ – this will either make them more anxious or believe that maths is not important, and it is! Instead, ask them how they feel about maths and explore why they feel the way they do. If you struggled at school, perhaps see if you both share some similar anxieties and talk about how you can overcome them together:

  • Talk to the school and share how you feel.
  • Plan in some time to use online games and maths revision together for the things that make you most anxious. If your child has a MyMaths account, this is a great place to find online activities.
  • Explain that you are going to do some learning too, and that this is exciting and will be challenging, but together you can do it. Why not take the National Numeracy Challenge alongside your child?

3. Support your child with their homework and revision

There are lots of ways you can build up your child’s maths skills at home, and really make a difference when they come to tackle their homework or revision:

  • Go slow! Tackle one question or problem at a time – don’t sit for ages on one piece of homework or revision. Do little manageable chunks, and if you really don’t know and your child is anxious, take it back to school and ask for support. Good homework should be related to the learning in class and set just above where your child is working so it is challenging but accessible.
  • Use the internet to help you when you find a problem or question you can’t solve or know much about – learn together and be explicit that you are also learning, and learning is good! You can find lots of useful information on Oxford Owl’s maths pages and the Oxford Owl YouTube channel.
  • Be careful not to tell your child how to do the maths, as they may be learning in a slightly different way to how you did at school, and this may cause more pressure.
  • Make maths something we do every day, not just in school.

• Shopping: using the scanners in the supermarket, money, staying in budget, calculations, decimals and percentages.
• Decorating/putting up a picture: measuring area and multiplication.
• Getting ready in the morning: timing and calculation.
• Watching TV: timing how long you watch each channel.
• Playing with consoles: lives left, points, total score, problem solving, building.

4. … But don’t do their homework for them!

Don’t panic and try to do the homework – instead, be there to support your child. Ask them questions to get you and them thinking mathematically:

  • ‘What does the question say?’
  • ‘Can you show me how you would do this at school?’
  • ‘What other ways can you work it out?’
  • ‘Can we use anything to help us see what we’re trying to do?’ (Counters, dry pasta shapes, Malteasers and Numicon shapes are good!)

We can make maths seem much less threatening by approaching it as something we learn together. By communicating with schools and understanding what our children are doing and how they are doing it, learning for ourselves and staying positive, we can see maths as exciting, investigative and rewarding. And who knows – maybe one day this maths positivity will lead your children into careers in science, technology and engineering, or even music, fashion design and sport. Maths is everywhere!

Books and activity kits

Please note: all book links lead to more information on Amazon.co.uk

First Steps with Numicon at Home Kit

Age 3–8

Help your child develop their maths skills with this Numicon kit for home, including lots of physical Numicon resources and activity ideas. Get to know how Numicon is used in school and build a firm foundation for your child’s maths comprehension and arithmetic./p>

Buy on Amazon >

Numbers up to 10

Age 3–4

This activity book will help your child to progress with numbers while having fun so they will quickly learn to be able recognise numbers, their names and their digits, as well as learning how to write them.

Buy on Amazon >

Numbers and Counting up to 20

Age 4–5

This activity book will help your child to progress with number and counting skills while having fun so they will quickly learn to count and write numbers up to 20, to count on from a number, to count sequences and to read number names.

Buy on Amazon >

Multiplication, Division and Fractions

Age 5–6

This activity book will help your child to progress with number skills, such as multiplication, division and fractions, while having fun. They will quickly learn to recognise and find a half and a quarter of an object and an amount and to solve problems using multiplication and division skills.

Buy on Amazon >