How to help your junior school child get better results in maths

This week, in case you haven’t seen it, I published a new book at Jumping Yak: Maths Fun for Cool Kids.


I wrote this with Edward Matthews (pictured), a maths teacher at Westminster Under School who loves numbers whether in the bingo hall or the classroom. During our launch party, I decided to play DVDs of Maths 4 Real, a fun maths programme which I co-presented with Ben Shepherd at the turn of the century (!) on Channel 4. Here's a hazy YouTube playback. It seems a little dated now but the content is spot on. To help viewers get to grips with Pythagoras’ Theorem for example, Ben flew down a zip wire with the army and I went to Bradford City Football Ground with a length of rope to check that the corners of the football pitches were definitely right angles. Maths 4 Real made maths fun and helped children to understand Maths concepts in real life. Today, I smile when anyone tells me that they watched Maths 4 Real at school. Did they enjoy it I ask? And how did they do in their GCSEs?

Maths Fun for Cool Kids, the latest book from Jumping Yak, is perfect for 9-12 year olds who enjoy puzzle books and who want to inject a little bit of fun into their maths practice. Over half-term this would be just one way for your child to keep their maths brain ticking over and if you'd like to have a ‘worthwhile’ activity up your sleeve to rival the console, this is it, providing they'll agree. Wonderful warm-up, stealth revision!

In keeping with the maths theme, this week I offer you some gems of wisdom which might help your child's maths improve. If you're looking for answers, you might find them here:

The Seven Gems of Junior-School-Maths-Wisdom

1. Maths Fun for Cool Kids

Use this book as your kick-start weapon! This is all about dipping in and doing some maths regularly and making learning fun. Well of course I am suggesting it! It's great! Look at the fun this boy is having! Actually, his mother said he loved it and wouldn't put it down. Thanks Mrs K. Following on from this...









2. Quality and Quantity

In English lessons, a child who hands in a long essay with little structure that looks as if it was written while sitting on the back of a donkey, will not be rewarded for the poor content and appearance of their work. The teacher may well say, “Quality not quantity, children!”

With maths, both quality AND quantity are important. Yes, you could do just a little bit of maths very well and that's good, but you will definitely benefit from doing A LOT of maths well. So quality and quantity - it’s as simple as that!

Over time, hard maths becomes ... well, even harder to understand and get right if the foundations have not been properly laid. Whatever age your child is now, do not give up hope if they struggle with concepts and basic maths. Keep working at it because if they can get higher marks in Junior school, maths will be much easier later on. With time and effort and your child will be rewarded. 

3. Practise Basic Operations ... on paper

I remember a leading ballet dancer from the Royal Ballet visiting my daughter’s junior school to judge a competition. She used this motivational rhyme to emphasise the importance of working hard at something to perfect it:

“Good, better, best.
I will never rest...
Until my good is my better and my better is my best!”

There is so much truth in this. If your child is aiming for accuracy, which after all is pretty much what maths is about, you need to ensure you have perfected all of the basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. One of my all time favourite websites for finding a huge number of free worksheets, including times tables sheets with answers is here. One of these at breakfast or tea time every day and your child will begin to feel like a genius as the marks go up!

4. Maths Apps can be incredibly useful ... and fun

I love Quick Maths and Pop Maths. Load these onto your phone - assuming you have not succumbed to giving your junior school child a smart phone, in which case load it onto theirs. These are just the ticket when you are waiting for another child to finish an after school activitiy.. For example

i) Quick Maths: this maths game is ideal for children in Years 2 to Year 5. Answers to maths questions are written on the screen with a finger - no typing or selecting from multiple choice answers. Amazingly, your smart phone will recognise even the scribbliest of writing. Practice, practice, practice!

ii) PopMath Lite (the free version): a fun way to practice basic maths: 6 pairs of bubbles with numbers float on the screen and you must pop the matching pairs. So for example 7 and 3+4, 19 and 11+8 and so on. Great for number bond practice, speed and accuracy. And it does get harder ....

5. Maths quizzes and fun maths activities.

If you want to call in some reinforcements, visit Amazon to buy Rush Hour to hone your child’s logic skills (a traffic jam logic game) or for geometric puzzling, tangrams. This week, my top recommendation on Amazon is the Brain Quest maths card set for 9-10 year olds. I first came across Brain Quest cards when I was living in Hong Kong - my children loved them. If your child enjoys a quiz, they might find these fun.

6. Online puzzles and problems:

There are so many resources on-line it can be hard to find one that works for your child. Check with your school to see if they subscribe to a on-line platform your child can use at home. For example, Manga High, Mathletics and Sumdog provide good alternatives to written exercises and compliment your child’s learning..

I recently found this maths game on youtube to help boost your child’s brain power!!! What do you think?

7. Music and Maths

There are literally hundreds of musical maths songs for all ages on YouTube and this brought to mind our very own Edward Matthews - (Maths Fun for Cool Kids). Every year, he teaches his Year 5 class the Mathematical Pi Song … and they sing it to the rest of the school in assembly on Pi Day, 14th March. Picture the scene: Mr Matthews and his guitar and 22 happy children singing "American pi" to 30 decimal places. It might not be that useful, but it’s definitely impressive and fun. Maybe your child would enjoy learning this? 


Well... we have reached the end of my mathematical suggestions to help your junior school child improve in maths. To sum up, as with the secrets of comprehension last week, there aren’t really any short cuts.  I asked Edward for a few tops tips and he said it's about constant effort rather than last minute cramming because, "The best way of learning Maths is by doing Maths.” If you can help your children to build a firm foundation in maths, by practising the essential skills regularly, it will be far easier for them to tackle the harder maths challenges they will face in the years to come.

And for ideas on how to motivate your child, visit www.thesmartkidinfo to read my guest blog on motivating your junior school child. Lots of ideas there and I hope that you find some of them useful.

Until next time,