How You Can Use Real Life Experiences to Teach Maths at Home

After coping with the initial drama, novelty and even excitement of our schools closing, we return to the beginning of a new term, which can seem to stretch scarily in front of us all the way to July.

But let’s take time to pause, breathe and reflect a little on just how we can flip this situation and give our children some really wonderful experiences.

In school, your child will have lots of experience learning to calculate, learning about numbers and their patterns, learning what we can and can’t do with various operations.

This is the chance for you to take some of that fabulous foundation and put it into some real life experience that could truly change our children’s thinking forever.

Why not use the maths they have, to expand their understanding and experience of the world, instead of trying to teach them more maths and possibly end up stressing yourself and your child.

Or worse, confusing them.

Maths teaching and learning is quite different nowadays and even teachers require ongoing specialist training in how to specifically deliver it.

There will be time for your child to catch up when they are back at school so let’s look at how we can leave that to the teachers, and instead offer the icing on the cake of maths that is fun, creative and can be done brilliantly on a 1 to 1 basis or with just your family group.

Talk about the maths and change your expectation.

Gone are the days when the first child to get the answer is celebrated the most (that’s how it was when I was at school in the 1980s, anyway…).

Often now, it is the child who got the wrong answer who is celebrated and that sounds crazy right?

Well, by exposing children’s misunderstanding, we are given the chance to explore and really delve deep into a concept.

I often used to say to a child who had given a bonkers answer in class ‘Thank you for that answer. It’s not right but I’m really glad you said it because we can have some real fun now finding out what you did.’

And you can turn your child into a mini-maths detectives too.

Don’t worry if they get a crazily wrong answer – we’ve all been there. And don’t rush to get them to the correct answer too quickly.

  • Allow your child the chance to explore why they answered the way they did.
  • Reassure them that you are not frustrated or exasperated that they went wrong.
  • Diffuse the situation with humour saying something like ‘Well thanks! You’ve given us a real challenge here’ or ‘Blimey, we’re in a right old pickle …can we unpick our pickle or will we get more pickled up…who knows???’
  • Let your child see that working your way through an error is part of the joy of maths and not a massive problem.
  • Try to use pictures and visual elements to help explore the error and to help your child ‘see’ the problem, rather than just using numbers. Draw cupcakes and cross them out, or draw dots which is a bit quicker. Or even better, get some smarties out of the cupboard and explore using them. The rule is that you have to eat them afterwards of course though.
  • Understand that you might achieve less in the number of questions answered but that if you have had some really deep conversations about one or two questions in half an hour of maths, that is better than a page full of ticks.

A page full of ticks shows that your child was not challenged. Half an hour of talking, discussing and reasoning coupled with a page full of a mess of calculations shows mistakes, thinking, correcting and the brain making connections and being fuller and richer for it.

Always ask why? Why? Why? How do you know? And don’t accept responses like ‘it just is,’ or ‘the answer just popped into my head.’ It didn’t, but it’s not easy to delve into your brain and consider just what you actually did to reach that answer.

That’s where the real maths happens though, so don’t skip it for the sake of a page full of correct answers.

If you can allow your child the chance to stop, pause, and notice things then you will give them the breathing space to make them a better mathematician when they return to school (and possibly for life, if maths becomes a less scary subject which is full of talking and fun, offering puzzles to enjoy exploring, rather than having mysterious right and wrong answers where only ticks matter).

Exploring maths in the real world.

This can be done in many ways that are relevant to your child. Here are some ideas to give you some inspiration:


How financially aware is your child? Ask them how much a pint of milk costs.

Do they have pocket money and any sense of responsibility for their own ‘finances’ or do they just rely on mum or dad’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when it comes to making money decisions?

Take this homeschooling opportunity to build understanding and education around financial skills, responsibility and planning.

Natwest Money Sense has a parent’s page with a virtual bank. Your child can visit a virtual atm, explore and complete challenges in their virtual bank. This can help with engaging your child in confidently carrying out some finance related tasks.

You can take this to the next level by encouraging your child to be financially savvy and spot good or bad deals. How often in the supermarket do we see 3 bottles of Coke taped together as a ‘special offer’ for £3.50 with the individual bottles sitting right next to them on the shelf at £1.10 each?!

It’s only 20p but that ability to dupe the public is wrong and we need to help our children to be wise to corporate scams!

Have fun trying to be ‘The Conman’, offer your child various ‘specials’ on toys, stationery or trainers and see if they are wise enough to accept only the true deals.

Play with the prices and quantities to make them really have to think how to compare the deals.

I used to do this with my class by simply putting on a suitable hat and funny accent and they loved it.

Make sure some of the deals that you offer are good bargains though, otherwise your child will soon learn to say no to them all and they won’t be working out the maths.

You can build in citizenship and eco-friendly conversations around consumerism too. How wasteful are we as a society? When are 2 for 1 offers useful, when are they not? Is it wise for dad to buy 3 bottles of men’s shampoo that were a brilliant deal if he is bald?

Eco Maths

Take a look in your food cupboard.

Explore where some of the tins and packets have come from.

Take time to stop, find them on a map and be amazed by just how far some of the things we take for granted have come.

Work out how many miles they have travelled. How many trips to grandma’s is that equivalent to?

Calculate the food miles that yesterday’s dinner cost the planet.

Now can your child plan a dinner using locally or UK grown/produced food to try and cut some of those food miles? What could you grow in your garden to help?

Go out and plant some tomatoes, lettuce or herbs. The results won’t be instant but it might have some nice longer term impact and start a new and enjoyable hobby in your family.

Check out these great Eco Maths videos from the BBC, for more great ideas on this topic.


Work out and try to improve your ‘personal bests’ (PBs). Number of skips per minute? How long does it take to run down the road and back for your daily exercise? How long can hold plank position for?

Record your PBs each day and watch them improve!

On your daily walk, notice nature and consider what mathematical questions it throws up; what is the circumference of that tree you walk past? How could you measure it on tomorrow’s walk? Estimate how tall it is. How can you improve your estimations by discussing your ideas and strategies?

If you drop a stick in the river, how long will it take to reach the next town? How could you work this out?

Some of the problems you come up with as a family might be really challenging but remember, nobody is going to be checking your answers!

Just have fun talking mathematically and enjoy challenging your brains.

Plan a family project or outing

Have a look around your garden. Is there an area that could be improved?

What could you put there; a see-saw, solar water feature (with goldfish in of course), slabs or gravel with pots to grow edible flowers maybe?

Help your child to measure the area and work out what is needed.

Cost it out.

Help your child to negotiate putting some of their pocket money towards the project or thinking how they could fund-raise towards it. You can find tips on family gardening projects here.

Or plan a family day out to look forward to when we are able to move more freely.

Will this be pure fun? How much will petrol, ice-creams, chips, donkey rides and a souvenir cost if it is a day at the seaside? Or could this have a more emotional meaning, visiting family you have missed or visiting a special place in memory of someone you have lost?

If your child thinks that this will really happen and it is something that sparks their emotions one way or another, then they will engage with the planning with gusto and they won’t even know that there is maths sitting beneath it.


So there you go.

In this brave new world, seize the chance to open your child’s mind to social, global, financial and eco issues.

Have fun discussing opinions and sharing your values with each other; they might just surprise you with their wisdom.

The maths might sit subtly underneath it but it is there and has great value. If a maths lesson doesn’t look like a maths lesson then don’t worry.

We’re living in unsettling times and having the opportunity to think out of the box could be some of the most valuable learning your child ever does.

If you’d like to see more activity ideas for maths, and a range of other subjects, please visit our parent page here.

Here are some more blog posts you might be interested in:

In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the extra time with your family.

About the Author – Helen Grundy – Education Adviser

Helen qualified with a first class honours degree in English and Education Studies in 1998. A significant amount of her degree was spent studying in Amsterdam under the Hogeschool Holland, adding a TESOL element to her degree and enabling study and understanding of international approaches to education. Helen’s teaching career then took place across Staffordshire in infant, first and primary schools, taking on various roles in subject leadership, as SENCo and SLT, and achieving the NCTL Leadership Pathways award.

Noted successful practice resulted in Helen becoming a Leading Maths Teacher, supporting colleagues across the county. This became a role which she increasingly enjoyed and led naturally into a role in consultancy and advising.

Helen joined Services for Education in 2015 as an Education Adviser. Her role was primarily as a Maths Adviser however since joining the company has also become manager of the highly successful Health for Life in Primary Schools programme, NQT Manager as part of the LA approved Appropriate Body for NQT Induction and a member of the Statutory Assessment team.

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