Supporting mathematics for primary learners

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Mathematics is a core subject of the curriculum and numerical confidence is hugely important for daily life, whether that is shopping, cooking, managing money or simply getting somewhere on time. This also means that there are plenty of ways you can support children's mathematical learning and development through everyday activities.

The following tips may be helpful to foster carers supporting children's mathematics from the pre-school years to the end of primary school.  The suggestions are organised according to children's level of skill and confidence, as fostered children may be working at a level that is different to their age or year group.

Getting started

  • Provide opportunities for children to count and use numbers as part of their daily activities. ‘Let’s count the number of steps’, ‘How many toys are in the box?'  
  • Encourage children to count forwards, backwards and from different starting numbers.  ‘Let’s count down from 15…now count up from 20’.
  • Point out numbers, shapes, patterns and mathematical features in the everyday environment.  This might be numbers on a bus, trees along a pathway or the shape of a road-sign.
  • Talk about the passing of time and point out numbers on the clock.  Begin by talking about time to the hour and half hour: 'It is nearly two o'clock' or 'It is nearly half past three'.
  • Involve your fostered child in practical activities that will support their mathematical development, including shopping, baking and gardening.
  • Play simple games where your fostered child has to roll a dice and move their counter along a board or track, showing them how to count on accurately
  • Use your own mathematical skills out loud as you go about your everyday life, talking about what you are doing and why: 'I now need to count how many yoghurts we have left, to see if there is one each.'

Getting going

  • Provide opportunities to support addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at home.  Try to do this practically, using real objects and situations: 'If each pack of biscuits has 10 biscuits, how many would there be in two packs?  If there are 5 people, how many biscuits can they have each?'  Cooking can involve weighing out the ingredients, working out totals and calculating when a cake will be ready to come out of the oven. 
  • Learning multiplication facts (times tables) is a key step to supporting children’s  mathematical development.  Begin with the 2, 5 and 10 times tables and by singing or reciting the times table in the usual order. Next help your child to learn the facts out of the normal order.  For example: ‘What is 5 x 5?’, ‘What is 9 x 5?’. Times table CDs, songs and games can help to reinforce knowledge. 
  • Encourage children to handle money and play a role in purchasing items.  This can support and reinforce times tables e.g. counting in tens for 10p pieces. Give your fostered child pocket money and encourage them to budget or save for particular items.
  • Your fostered child may be given written mathematical problems to solve as part of homework. Encourage them to read the problem carefully: ‘Can it be solved by adding or subtracting? Or perhaps by multiplication or division?' Underlining key words can help.
  • Continue to play board or card games where children have to use mathematical skills or keep score.  Solving puzzles or logical problems can also support mathematical reasoning and development.

Getting confident

  • Support your fostered child to develop an understanding of place value.  This means the value represented by each digit in a number, expressed in terms of hundreds, tens and units.  For example, in 345 the ‘3’ represents 300 (three hundreds), the 4 means 40 (four tens) and the 5 represents 5 (5 units).
  • Continue to involve your child in practical mathematical problems. For example, doubling up the quantities of a recipe or the measurements needed for DIY.  Encourage them to first estimate and then calculate an answer.
  • Engage your fostered child in understanding numerical data, published in charts, graphs or percentages. For example, a child who enjoys football may be interested in the statistics published by football clubs: ‘Who was the best scorer last season? What was the total number of goals scored?’ 
  • When your fostered child begins to use formal written methods (such as column addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division) encourage them to check the final answer before moving on. This may help them to spot any errors in their calculations.
  • Encourage your child to develop an understanding of the relationship between decimals, fractions and percentages. For example, one half (½) is the same as 50 per cent (50%), which is also the same as 0.5.

Websites and sources of support

  • National Numeracy is a charity promoting numercy for children and adults.  The Family Maths Toolkit offers links to a wide range of numeracy based activities for children.  Adults can use the Maths Challenge materials to support adult numeracy (age 14+).
  • BBC Bitesize offers support across a wide range of subject areas, including mathematics.
  • Oxford Owl is an education website by Oxford University Press, including a useful jargon buster of educational terminology. 
  • Khan Academy provides instructional video for all ages and stages of mathematics.
  • The Nrich Maths Project has resources for children and adults.


In 2019 National Numeracy delivered a webinar on 'Maths, Myths and Mindsets' as part of the Fostering Potential education programme.  Download the slides below:

Maths, Myths and Mindsets - Ben Perkins, National Numeracy

Listen to this webinar.