By Australian Government Department of Education
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Using calculators can help, not hinder, your child’s numeracy skills.
The opportunities for developing numeracy are everywhere. You can help your school-age child learn about numbers and develop her mathematical skills in all sorts of ways.

Numeracy basics

Your child develops numeracy skills when he uses mathematical ideas in everyday situations. He’ll begin to make sense of these situations by thinking about the following:

  • How many are there?
  • Does it fit?
  • How big is it?
  • Which way will I go?
  • Is it likely to happen?
  • How much is there?
  • Will there be enough?

How you can help with numeracy skills

You might feel that the way your child learns maths is different from how you were taught, or that you should leave it to the teachers because maths wasn’t your best subject at school. But you’re actually able to assist your child in many ways, and can help her enjoy using her maths ideas in daily life.

Ideas for working maths into everyday activities
Listen to and talk with your child about prices, directions for making things, and the shape of materials he is using.

Ask questions like:

  • ‘What will happen if …?’
  • ‘Why does …?’
  • ‘How do you know that?’
  • ‘How did you work it out?

Point out how the right measurement is important when using a recipe, or when following instructions to make or build something.

Look for opportunities where your child can:

  • choose from a variety of materials of different shapes and sizes for games and craft time
  • sort and organise things like collections of swap cards, coins, games, CDs and DVDs
  • be involved in making plans when designing cubbies and play furniture.
When talking about maths with your child, try not to focus on teaching her – just have fun together!

How you can work with your child’s school on numeracy skills

  • Talk with your child’s teacher about numeracy at home and at school, and raise any concerns you might have with the teacher.
  • Ask the teacher how you can support the class maths program at home.
  • Help your child enjoy the maths he does at school by talking positively about work he brings home.
  • Support the teacher and school by attending parent meetings and volunteering your time or support.
  • Find out how maths teaching has changed since you were at school.
  • Learn how your child uses a calculator at school.
  • Help your child plan how much money she’ll need for lunch or outings at school. For example, have her write the amount on envelopes and orders, or ask her to check if she has enough money.

Using the calculator to learn

When your child plays with a calculator he’ll enjoy finding out what happens when he presses the different keys. Talk about what he did to change the numbers on the screen.

Using the calculator to explore number patterns
Use the calculator to count up to large numbers (but keep in mind that some older calculators might operate differently from this):

  • To count by fives, press: 5 + = = =
  • To count by tens, press: 1 0 + = = =

Try this with your child and see the numbers ‘grow’ on the screen. Ask your child to stop and predict which number comes next, then find out.

Your child might like to say the numbers as they appear on the screen. She might also like to write them down on a long strip of paper. Ask, ‘Is there a pattern you can see?’

  • Try starting from a number like seven then counting by 2s, 5s, 10s and so on.
  • Try counting backwards from 1000 by 10s using the minus (–) key.

Using the calculator to play games
Back to zero: take turns to change one of the digits in a number to zero in one move. For example, when using the number 526, in order to change the 2 to a 0, you would subtract 20, resulting in 506. Keep going until the screen shows 0.

Everyday experiences with maths

The fridge list
You can look for opportunities to point out and respond to your child’s numeracy ideas. Encourage your child to ask questions to help him make sense of his everyday situations. Here are some examples of questions you can stick on your fridge:

  • How big is it?
  • Does it fit?
  • Which way will I go?
  • Is it likely to happen?
  • Will there be enough?
  • How much is there?
  • What might happen if ...?
  • How do you know that?
  • How many?

When travelling

  • When taking a long car trip, involve your child in using a map. Ask if she can find the best way to get there.
  • When your child asks ‘How long will it take?’, show him how to use road signs and the map to find out.
  • When stopping to buy petrol ask, ‘Is the petrol cheaper or more expensive here than the last place we saw?’

Watching and playing sport

  • Look at scores during a game and ask, ‘Who might win? Why?’
  • Talk about times and records for major sporting events.
  • Ask, ‘How fast did they swim/run? Is it faster than last time?’
  • When going for a swim ask, ‘How deep is the water? How can you tell?’

At home

  • When talking about TV programs, you could ask, ‘How long is the program? Do we have time to watch it before we go out? What time does it start?’
  • Talk to your child about the strategies she uses in board, card and computer games.
  • Cook together, allowing your child to follow the recipe and to measure out the ingredients.

When shopping

  • ‘Have you got enough money to buy that?’
  • ‘Will you get any change? How much?’
  • ‘How much more will you need to buy another one?’
  • ‘What can you buy for $2.00?’
If you’d like to know more about maths or how you can help your child learn, contact his school or talk with his teacher.
  • Content supplied by Australian Government Department of Education
  • Last updated or reviewed 02-06-2014
  • Acknowledgements This information was reproduced from information brochures funded by the former Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training (now the Department of Education) under the Australian Government’s Numeracy Research and Development Initiative.