How to Teach Primary 1 Maths at Home

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Worried about having to help your child with Primary 1 maths?

We can understand if you are feeling anxious about the road ahead, especially if you’ve read ‘horror’ stories about primary school maths questions stumping parents and causing kids to falter mentally.

Here are some examples:

Our advice? Try not to get too affected by what you’ve read in the news or social media. Instead, take things one step at a time, and work closely with your child’s teachers to support his or her learning.

At Primary 1, kids are starting to learn maths from scratch. In fact, it is their English language abilities that may hinder their progress in understanding basic maths concepts, so you may want to put in some extra effort to help your kids with English.

>> Read our guide on teaching Primary 1 English at home

Another tip: if you have grown up with an aversion towards numbers, it’s important not to transmit this attitude to your child.

Don’t say things like “I’m bad at maths,” or “I hate maths.” Yes, maths problems will get trickier as your child gets older — show your child that you find them challenging too, but are willing to push through to get the answer, even if it takes several tries. The key is not to panic when one is unable to solve a problem at first, and to accept that this is a natural part of the process.

As maths problems become more difficult (in the upper primary years), it is easy to jump to conclusions or make false assumptions in order to arrive at a solution quickly. You will discover this for yourself, as you attempt to solve maths problems alongside your child. Therefore, the ability to think clearly and logically is essential for maths, and this is a skill that you can help your child to develop in the lower primary years.

Here’s one way to encourage logical thinking in daily life: when you encounter a problem (and this could be a ‘fun’ problem, such as when you are playing a board game involving strategy), list all the options out loud, so that you and your child can consider which is the best way forward. If your child decides on a next step, ask why it’s the best option. This is a good habit to start developing now, before your child is bogged down by homework and school or enrichment activities.

>> Read our guide on teaching critical thinking at home

Below, we look at specific ways to help your child with maths in Primary 1. This should not be an academically stressful time for children, so do enjoy these early years, where there are no exams or weighted assessments!

Track Your Child’s Maths Learning

It is now common practice for primary school teachers to send weekly updates to parents, detailing what children have been taught. If your child’s teachers are not doing this, please check with the school to ask if this is something they can implement.

To send their progress updates, teachers may contact you via different channels, so you may be receiving messages through ClassDojo, Google Classroom, or the teacher’s preferred mode of communication. However, as many of us are bombarded by countless messages every day, these updates may get lost in the noise.

To counter this, you can establish the habit of tracking your child’s weekly progress with a chart — set a day to do it, such as every Friday or Saturday. Simply copy updates into an Excel sheet, or use a free app such as Notion.

It’s useful to be able to see what your child has learned at a glance, and if your child has tutors, this is a more efficient way to keep them in the loop, as opposed to forwarding weekly updates to them.

Here is an example of what maths updates for an upper primary child might look like:

Teachers will usually list the common problems that the class is facing, and it’s good to take note of that too.

By developing the good habit of tracking updates from the start, you won’t find yourself lost and confused in the later years, especially if you intend to oversee your child’s studies, rather than outsourcing everything to tutors and enrichment schools.

Primary 1 Maths: What Parents Should Know

You can refer to the Ministry of Education’s primary school maths syllabus for full details on the maths skills that your child is expected to acquire.

Some parents will download the syllabus and get it printed for easy reference. However, you don’t have to go the extra mile. For ease of reading and simplicity, the school’s materials for parents should suffice.

One reassuring thing about the national maths syllabus is that it does not assume or require a prior knowledge of maths. It’s the pre-numeracy skills that your child should have picked up in preschool/kindergarten that will help students to grasp maths concepts more quickly. These include:

  • Matching
  • Sorting
  • Comparing

During the school orientation, you might have heard your child’s maths teacher talk about CPA, or the “Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract” method of teaching maths:

  • “Concrete” refers to using manipulatives, such as counting blocks. 
  • “Pictorial” is about using drawings, diagrams, charts, and graphs. 
  • “Abstract” refers to the use of symbols, i.e. numbers.

In a typical progression, a child learns to count, add, or subtract using blocks or objects, proceeds to do the same with objects in pictures, and is taught to represent this in number (abstract) form. To teach your child maths at home, you can use the same approach.

In order to build children’s confidence in maths, teachers will usually:

  1. Demonstrate how to solve a problem to the class
  2. Guide students in solving a problem together 
  3. Assign similar homework questions for students to try independently, to check if they have grasped the concepts.

Is your child asking you for maths homework help? Refer your child to the worked examples from school — go over them again, together, and see if your child is able to apply the same concepts to the homework. If not, you can walk your child through the steps (or even provide the answer), but do also let the teacher know that your child was not able to complete the homework independently.

For children who repeatedly need help with their maths homework, the teacher will be the best person to advise you on what to do next. In most cases, weaker students in Primary 1 would have been identified for the school’s Learning Support Programme fairly early in the school year, so if your child is falling behind, you should be hearing from the school.

In general, you will hardly find Primary 1 teachers urging you to download maths worksheets or test papers for students who are progressing at a typical pace. Instead, teachers would prefer that you find ways to cultivate a love for maths at home, by playing puzzle games, doing fun calculations when discussing current events, or showing your child why maths is important in real life, e.g. when we handle money.

You can view a summary of Primary 1 maths topics, and a sample Primary 1 maths assessment plan (from 2015, before P1 exams were scrapped), but it’s best to stick with what your child’s school has given you. On a daily or weekly basis, go over your child’s homework and see what mistakes he or she is making. If there are numerous issues, record them for your own reference, or for discussion with the teacher during the parent-teacher meeting. You can also make a fresh copy of your child’s homework to let him or her retry questions. 

If you really feel that your child needs drilling in specific areas, buying a maths assessment book with topical exercises will be much easier than trying to hunt down free (and good) worksheets online. You can ask for assessment book recommendations in the KiasuParents forum — it’s a pet topic for our community, and you will be sure to receive many helpful suggestions!