Help parents' needed! Parental engagement has big benefits

    Published: 01 October 2017

    Kate Kellner-Dilks is a teaching and learning adviser for primary mathematics at Herts for Learning.  Kate has been successfully working with schools to increase the engagement of parents in supporting their children with mathematics.  Here she shares this advice. 

    From conversations I have with primary school teachers and leaders, they often want to engage parents in the mathematics they are teaching. They have a feeling it will help the children, but are not sure the best way to go about it.

    Research tells us that children are more successful at school, if their parents support their learning; ‘Family engagement in school has a bigger influence on a pupil’s achievement than socio-economic background, parents’ education level, family structure and ethnicity…’ (, 2017)

    In fact, ‘In the primary age range the impact caused by different levels of parental involvement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. The scale of the impact is evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups.’ (Desforges 2003)

    So, if parental involvement has such a great impact (which deep down we know it does), what is the best way harness this and use it within education, to the children’s advantage?

    Rather than necessarily looking to bring the parents into school to support learning, we might be better to look at enabling parents to support their children at home, but this might involve bringing them into school first to share and discuss ideas, tools and resources for them to take home and try.

    Particularly in mathematics, many parents  say they feel out of their depth; it’s not the way they were taught at school, they don’t feel they know what they should be doing, the methods look different, or possibly they didn’t enjoy mathematics themselves. This of course can provide a barrier, with parents’ own feelings about mathematics preventing some from supporting their children with mathematics at home. So what can we do?

    I recently ran a one day training course for teachers, with Siobhan King a fellow  adviser, entitled ‘Engaging Parents in Mathematics’, to specifically address how best to work with parents to harness some of the potential impact.  Our messages were simple:

    1. Start by deciding which parents you are thinking about – all parents, or a target group, or individuals?
    2. Consider what it is you might like these parents to be doing at home to support learning in mathematics (appropriate to the age of their children).
    3. Decide the format best for sharing this information e.g. workshop / information session or more individually, and alongside their child or not?
    4. Factor in what the parents will find most manageable, to maximise attendance; the best time for parents to come, child care arrangements and work arrangements.
    5. Remember that the parents are not teachers – that’s our job. Plan for the parents to support their child and learn alongside them. This could be through games and activities that they make and play together. Just the engagement can have a big impact.
    6. Use the opportunity to reinforce the expectations of the curriculum, but in a parent-friendly way; reduce any jargon and be aware of the parents’ own possible anxieties about mathematics.
    7. Make plans for those parents who wanted to attend, but not come to the session, for example making the slides or resources available afterwards on the school website.

    In our experience games make a wonderful impact on both mathematics progress and also provide an easy low risk way for parents to feel involved.  Many is the time when we’ve turned a room full of parents into a seeming ‘poker den’ as they whoop and groan on the turn of a card or throw of a dice with the games we show them.  It reminds them of the fun they had playing board and card games as children, and that those same games are out there still.  If we can trigger that feeling of enjoyment and time well spent as a family we might just win another room of parents over.

    For example when working with parents of children in Key Stage 1, you might start with how to learn number bonds to 10 and 20. You could make card games with the parents, which they could in turn make at home with their children. The most basic one I use needs several small pieces of square/rectangles of card. For bonds to 10, you need the numbers 0-10, a number on each piece of card, with an extra ‘5’ card – meaning 12 pieces of card altogether. Or for bonds to 20, you need 0-20 on card with an extra ‘10’ card – meaning 22 pieces of card altogether.

    First, the child works with their parent to make all the pairs for the bonds to 10 or 20. Laying all the cards out in these pairs and checking they do add up to 10 (e.g. 8 and 2) or 20 (e.g. 18 and 2). Then the games that can be played are a version of ‘snap’ or the ‘memory game’.


    For snap, you shuffle and deal the cards out so that both players have the same amount. Each time a player turns over a card, the other player wants to turn over the number bond partner card. If I turn over a 4, you are looking to turn over a 6, if we’re playing bonds to 10 snap. When either player spots a number bond pair (e.g. 4 and 6), they shout “Snap!” To develop it further, the parent might pause every so often to ask “what number are we looking for?” before the next card is turned; to check the child is thinking ahead and working out the related number bond.

    Both of these are straight forward to play, straightforward to resource, but hit an element of the National Curriculum for Key Stage 1. Importantly, the potential impact might even be wider than just the learning of number bonds. The parent is engaged in supporting the child’s learning at home, with a game that they might both find enjoyable. The mathematics knowledge required is not threatening to either and there is no ‘testing’ involved, just exploration and play.

    There are of course many ways to ‘skin a cat’ so to speak, but to offer parents some guidance on easy and age appropriate games (including commercially available ones) and activities for mathematics at home, alongside possibly a list of website for maths games for example, then this is likely to be a step in the right direction.


    ALTSCHUL, I. 2011. Parental Involvement and the Academic Achievement of Mexican American Youths: What Kinds of Involvement in Youths’ Education Matter Most? Social Work Research, 35.

    Desforges, 2003. The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review, 5-6

    GOODALL, J. 2013. Parental engagement to support children’s learning: a six point model. School Leadership & Management, 33, 133-150., 2017

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