How does Mathematical Vocabulary Support Maths Learning?

What’s the Big Deal about Vocabulary?

This booklet is written for teachers of maths and refers to middle school students  but we have read it and know it will be of use to Home Educators, as it is a more about theory than practice, and the concept of using, and explaining the meaning of, the correct mathematical vocabulary is appropriate for even the youngest of mathematical learners.

In the booklet above the National Council for Teachers of Maths shows that, for many reasons, using the correct vocabulary is vital.

The NCTM offers strategies for introducing new vocabulary and show how using mathematical vocabulary avoids misconceptions in your child.

There is a lot of text to read but If you can only manage to read the first few pages, you will find lots that is of use when leading your child with maths.

In the Home Educators area of our website you will see that on each activity page we have a box for vocabulary with links to our comprehensive glossary for many words on the lists.



How can we help ALL children to like maths?

When looking through our photo archives the other day, we found this one.


A child in one of our maths intervention classes wrote this at the end of our time working with him. Before our intervention ALL the children in the group told us in no uncertain terms that they hated maths.

So how did we change that around? It wasn’t easy. We had to prove to all the children that they could trust us. Again, not easy when we were working with children who were used to being let down by the education system. An added pressure was that we only had 12 weeks, one hour a day and three days a week to make a change.

So, you know what? We took it slowly.  Not what you might expect but we spent time proving to the children we could be trusted and building up their self-esteem, working on maths but without any pressure and supporting them all the way.

Once they were ‘on board’ with us, then we went for it! That’s what makes us different, we believe that children need  time to practise; time to think; time to work things out and time to show what they know. When they get that then like the picture says children ‘like maths because it makes you forget about what’s going on in the world’ Powerful stuff maths!

If you have been Home Educating since your child reached CSA, then this will not be a problem for you.  You have had the opportunity to work alongside your child, allowing him/her to work at his/her pace. You will know immediately if the challenge is too great and make changes in your expectations straight away.  That is one of the great advantages of Home Educating.

If however, you are home educating because your education system has let down your child, then you may be faced with a child who feels the same as the ones I mentioned above.  We recommend you do what we did and start with building self-esteem; moving forward in small steps; supporting as soon as difficulties arise and asking questions that allow your child to think deep.

If you need some structure to support your work with your child then head over to our parental maths support website i2imaths. There are videos and posters to remind parents of the maths learnt at school; ideas for supporting children’s maths homework; a detailed glossary of mathematical terms; articles on both mathematical and general learning theories and a whole area specifically developed for Home Educators.

Go to and read our public pages to see if for £29.99 a year we could support you, when leading your child in maths.

Do you need support when leading your child with maths?


Finally! It’s finished!

Well not quite, but almost, Anne and Pam are happy to share this with you now. While it’s not finished, there is enough content on there for you to start using it.

We have worked on our maths ladder with a Group of Home Educators from Bristol to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

If you like to use a little structure when leading your child with maths, then this is for you.

Head over to  and look at our public pages.  There you will find more screenshots of actual pages on our site, that will help you get a better idea of what is on there.

If you have any questions, please get in touch, we are here to help.

How can questions support autonomous learning?

Not maths, we know, but while ‘surfing’ we came across this that we thought would be really useful for Home Educators, so we decided to share it with you.

Working from your child’s own interest will guarantee he/she stays engaged.  The questions above will help your child to order his/her thinking, while still allowing him/her to stay in control.

These questions could start your child’s thinking for a project in any subject.

What can I do if my child doesn’t ‘get it’ after I have explained it?

A really useful strategy in this situation is ‘modelling’ it is particularly useful when you are introducing a new topic or when your child is unsure of how to solve a problem or complete a procedure.

As the name suggests it involves you acting as a role model for your child and working out a solution or finishing off a procedure.

While doing that you must speak a running commentary of what you are doing; why you are doing it; what you are thinking and what you expect to happen next, so your child can see the thought processes behind your actions.

This strategy helps your child to learn more effectively than just providing him/her with the answer. It provides him/her with a model to follow when he/she comes across a similar situation.

It also gives you a contex to remind your child of if he/she needs support in a similar situation.  Using statements like ‘Do you remember when …….’ or ‘Remember what we did last time we ……’ will help your child to recall the modelling you did.

How do I make sure I’m challenging my child?

As teachers, Anne and I were always aware of the importance of challenging children in every activity.  It isn’t easy to do this even with a group of children, let alone a whole class of maybe 30+ children.

As Home Educators working alongside your own children, you are at an advantage.  You know your children better than any teacher could ever hope to. This will help you to know how much challenge to give your child.  We know it still won’t be easy and talking to Home Educators about this shows us that this is a topic of concern for many of you.

This diagram is helpful in giving you a strategy for ensuring that you offer enough challenge to motivate your child but not so much that he/she could not achieve what you have asked and therefore become demoralised.

ZPDThe optimal challenge is within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This zone lies just beyond what your child currently has understanding of.

If we, as maths leaders, give our children work that is too hard they will become demoralised; stop having a go and lose self esteem.

That is why this diagram is so useful, once your child begins to believe they can’t do maths turning that around again is very difficult.

Everyone misjudges the amount of challenge a child can cope with from time to time.  If that happens the skill then is to back track quickly to the area of current understanding of your child in whatever topic he/she is studying and challenge again from there.  Small steps help.

Working alongside your child and asking questions about his/her thinking will help you to recognise whether the amount of challenge is enough.

This strategy can be used in any area of study your child is undertaking.