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Dealing with study tantrums

icon4It’s everyone’s worst nightmare – it’s late, the homework sheet is only half done, study time is eating well into play time, and your child is visibly unhappy. It won’t be too long before they throw the pencil and bellow, at the top of their lungs: “I HATE maths!”

Study tantrums are nothing new. In fact, they’re hardly exclusive to children. We’ve all had days when frustration at our lack of progress makes us want to give up. The reasoning being: “This thing doesn’t respond to my sincere efforts, therefore it’s the thing’s fault.” Experience teaches us when it’s a good time to take a break and when we ought to persevere, so the tantrums become less regular and more self-contained.

But where adults usually have the benefit of hindsight, children do not, and therefore it becomes a lot more difficult to convince them to push through the fatigue and anger. Sometimes, the tantrum sentiment – “I hate maths” – becomes so permanently ingrained, we stop putting in the effort at all and convince ourselves that the subject isn’t worth it.

At DoodleMaths, our main product is an app that personalizes a child’s work program, but the superior value we aim for is fostering a positive attitude towards learning. This post is about some more strategies you can implement to change those attitudes

1. “(T)antrums are seldom about the thing they appear to be about.” – Dianna Wynne Jones

It might be worth asking yourself (and your child) why they find maths so difficult – it’s not necessarily this particular piece of homework which is causing them a problem, but rather the way things are at school. Are they in the right groupings? Are they keeping up with their friends?

2. There’s a reason why we’re learning this, I swear!

People learn differently, and some find it easier when theoretical concepts are related to a real-world example. Money is a fairly straightforward case study, but there’s also measurements in cooking, geometry in architecture, higher maths in engineering and physics, or even rhythmic measures in music, poetry, and song writing.

3. Take 5. Or 50, even.

Sometimes the best thing you can do when you see a child struggling with a problem is to let them take a break. It’s better to enjoy play time and have a go at the problems again in the morning, than go to bed angry. Furthermore, downtime gives you a chance to come up with a different way of explaining the concept later. Which brings us to…

4. The 30 second rule.

If something takes more than 30 seconds to explain to a child, then it’s likely that you’re overcomplicating it or the concept’s too difficult. It might be worth reconsidering your explanation or the level of work set to your child.

5. Learning with confidence.

Tantrums occur when children aren’t given the opportunity to experiment and learn on their own terms. If they’re finding something difficult, let them build their confidence by giving them easier examples.

Finally, it’s important to remember that attitudes are as important to success as serious study and application. Indeed, according to neurologists and psychotherapists like Oliver Sacks and Philippa Perry, we experience the world through our internal “narrative truths” (our own perception) rather than what we refer to as “objective truth.” In that regard, we should take every opportunity to build positive narrative truths and successful problem-solving skills from early on, to keep learning from becoming a chore.    

Beat the summer learning slump – with one final great assignment

Children learn best through doing – this is one of the cornerstones of our philosophy. We’re also firm believers in the idea that learning and fun are not only compatible, they are mutually supportive.

Let’s make students’ assignments even more interesting this summer, and beat the learning slump by having them find answers to the most common question they pose.

“What am I going to use maths for in real life?”

This summer, your students are researchers, and you will be their captive audience. Have them find at least five areas where maths is working in real life, then make a project to present come September. (For example, how many grains of sand are there on the beach? How much money does the campsite make every summer? How long does it take to drive to Granny’s house? How many people watched the World Cup? Count the petals on a flower – why is it that it is frequently 3, 5, 8, 13, 21… i.e. the Fibonacci sequence?)

This project could take any form the student likes:

  • It could be a poster with pictures and drawings. (Or a comic strip – superhero themes are popular with boys and girls alike.)
  • It could be a slideshow. (Bonus points: Best one gets to be your in-class screensaver for September.)
  • It could be invisible (but the student has to present it and explain to the class what it is and why it is invisible.)
  • It could be in 3-D, if they decide to build models from paper or play-dough to bring to class. (The parents would love helping out with that, trust us. Your students might actually have to tell their Mum and Dad to leave them to work on their own.)
  • It could be a story, or a demonstration – maybe a few students would like to get together as a group and act out their project in front of the class? (Teamwork is not a skill you only learn at University, after all.)(Extra-super bonus points if the children put it in rhyme – it can be your new class song!)

Bring it a step further – maybe you can make it a joint project and have your students start both maths and English with a bang in September. And the more interactive the challenge is, the better! (There is a lot of scientific evidence to support the idea – this article on “embodied cognition” from The Fuse is a must-read.)

Emphasise the FUN! This isn’t a competition (although, of course, gold stars and chocolate don’t go out of style,) and hopefully your students would love an assignment that gives them freedom of expression and the ability to create something from scratch.

(BTW, for those of you who are parents as well, or want to give advice for fun learning activities to Mums and Dads, check out our complementary post with summer learning ideas.)

Make the most of your holidays – tips and ideas to keep learning over summer

Did you know? Kit Kat became a huge hit in Japan partly on accident. The name of the product sounds vaguely like a popular saying: Kitto Katsu, which means I will do my best. As such, their famous tagline (“Have a break, have a Kit Kat,”) turned into “Make the most of your break.”

A break can be very productive indeed – a time for rest, but also a time to reinforce what’s already been learnt with practical application. With this in mind, we compiled some ideas to make this summer magnificent as well as maths-efficient.

1. Are we there yet?

One of the best features of our DoodleMaths app is that it doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet to function, which makes it the perfect travel companion. But in case your iPad battery runs out, and you don’t have a charger on hand, a road trip is a great way to introduce or reinforce the concept of time x speed = distance.

You can decide how simple or complex your terms will be – the distance can be 60 miles, or 6 parts, and you can travel 15 of them per hour, or 1.5, depending on your child’s level and understanding, and you can introduce more terms the more you travel.

2. Geometry by the seaside

Who doesn’t like building sand castles, or digging a moat? How many geometric figures can you think of that can be found in a single building? Cubes and pyramids for towers, rhombuses and circles in windows, or walls; bricks shaped like rectangles or squares, drawing bridges that make triangles (how much rope will you need to make this drawbridge work, if it’s this long and the gate – this tall?)

In fact, why not apply the same logic next time you visit a real castle? Make a game of how many figures you can find from one point, and let your child get creative.

3. Magic in the kitchen

You may not think of it this way, but every time you cook, you are a modern-day alchemist and the kitchen is your laboratory. So why not get a little assistant this summer to help with your potions, and maybe try out applied maths along the way (and applied physics, and applied chemistry, if they are so inclined. First lesson: recognizing all the safety warnings on bottles and jars!)

Try this – if you need to measure 450 grams of flour for your cookies, ditch the measuring glass and give your child a 200 ml mug, and let them work out how much they need to scoop out. If you need 100 grams of yoghurt for a recipe, what percentage of the tub do they need to spoon in? How many 225 gram portions are there in a 3 kg chicken?

4. Lego-block scheduling

No need to negotiate study time on the spot – let your child build it themselves with some age-appropriate Lego-blocks, and have them learn about time (hours, half hours, quarter hours) along the way.

Classify activities in three different colours for each type (blue for play, yellow for study (perhaps the 7/8/9/10-a-day?) and green for time spent with friends,) and set a limit to the minimum number of hours assigned for a regular 8-hour day. (At least one yellow to every four blue, for example.) Then just sit back and watch them go! 

5. Finally – why not settle down for some good old-fashioned geometry art?

Who knew you can have so much fun with a Spirograph? Get some basic shapes with a regular pencil for your kids to fill in, then let them get creative. Try to give them as much freedom as possible (while making sure any pointy bits are safely handled) – it’s okay to be a little messy with the figures, your children will find out soon enough how to make the most of what they’ve got.

Geometry art is actually quite fascinating and can be taken to incredible places – just check out samples of this artist’s work over at We-Elevate or, if you prefer videos, Vi Hart has some amazing stuff out there.


Now it’s your turn. What are your favourite educational activities for summer?   

Why is it acceptable for children to say “I’m not very good at maths”?

If we hear a child say ‘I can’t read very well’, we do something – praise the child, motivate, encourage. And it’s rare to hear an adult saying they’re a poor reader. When it comes to maths, though, it’s a different matter. We’ve probably all heard, “…and I can’t help him, because I’ve always been rubbish at maths…” or similar. We may even have said it ourselves.

Therein lies the problem. Children will tell you they’re bad at maths because they hear adults say it, or worse, their own parents. It becomes socially acceptable – it’s already socially acceptable, and in some cases, almost a badge of honour. Compare this to reading, and you’ll see the struggle we’re up against. It is ingrained in our culture and has been for a generation.

But at the end of the day, isn’t maths just the same as reading – and really, just as straightforward. Children need encouragement, motivation and praise to build self-esteem and confidence. They need the foundations, repetition and practice…. above all… lots and lots of practice. Great parents listen to their children read every day.

We need more parents spending time talking about maths at home. And adults must remember they are role models to children – especially with maths – and as such, need to be confident with it, or certainly appear confident, in front of children. Good teachers know this and are experts at blagging when they don’t know the answer. Perhaps we need to help parents become better blaggers at maths!

Preparing for SATs: what can you do?

It’s that time of year when many Year 6 students can feel under pressure to perform SATs examwell in SATs. The pressure can come from school, home or their peers, but whichever the case, too much can be counter-productive: anxious students perform badly in exams, and if a child develops a fear of exams, it can lead to significant issues through secondary school.

So how to we prepare our child for the exams whilst keeping things low key? Try these tips below:

  • Revise in short bursts of 20 minutes.
  • Get fresh air between each session.
  • Active revision is best: to improve percentages, work through some percentages questions, easier to harder. If you need to learn names of shapes, draw them out in a table, or draw them on your child’s back and get them to guess. But don’t ever allow your child to stare at a page…
  • Your child should work at their level: if they are realistically hoping to achieve a level 5, try to work on questions at this level (if you are a DoodleMaths user, the questions will automatically be at the right level of challenge, or alternatively, you can search level 5 questions topics in the index by searching “L5″)
  • Do old SATs papers: these can be found for free at, including the mark schemes if you get stuck.
  • Tutors work if they are good but bad tutors can be counter-productive. Get a recommendation, but give yourself plenty of time – good tutors will not want to ‘cram’ students at the last minute (nor will they have time).
  • When working with your child on, say, percentages, ask them to explain to you what they already know, then build on this. You will gain useful knowledge of where the gaps lie, and your child will help gain confidence in what they already know.
  • If you are explaining a concept to your child, use the one-minute rule: if you can’t explain it in one minute, your child is likely to lose concentration and understanding – so come back to it later before a row develops!
  • The focus of any feedback from parents or teachers should be based on areas of strength and weakness, rather than levels: “Dai, you got a 4c” is uninformative and pressurizing; “Well done, Dai, you got the percentages question right this time, but we still need to work on equivalent fractions” is much more helpful.
  • Finally, eat and sleep well on the week of the exams!

Good luck!

What’s in the SATs? When are the SATs?

If your child is doing Year 6 SATs this year, they will be tested in maths and English. The Science SAT paper was discontinued in 2011.


Maths SATs consist of three papers: Mental Maths (20 mins), Non-calulator paper (45 mins) and Calculator paper ( 45 mins). A few children will sit two additional Level 6 papers in maths – both of which are 45 minutes.

English SATs have a reading paper (1 hour) and a Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling paper (aka SPAG test) which lasts 45 minutes. A few children will sit additional Level 6 reading tests and SPAG tests. The writing tasks were discontinued in 2012 and this is now teacher-assessed.

Children are not automatically entered into the Level 6 papers. Your school will contact you to discuss this if they feel it would be beneficial to your child.

Here are the dates:

Monday 12 May English Reading Test
Tuesday 13 May English Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling (SPaG)
Wednesday 14 May Mental Maths Test and Maths Paper 1
Thursday 15 May Maths Paper 2

What are SATs… and why do our children do them?

The first in our series of SATs-themed posts.

Is your child in Year 6? In a state school? If so, it is likely that they will be sitting SATs next month.

ImageSATs (Statutory Assessment Tests) are sat in mid-May by Year 6 students in England.

The tests are in English and maths and are spread over four days, taking around 5.5 hours to complete. There are three maths papers: two written, both non-calculator as of 2014, and a 20 question mental arithmetic test. There are two English papers: reading and “SPAG”, Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar; as of 2013, writing has been teacher-assessed.

The results are sent to your child’s school in July, where they are checked by the school. By law, parents must receive their child’s results broken down by subject before the end of the summer term. You will get a report with SATs levels for each subject. The report will also contain a ‘teacher assessment’, which is your child’s teacher’s own perception of the child’s performance.

SATs results are used to measure how well children are doing nationally, how well your child’s school is performing both nationally and to compare the progress made by the specific cohort (year group) at your child’s school. The tests may also be used by your child’s secondary school for setting purposes.

The results will give you a good idea about how your child is performing at this stage and help guide you in how you support them in the next few years.


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