Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Your Child with Math Homework
Every day when I get home from work my two teen girls meet me at the door asking me for help with math homework. At the beginning of this school year, I realized a pattern – they were often not even starting the assignment before coming to me for help. I would ask them casually, “What concepts are you struggling with?” When I continued to receive blank stares, I realized that my eagerness to help my kids was enabling them to give up easily, not take risks or rely on their own problem-solving skills, and immediately seek help when they encountered a potentially challenging concept.
Whether you are a homeschool parent or just trying to help your child with math homework, you know that math can often cause frustration and anxiety within the home. If you want your child to be resourceful, persistent, and confident in mathematics it is important to encourage him or her to take ownership over their own work and try to solve problems on their own before coming to you for help. The following do’s and don’ts of helping your child with math homework will help you turn homework time into a positive and productive experience.
Top 3 Do’s of Helping Your Child with Math Homework
1. Do remember whose work it is. This does not mean that you have to leave your child completely on their own to grapple with the challenging math concepts. Instead, facilitate the process and support your child while helping them take responsibility for their work. A few simple ways to do this is by asking your kids to explain their thinking out loud while they solve problems, including anything that confuses them along the way. You can also ask questions that will prompt good math discussions and help you gauge your child’s understanding such as:
How did you solve this problem?
Is this a reasonable answer, why or why not?
What is a good estimate for this problem?
What’s another way you could have solved this problem?
How does [this concept] relate to [another concept]?
Math vocabulary can also cause a lot of misunderstandings. Motivate your child to look up key words or concepts in their textbook or class notes if they are struggling with a particular concept or skill.
2. Do encourage your child to show their work and describe their thinking next to each problem. My kids are often hesitant to mix math with writing, but doing so can really help students make connections and develop more of a conceptual understanding. This record of their thinking will help you find errors in their approach and interrupt misunderstandings. It can also serve as a great review before a big test!
3. Do get excited about mathematics! Point out math in your everyday life, research cool jobs with your kids that use math such as animators, architects, chefs, forensic scientists, or astronauts. Find cool mathematic patterns or concepts in the real world. Look for ways to have fun with math like designing tessellations or playing math games together like Soduko, Monopoly, Battleship, Dominos, etc. You can even make math games out of playing cards or everyday craftobjects. This can help relieve a lot of the stress and anxiety that is often present surrounding mathematics. Math can and should be a fun experience for your family.
Top 3 Dont’s of Helping Your Child with Math Homework
1. Don’t panic if you do not know how to do the mathematics your child is struggling with. Doing so may signal negative thoughts and increase anxieties surrounding mathematics for your child. There are many free resources that will help you better understand the math concepts your child is learning about. My favorite is the Kahn Academy, a free online mathematic database of helpful videos organized by strand and concept. You can even watch the videos with your child to better understand concepts you both find challenging.
2. Don’t get discouraged by new approaches to old concepts. Every major industry has advanced greatly in the last 25 years… medicine, technology, transportation, etc. Education and tools for teaching have followed suit; approaches today are much more student-centered. There are new approaches to the same concepts that are much more conceptual and easier for kids to make sense of and remember. One example would be the partial quotients method of long division. Research and embrace these new approaches and your child will feel comfortable embracing them as well.
3. Don’t assume your child is receiving homework at his or her appropriate level of understanding. If you are not homeschooling your child it is important to have frequent conversations with your child’s math teacher to better understand their strengths, weaknesses, and progress. Be proactive in asking for extra practice that covers what your child needs most. There are also online programs that offer differentiated lessons at your child’s appropriate level of instruction, such as SmartTutor (shameless plug!).