Ask the Expert: What do I say when my child asks, 'When will I need to know this?'


We spoke to Jayanthi Raghunath,  director and instructor of the Kumon Math and Reading Centers of Spring Valley and New City, to find out more about the roles parents play in motivating kids and helping them understand why school work is a personal investment.


What is your best answer to the age-old question from kids when it comes to schoolwork: When will I ever need to know this? in the real world?

It depends on the child’s age and what [subject] you’re trying to talk about. You explain things according their age and comprehension. It’s very important for teachers to talk to them about it as their going on with their education from grade to grade. I think it’s particularly helpful if teachers are able to correlate things to them.

If its and elementary school child asking “Why am I learning addition?” it’s easy to tell the child that when they go to the store they’ll need to know how much they’re buying items for. They’ll want to know the correct change for the money they’re giving, so they need to know subtraction. 

If we’re talking about middle school work, for an example you’d talk about when they’re older and want to buy a house. They’ll need to price their mortgages and figure out all their monthly costs, they’ll need all of the percentages they’ll be studying in middle school. If they go to buy a car, is it leasing or buying the car that’s the better option? If they finance, what percentage of interest will it add to the cost of the car? 

What if my child is less than enthused about subjects other than math?

History is a subject that actually makes things happen. Why are we in this world of computer-based work now? Where were we 50 years ago? Where were we 20 years ago?  How things are changing, technology—that’s all part of history. We have independence here. Who brought this independence to our country? What wars went on to finally achieve the kind of life children enjoy? These are things that, as they mature, they have to understand. There may not be a practical application in their mind. History may not be their best subject. It may not be their favorite subject to study at this point, but as they grow older their going to be using this kind of knowledge to appreciate what’s going on around them. 

Their English and Language arts are the most important. They need to be able to understand what they are reading. When they are speaking they’ll want to use grammatically correct English, so they need grammar. Their vocabulary has to be very strong; otherwise conversations will become boring with simple words. As they grow older they have to write résumés that are absolutely perfect to give a description of themselves with they apply for jobs. If they’re in a marketing job, communication is all through text. Even if they want something like a TV job—if they’re going to be scriptwriters—they need to have strong language skills.


Do you have tips for helping my son understand that doing homework is an investment in his future, not a punishment?

Children don’t enjoy homework when they don’t understand something. If they understand something and want to know more about it they are going enjoy doing the homework because it’s a part of learning. The parents and teachers don’t always have to make it seem like doing paper and pencil work is the only way to do learn. When families go out on the weekends and go to museums and art shows this is part of education; it’s all connected.

There are a million things that children can achieve later on. Children are very much into video games. Who comes up with these video games? It’s all computer geeks who are able to do all the coding. And how does that happen?  Through mathematics! They have to understand that this isn’t just something they have fun with… somebody has to put in the effort behind it. When they’re adults they have to contribute to society and they need to know how they’re going to contribute.


How can I make homework fun for my daughter when I have no interest in what she is studying?

When children are going to school and getting educated, parents should know that, first and foremost, education starts at home and children mimic what parents do. Parents have to be totally into their children’s education right from the beginning. Some parents may not be highly educated to they may not be able to contribute the way other parents can. I personally think that giving kids the support system by being at home to make sure the homework gets done and fostering and environment where children feel like “Hey, my mom is helping me, my dad is giving me moral support, I should do what I can, the best way I can.” That’s more important than helping with the subject itself.

Jayanthi Raghunath is the director and instructor of the Kumon Math and Reading Centers of Spring Valley and New City. In her nearly 25 years as a Kumon instructor, she has helped more than 4,000 children of various backgrounds to develop their learning abilities.

Raghunath has a Masters Degree in Biochemistry, has served as a research fellow at Rockefeller University.