Make Math Part of Daily Conversation
Valli recommends looking for ways to work math into your daily activities with your child. For example, if your early-elementary child is with you at the grocery store, you might ask her, How many cookies do you think are in that package? and then, How did you come up with that answer? Most likely, your child will say something about the size of the package and how big cookies are. “Viola! Now she’s thinking about numbers as not just items in a number line, but as things that are related to shape, volume, and other spatial aspects,” says Valli. Even if she doesn’t guess correctly—and odds are she won’t—it doesn’t matter. She’s learning to think visually about math, a key concept for math success in higher grades.
If your kid is in an upper-elementary grade, try challenging him to guess how many slices are in a loaf of bread you’re buying. You might talk about how thick he thinks each slice measures, how long the loaf of bread is, and the relationship between the two. You can help your child come up with his best estimate, and look forward to going home and finding out how close he was.
Looking for other examples? Try cooking with your child to teach measurements, going on a backyard scavenger hunt looking for shapes, figuring out averages and winning percentages for favorite athletes and teams, and calculating which size or brand of cereal gives you the most for your money. What you choose will depend on the age of your child, but all of these are creative ways to make math seem relevant in kids’ every day lives, says Nicole Welge, a first-grade teacher in Yonkers. “That’s my biggest piece of advice. Show math to be what it is at its most basic level—puzzles, brain teasers, mysteries, and riddles that you need to solve.”
Have Older Siblings Help with Homework
If your struggling child has an older sibling with a can-do attitude toward math, put her to work, suggests Bernstein. Your child may be more eager to tackle his multiplication tables with a sibling he looks up to at his side. Another plus: Big bro or sis will have a fresher memory of the work than you do. Does the assistant need a bit of an incentive? “The older sibling can earn extra allowance by tutoring. This can teach the older sibling responsibility, so it’s a win-win,” Welge says.
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Ask Teachers for Help
Parents are way too hesitant to ask teachers for help understanding their child’s homework, said the experts we spoke to. Yet that is the easiest and most effective way to help your child. “No teacher in her right mind would deny you a request that helps her student and makes her job easier,” says Brower. That help may include sending home manipulatives (after explaining what they are!), giving you a list of good websites with relevant math games, or for younger kids especially, suggesting songs and rhymes that help concepts click, explains Welge.
Teachers often hear from parents who want to show their child how to do math the way they learned it. “Parents will say it seems easier, and isn’t just getting the right answer the point?” Welge says. Well, yes and no. One of the main tenets of Common Core math at all levels is understanding—really understanding—the process. That allows kids to move seamlessly to the next level. “You ultimately are going to be making it harder for your child by teaching him your way,” Welge says. At test time, kids are going to be expected to write out how they arrived at the answer, in detail, and your way is not what the teacher will be able to grade on. Again, ask your teacher to show you how to do it the new way. Many schools are holding refresher math classes for parents for just this reason.
With hard work and the right attitude, math homework doesn’t have to be a battlefield or source of endless frustration—for you or you child.
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