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Tips for helping your elementary school child with math homework

Exploring math in everyday life is one way to make numbers less intimidating.

By Brian Inglesby, M.A., L.E.P.

For many parents, the subject of math arouses feelings of anxiety — perhaps conjuring up memories of timed tests, difficult concepts, or embarrassing mistakes made in class. If you think of math as something that other people are good at or that has no practical use, your attitude may undermine your ability to coach your child. Take the fear and frustration out of math homework by pointing out how numbers are used in your home on a daily basis.

Covering your bases

  • If math makes you nervous, try not to pass on your feelings to your child. Share only what is helpful, not harmful.
  • You may want to rely on a tutor, older sibling, or peer tutor to help your child with math. Check if his school has a peer-tutoring program.
  • Begin each math homework session by asking your child to explain what she's supposed to do. By her response, you'll know if she can do the assignment alone or if she needs help.
  • If you're not around when your child completes his homework, let him know that you'll look it over when you get home. Be sure to follow through. Tell him you're doing this to help him, not judge him.
  • Encourage your child to check in with a classmate if she doesn't understand or misses an assignment.

Home is where the math is

  • Explore math in everyday life — counting out forks to set the table, pouring from a gallon of milk, telling the time when his favorite TV program begins. When kids realize that math is all around them, they begin to relax and see its meaning in their lives.
  • Show how math is more than learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Math also teaches us to analyze, reason, and plan. These are useful skills that transfer over to reading and writing as well.
  • Model analytical and mathematical thinking. Be a problem solver, pose questions, and find solutions. Talk about likenesses and differences, and explain your reasoning.
  • Encourage your child to explain his problem-solving process so you can understand his reasoning.
  • When driving to school or the store, talk about how numbers help us determine how fast we drive, the distance traveled, the mileage the car gets per gallon of gas, and how long it will take to get home.
  • Expose your child to money in her early school years. Have her collect coins in a piggy bank and count them out regularly. If she receives an allowance, have her keep track of the amount or start a bank account.
  • Have your child use an analog and a digital watch to learn both methods of telling time.
  • Incorporate games involving numbers and math into playtime — from flash cards for learning basic math facts to board games involving money, time, and logic.
  • Post a chart of math facts in your child's room. Some activities and games can help kids memorize math concepts.
  • Educational video games and learning software can also reinforce math skills, from arithmetic to algebra. Older students may want to use calendars and spreadsheets to plan out their daily or weekly schedules.
  • When helping your child, ask questions to guide him through the process, such as "Where do you begin?" "What do you need to find out?" "Can you show me in a drawing how you got the answer?"
  • It's OK to say that you don't understand a problem. It gives you an opportunity to review the lesson together to see if you've missed an important piece of information.
  • Establish a clear understanding with your child's teacher about the frequency and amount of homework she'll receive. Modification of homework may increase her motivation and productivity. With her teacher, decide if she needs to do fewer problems, or if she can say the answers out loud and you can write them for her, or if she can check her work with a calculator.

Brian Inglesby, M.A., is a licensed educational psychologist who enjoys the challenges of working with students with a broad spectrum of learning issues. Of special interest to him is the opportunity to provide teachers, parents, and students with the ability to better understand and manage a student's unique learning profile.


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