8 Things Parents Need to Know About Helping Their Kids With Math

Math can be a real point of tension between parent and child. Here’s how to encourage math learning in everyday life and how to cope when stress mounts over math homework.

“I hated math in school!”

“You know, I was just never any good at math!”

For many parents, mathematics conjures up feelings of fear, anxiety — even hatred. In those memories, math class might mean opaque and impenetrable language written on blackboards or endless pages of questions to tackle. It might mean trying to decide whether or not to speak up if you “don’t get it.” Math class was a scary place for many of us.

It might have been something you just “got through” to get the marks or the credit. Sadly, kids aren’t often shown the beauty, wonder — and yes — usefulness of math. Our curriculum is too broad and packed with literally hundreds of expectations.

Love or hate of math starts young. Children are born with a certain sense of number, which can be nurtured and developed over time. No child is born hating math. Parents need to be careful about giving self-defeating messages like, “I was never good at math.” Our children pay attention to our mindsets. And when was the last time you heard someone say, “You know, I was just never any good at reading?”

Parents have a lot of power to help their children develop positive mindsets towards mathematics.

Here are 5 practical tips parents can use to help their children to learn and love math.

1. Make math talk a part of your everyday life.

Ask questions like “how many?”, “how much”, or “how long?” in everyday situations.

For example, you could take a pile of coins, and ask “how much?” Kids love to count. If your child wants to save up for a fidget spinner (or the latest fad du jour), make her count up all the change in your house. When driving, pay attention to road signs that show how far it is to your destination. Ask, “how long do you think it will take to get there?”

These “how many?”, “how much?”, and “”how long?” questions can lead to powerful math talk.

2. Play.

Many games are full of mathematics. Play games with dice or cards to practise number facts. Who needs flash cards when you have a deck of cards? Flip over two cards and add, subtract, or multiply them, depending on what operation your child is working on. Use multiple dice to practise adding or multiplying. Set a target number, say, 12, and have your child roll three dice to see if he can get close or right on. Play card games like Uno, War or Cribbage with cards, or Farkle with dice, to practise number skills. Practising number facts doesn’t need to be boring!

3. Take your child shopping.

In the grocery store, have your child look at the cart right before you pay and guess how much the total will be. Have them pick three items that they think will total about $10. Point out signs that show savings, like “50 cents off.”

Show them the units that are used for dry goods, meat or liquids in containers. “How much meat do you think is in one pound?” “How many smaller cans of Coke would fit into a 2 Litre bottle?

Many cities and towns have Costco; it’s the “mathiest” store there is. It’s full of rates, large packages, large containers and rich opportunities for math talk. So take them along next time!

4. Track data

Do you like sports? Track data with your child and talk about bias, predictions and even advertising.

“What does it mean to have a goal against average?” “What is a batting average?” “Who is more likely to score a goal from the blue line?”

Making math meaningful shows just how important it is, not just in sports. However, by tracking data in sports, kids might make some great predictions about the Superbowl!

5. Ask for explanations.

Math is not just about getting the right answer. In fact, shifting mindsets about math class begins with how math class is evaluated. A big piece of the puzzle is about problem-solving and using different strategies to engage in the math processes rather than just repetitive computational questions.

Instead of asking for simple computations, ask them how they came up with the solution. Solutions, rather than simple answers, imply the problem was rich in nature and can be solved in more than one way. Contractors do this all the time, so you might ask yours, “Why did you build the deck this way?”

Here’s a little video we made on this approach to encouraging everyday math learning:

Tips For Helping Your Child With Math Homework

6. Take a break. De-escalate homework stress in the moment when your kid is losing it. No homework is worth doing damage to your family life. Put the homework down, and go for a walk, or try another peaceful activity. Write a note to the teacher explaining the stressful evening you had, and that your child’s homework will not be done this time.

7. Look online. You might need help when you’re out of your depth with the math itself. There are numerous instructional videos on YouTube or Khan Academy that can explain concepts to you in simple ways. Better yet, go to TVO Homework Help. They have live tutors to help with math every night of the week!

8. Talk to the teacher. Don’t struggle in silence! You might need to speak to your child’s teacher about extra help or tutoring. Schools often have homework clubs or math-specific tutoring available. And there’s nothing wrong with needing to outsource math support to an expert. It may just free you from a difficult dynamic and open the door to more enjoyable school nights.

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Matthew Oldridge and Brian Aspinall

About

Brian Aspinall and Matthew Oldridge are passionate mathematics educators, thinkers, writers, and TEDx speakers. They spend their time thinking about ways to get kids thinking about interesting mathematics and solving problems while coding, "Let kids surprise you with the power of their thinking!"


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