Should Your Child's Math Homework Be Written Neatly?

A look at when to prioritize neat math handwriting, and when to put the focus on understanding math concepts.
By Jennifer Hogan
Mar 16, 2016



Should Your Child's Math Homework Be Written Neatly?

Mar 16, 2016

Is it worth your time to remind kids to use neat handwriting?
This is a question many parents struggle with. Even me.

There are many battles we have to fight with our children, and as we've all learned, some of them are more worthy than others. Writing neatly is an argument I have with my son Timmy almost every day while he does his homework. Now Timmy is very capable and can write neatly but often chooses not to. Recently though, he lost points on a test because his teacher couldn’t read what he wrote. This was very eye-opening for him and meant more than all the conversations we’ve ever had about it.

So in getting back to the original question on whether writing math homework neatly is important, in this case the answer falls in the middle, dependent on your child. When it comes to math, writing neatly is very important — but not more important than your child learning and understanding the math concepts. I wouldn’t battle with Tim about neat handwriting if he wasn't able to focus on his math and writing at the same time. I've had many students who rush and choose not to make their handwriting legible. The end result is often careless mistakes, which lead to errors and confusion. On the other hand, I’ve had students who struggle to comprehend the math concepts being taught, and find writing their thinking in either equations, models (pictures), or in words very challenging. For these students, the focus should be understanding the math. Not worrying about legible handwriting.

As parents, we need to find a balance and identify what is most important and beneficial for our own kids. Some children should have neatness reinforced at home, even if that means constant reminders. Others need to spend their attention and time on getting their math thinking "out" and onto the paper. We know our children best; it’s OK as a parent to step in at certain times and make your child erase and fix her handwriting. Other times, it may make more sense to step in and do the writing for your child. If your child can verbally tell you what she's thinking, but is struggling to show it, don’t hesitate to lend a hand with the writing.

Tools to Help Kids Get Neat and Organized
A great tool for helping with writing math neatly is graph paper. My children use graph paper every night as “scratch” paper, and then staple those sheets of graph paper to their homework. Consider a first grader trying to draw circles to show her thinking, and making circles that are all different sizes and are scattered all over the page. Even though her model and answer is correct, her work is very disorganized and hard to read. Asking her to show her thinking on graph paper will help her to organize her thoughts. All her circles can fit inside a “square,” which means they'll likely be similar in size. If she consistently uses the graph paper to do computations, draw pictures/models, write equations, etc., she will naturally begin to write neatly and will transfer this skill when writing on a blank page.

Nothing is scarier for a student than staring at a blank space and knowing they have to fill that space up with something. Giving children a tool like graph paper can help put them at ease and begin to make the right steps towards neatness.

Below are links for different sized graph paper. Keep in mind, that it's important to choose your graph paper wisely. For younger students, I recommend a large sized graph paper, with one-inch squares. Then you can size down as they get older and need more room. 

Giving young kids the tools they need makes a difference not only in their handwriting but also in their learning. So whatever math concept your child is being taught, remember to make that the focus. Encourage good handwriting and accuracy, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming and frustrating for everyone!

If you are struggling to help your child with his or her math homework, submit your questions to Jennifer and she might answer in an upcoming blog.

Featured photo credit: Jupiter Images/Thinkstock

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