Helping kids with math homework — and math in general — can be challenging for any parent. Yes, even one who's a math teacher! As an educator and a mother, I can obviously help my children with their math homework, but I don’t want to be their math teacher at night — I just want to be their mom. I also don't want to confuse them by explaining something in a different way, or introducing a new concept they haven't yet learned.
I often struggle to remember which role I’m supposed to play and when, but having the perspective of both parent and math teacher has benefitted me in one key way: I know there are helpful ways for parents to assist a child with math learning and nightly homework — and things that are less helpful. Here are the five things that, as a math teacher, I wish my students' parents knew:
1. Don't re-teach lessons. Remember, you're the parent, not the teacher. It’s not your job to re-teach math lessons at home. If your child is really having difficulty with a concept, send a note or email your child’s teacher to let her know your child could not complete the homework independently. What you can do at home to help your child become a stronger math student is play math games, go on math scavenger hunts, keep a math journal, and teach your child to see math in the everyday world. The most important thing is for your child to learn to embrace math and have fun with it.
2. Teach everyday math skills at home. CompletIng workbook pages at home can be helpful (and Scholastic has a wide selection of age-appropriate math activity books), but I recommend that you spend your time teaching your kids everyday math skills. Telling time, memorizing math facts, counting money and making change, and calculating a tip are all extremely useful math skills that you can teach your child. Leave the challenging concepts for the math classroom and focus on math skills that your child will need to be a successful and independent person.
3. Math homework can have mistakes. It’s okay for your child to hand in math homework with mistakes. I feel that homework should be an assignment that all students can complete independently, and if your child can't, then don’t hesitate to reach out so his teacher is aware that the homework too hard, too long, or too complicated. Mistakes on homework allow the teacher to form appropriate lessons to reteach and review concepts that are difficult.
4. Encourage your child to ask questions and take risks. Every day, I ask my children what risks they took while at school. Teach your child to ask questions and be okay with not knowing the answer. It’s so important for children to explore problems and learn from their mistakes. Encourage your child to ask questions in front of the class or privately. Asking questions and taking risks with thinking is a huge part of becoming a confident math student.
5. Teach perseverance. This is an imperative skill for all students to become successful problem solvers. So many people think that being good at math means being fast. I couldn’t disagree more. My most successful students are the ones who can look at problems in different ways and solve a problem with multiple strategies, which takes time and patience. Find ways to encourage and teach your child perseverance at home. Play strategic games, complete sudokus or kenkens, and solve brainteasers. Help your child see that with determination and persistence she will succeed!
Paul Halmos, a famous mathematician, said, “The only way to LEARN math is to DO math.” We need to guide our children to “do” their own thinking and not do it for them.