Watch the NCTM video Parents Supporting Mathematics Learning.
Curb Your Own Math Anxiety. Research has shown that when parents who are anxious about math help their children with math homework, they tend to pass that anxiety along to their children. Try to set your own feelings aside when supporting your child during homework time. If this is not possible, support your child’s math skill development in other ways, and seek homework help from other sources (e.g., friends, tutors, libraries, community resource centers) if needed.
Find a Space. Find a quiet, well-lit space in which your child can work with minimum distraction. This means no television, loud music, or phone calls. If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. Your child’s homework area doesn’t have to be fancy. For many students, a desk is nice, but a kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just as well. Some libraries have centers, areas, or programs designed especially to assist children with homework.
Provide Supplies. Provide supplies such as counters (e.g., pennies, beans), paper, pencils, erasers, scissors, rulers, and calculators within reach. If you can’t provide your child with the supplies needed, check with your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, or principal about possible sources of assistance.
Set a Regular Homework Time. Some students may prefer to complete their homework right after school while others may work better after unwinding with a snack and some play time. Still others may set up a study time with the rest of the family after dinner. Find an uninterrupted period of time when your student can do his or her best work, and try to keep this time regular.
Monitor the Work. Parents can help with directions and give guidance, but make sure your child does his or her own work. Students must think for themselves, develop their own strategies, revise their work, and make and correct their own mistakes in order to learn. Be sure to let your child know that you value hard work and perseverance, and that it is good to work diligently on a problem. Be accepting of strategies and solutions that are different from the ones you might choose. Give encouragement, check completed homework, and try to answer the questions your child may have.
Watch for Frustration. If your child gets frustrated, encourage him or her to take a break. After the break, remain positive and provide guidance as needed. If the homework seems overwhelming, help your student break the work into manageable chunks with time for short breaks if possible. If there are continuing problems with homework, talk about it with your child’s teacher.
- Do you understand what you’re supposed to do?
- Should we reread the instructions?
- Are there words in the instructions that you don’t understand?
- Can you check the glossary for a definition?
- Can you tell me in your own words what the assignment is about?
- Do you need help in understanding how to do this assignment?
- Do you have everything you need to do the assignment?
You can assist your child as he or she solves problems by asking questions such as:
- Did you read the problem carefully?
- What do you know about this problem?
- Can we act out the problem?
- Would a picture help you understand the problem?
- What do you need to find out?
- What information is important?
- Are there words you do not understand? Let’s use the glossary.
- How could you begin?
- Have you solved problems like this before that could help?
- Are there sample problems in your materials or in the Reference Section?
- Can any tools help you solve the problem?
- Did you answer the question?
- Is your answer reasonable? How do you know?
- Does this part make sense?
Did you check your calculations?
- Can you find another way to solve this problem so you can check it?
- Did you check your calculations? Do you need to recheck your work?
- Did you make any mistakes?
- How can you correct them?
- Can you solve the problem again another way to check your answer?
How do you show your work?
- Can you explain how you solved this problem?
- Can you make a drawing to explain your thinking?
- Can you show me how to do it?
- How can you help me understand this part?
- Can you explain it in a different way?
- Do you need to use labels to show what your numbers mean?
Are there any questions you want to ask your teacher?
Questions can be asked to start conversations about mathematics with your child such as: