In the Classroom
Math Homework 101 for Parents
February 18, 2017
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Cindy Cliche
@CindyCliche1

It is a cold winter night and seated at the kitchen table are a little girl and her dad struggling with math homework.  Dad is showing his daughter how to solve the problem and his child is crying because he is not solving it the way the teacher showed the class.   This scenario happened over 50 years ago as my dad tried to help me with math homework.  As an educator I still get the question from parents, “How do I help my child with math homework?  They do it differently than when I was a child.”

Thinking about this question, I offer the following tips:

  1. Keep a positive attitude.  (Fake it until you make it!)  
    As adults we are the role models for our children.  Think about the messages you are sending to your child.  They not only hear what you say but also read your body language and the tone of your voice.  Keep this in mind.  It is okay to say this problem is difficult. Parents can get confused too,  but we will work hard to solve it. Then celebrate with your child when you finally have the solution.  This mathematical struggle is actually a good thing-it means your child’s brain is growing!  There is no better feeling when you accomplish a difficult task.
  2. Math = Discussion
    Solve a problem independently and then share the way you thought about the problem.  Listen to the way your child solved the problem.  Discuss how the way you solved is the same and/or different.  I have found that listening to the students’ thinking has helped me see the problem differently and deepened my understanding of the mathematics.
  3. Allow mistakes.
    Let your child struggle with the math, because it can lead to a deeper understanding of the concept.   Allow and even encourage them to persevere through different ways to solve the problem.  You might even pose questions such as:  Could you draw a model/diagram to help you?  What is the question you need to answer?  Support learning through questioning.
  4. Provide a math toolbox.
    Encourage your child to use tools to solve a problem.  It is important to provide “tools before rules.” Here is a sample of some tools that can be collected and put in a container:
    Coins
    Grid paper
    Hundreds Chart
    Tens Frame and/or Double Tens Frame
    Ruler
    Counters such as buttons, pennies, paper clips, dried beans. Keep these tools in a convenient location so they are available during homework.
  5. Make math fun and engaging daily.
  • View the world through a mathematical lens. Involve your child in cooking and be sure to notice the fractions as you are making that special recipe.
  • Allow your child opportunities to count money.  You can skip-count nickels or dimes.  Ask your child to count coins when paying at the store or making change.
  • Ask your child the time on analog and digital clocks.  Ask how much time will pass before we leave for soccer practice.  Soccer practice is one hour; what time will it end?  Allow them the opportunity to plan a schedule for a day of vacation.
  • Look for the math in real-world situations.  Take pictures of the math you see in the world around you.  Ask the questions:  What do you notice?  What do you wonder?

    This was a picture sent to me by one of my students.  The child noticed this in the grocery and began wondering how many cans were in the display.  The mom gave him time to explore and he sent me the picture with the answer of how many cans.  Allow these opportunities for your child.  Math is everywhere!

Some of my special memories are times I spent with my dad as he shared his passion for mathematics.  The ideas shared in this article were inspired by him as he helped me truly see the world through a mathematical lens.   Be that inspiration for your child and you will ignite a lifelong passion in your child.

Cindy Cliche has over 30 years of classroom experience and currently serves as the Math Coordinator for Murfreesboro City Schools. She also teaches Math Methods to pre­-service teachers at Middle Tennessee State University. Cindy has worked in the past as a Teacher Trainer with the Tennessee State Department of Education. She was the Presidential Awardee in Math and Science Teaching in 2004. She has a passion for math education in the elementary grades. Cindy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Ball State University and her Masters from Berry College. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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