ERIC Identifier: ED433196
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Haury, David L. - Milbourne, Linda A.
Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Helping Your Child Learn Math. ERIC Digest.
"Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you that mine are still greater." -Albert Einstein
Everyone struggles with math, whether learning the multiplication tables or
trying to figure out how to stretch the monthly income to pay bills. Some find
mathematics easier than others, just as some find spelling easier. Some use
mathematics extensively in their work, just as some make more use of hammers.
Everyone, though, uses mathematics daily, and limited math proficiency leads to
limited success with the daily challenges of our society. As Sutton has said,
"one of the most significant things parents can do is to help their children
understand the normalcy and the value of struggle in mathematics" (1998, p.9).
WHAT ARE CHILDREN LEARNING IN MATHEMATICS?
Each school has
its own mathematics program and expectations, but most are aligned with state
curriculum frameworks or guidelines that are, in turn, strongly influenced by
national standards. National standards were developed for math by the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, see
http://www.enc.org/reform/journals/ENC2280/nf_280dtoc1.htm), and revisions are
underway (http://www.nctm.org/standards2000). The NCTM standards reflect five
general goals: (1) that all students learn to value math, (2) that students
become confident in their own abilities to do math, (3) that they learn to solve
mathematical problems, (4) that they learn to communicate mathematically, and
(5) that they learn to reason mathematically. Students must learn basic math
skills and concepts as in the past, but schools give increased attention to
connections and applications of math to the workplace and the demands of daily
life. "Today, children learn that mathematics is a tool that can help them
understand the world around them" (Parent Handbook: Math and Your Child,
HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?
Research shows that the level of
parent involvement in a child's education is strongly related to the degree of
success in school (Henderson & Berla, 1994). "Families play a vital role in
educating children. What families do is more important to student success than
whether they are rich or poor, whether parents have finished high school or not,
or whether children are in elementary, junior high, or high school" (Robinson,
in Paulu, 1995). For general tips on ways to strengthen the bonds with children,
see the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) website (select "Get Involved" at http://www.pta.org/commonsense/2_parents/2_parents.html).
The importance of family involvement in education led the U.S. Congress to
add the following goal to the National Education Goals
(http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Homework/pt11.html): "Every school will promote
partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in
promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children." To that end,
the U.S. Department of Education has established the Partnership for Family
Involvement in Education program (see http://pfie.ed.gov) and provides financial
resources to communities for developing programs that serve families. For
parents actively working with schools, the PTA has produced "National Standards
for Parent/Family Involvement Programs" (Online at
THE EXAMPLE. One of the most important ways parents can help a child in math is
by exhibiting attitudes and values supportive of learning. "All children have
two wonderful resources for learning-imagination and curiosity. As a parent, you
can awaken your children to the joy of learning by encouraging their imagination
and curiosity" (Ravitch, in Kanter, 1994). Sutton (1998) offers the following
*Accept the Struggle as a normal part of doing math, just as you accept the
struggle to become better in sports. Help uncover difficulties, and offer
suggestions for overcoming them.
*Encourage Mastery. Just as it is important to repeat fundamentals again and
again in sports until performed automatically, it is important to see practice
in mathematics as developing mastery, not a chore or form of punishment.
*Look Beyond the Grade. Math grades are often calculated on percentages of
correct answers on tests and assignments accumulated during a grading period, so
they may not reflect under-standing that has developed over the course of a
grading period. Help focus on understanding and being able to identify specific
*Discover the Textbook. "Reading" math can be difficult, and math textbooks
are often used as collections of assignments and homework problems. Help your
child learn how to "read" the math textbook, see the underlying structure, and
learn from the examples provided.
CHILDREN SEE THE MATH AROUND THEM. Help children recognize the use of math
around them in daily life, and engage them in games and activities that foster
familiarity with numbers and mathematical thinking. A guide, "Helping Your Child
Learn Math," is available online at
http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Math/index.html. The guide suggests many
activities that parents can do with children (grades K-8) at home, at the
grocery store, or in transit. The activities generally make use of playing
cards, coins, containers, or other simple materials around the house. Here are
some other ideas that the guide offers:
*Wrong answers can help!
patient; incorrect answers tell you that you need to look further, ask
questions, and figure out what you do not understand.
a wrong answer is the result of misunderstanding the question.
your child to explain how they solved a problem; responses may clarify whether
help is needed with a procedure, the "facts" are wrong, or a crucial concept is
may learn something that the teacher would find helpful. A short note or
telephone call will alert the teacher to possible ways of helping your child.
your children become risk takers. Help them examine wrong answers, and assure
them that right answers come with understanding.
*Problems can be solved in different ways. Though a problem may have only one
correct solution, there are often many ways to get the right answer.
*Doing math in your head is important. Increased use of calculators and
computers makes it increasingly important that people be able to determine
whether an answer is reasonable.
More activities and games for strengthening specific skills and concepts are
provided online in a "Guide to Helping Your Child Understand Mathematics,"
provided by Houghton Mifflin's Education Place (see http://www.
eduplace.com/parents/index.html); select "Parent's Place," then "Parent's
Resources." Suggestions are also provided for things to do in the grocery store,
in a restaurant, while shopping, and on the refrigerator door.
A PLACE AND RESOURCES TO STUDY. Provide children with convenient, quiet, and
comfortable work areas, along with whatever resources are needed to study math
and complete assignments. Encourage the use of reference materials (such as
dictionaries and encyclopedias), and provide a computer and calculator if
possible. If a computer is not available in the home, plan regular visits to a
public library or community learning center where access is available.
The computer has become a common and essential tool in learning many school
subjects, particularly mathematics and science. You and your children can use
the computer to:
*Produce reports and assignments using wordprocessing programs, spreadsheets,
and other software.
*Find information from reference materials on CD-ROMS. Many are typically
available from school and public libraries.
*Use commercial software packages that teach math skills in interesting and
*Access the abundant math and homework resources and assistance freely
available on the Internet.
For help in selecting mathematics software, seek recommendations from one or
more of the many websites that provide software reviews. The Educational
Software Review page at the SuperKids website (see http://www.superkids.com)
provides monthly features, annual software awards, an index of all software
reviewed, and pertinent articles. For instance, "Mathville VIP" by Courseware
Solutions Inc. is a highly rated program that allows middle school and high
school students to practice everyday math skills in real-life activities. For
younger children, "Reader Rabbit's Math 6-9" by The Learning Company is highly
rated for teaching basic skills through arcade-like activities. Software reviews
are also provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (see
http://www.evalutech.sreb. org/archives/). A rating system is not provided, but
software programs are thoroughly described, and strengths, weaknesses, and uses
If you have access to the Internet, there are many helpful websites that
provide guidance, resources, or information not readily available in most homes.
Both the access to Internet resources and the practice in finding useful
resources are valuable. For help in using the Internet, refer either to "The
Parent's Guide to the Information Superhighway"
(http://www.pta.org/programs/guide.htm) or "Parent's Guide to the Internet"
(http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/internet/). Following are some representative
online resources for math:
*Dave's Math Tables http://www.sisweb.com/math/tables.htm#top Site provides
math tables and includes a search area to find a specific formula.
*The Math Forum http://forum.swarthmore.edu/ An extensive collection of
resources for students, parents, and teachers. Students will be particularly
interested in the "Student Center" and "Ask Dr. Math," where questions can be
submitted. A related website, MathWorld Interactive,
(http://forum.swarthmore.edu/mathworld/) enables students to work on open-ended
word problems online and exchange information with other students worldwide.
*DO MATH and you can do anything! http://www.domath.org/ Here you will find
age-specific mathematical activities that children can do with their families or
on their own.
*The CRC Concise Encyclopedia of Mathematics
http://www.astro.virginia.edu/~eww6n/math/math.html Provides access to an
enlarged version of a comprehensive reference book by the same title, including
more than 120 additional printed pages of material.
*S.O.S. MATHematics http://www.math.utep.edu/sosmath/ Provides resource
materials to help students do homework, prepare for tests, or get ready for
class. Learning units are presented as worksheets and require active
*Math Flashcards http://www.edu4kids.com/ This site provides online flash
cards with a variety of options and mathematical operations.
*Math League Help Topics http://www.mathleague.com/help/help.htm This is a
help resource for grades 4-8 that provides guidance for key topics in basic
WITH HOMEWORK. Teachers assign homework for a variety of reasons: to help
students review what has been learned; to help them prepare for the next class
session; to extend student exploration of topics more fully than class time
permits; or to help students gain skill in self-directed learning and using
resources such as libraries and reference materials. Parents can help children
get the most out of homework by:
*Encouraging them to take notes about homework assignments when they are
*Limiting after-school activities to allow time for homework and family
*Planning a homework schedule with each child that allows some free time when
assignments are completed.
*Monitoring television viewing and other potential distractions.
*Doing some problems or questions together with a child when he or she asks
*Staying nearby-reading, writing, studying or catching up on paperwork.
*Checking completed assignments, and reviewing homework that has been marked
more details about these and other homework tips, see "Helping Your Child With
Homework" (Paulu, 1995) and "How Important is Homework?" (Available online at
http://www.accesseric.org:81/resources/parent/homewrk.html). As Weaver (1998)
has said, "the entire family needs to cooperate to help students develop good
study habits." Before studying, it is also important for "a child [to] be rested
and relaxed after a school day before concentrating on homework. Help the child
avoid rushing to finish homework before a deadline such as dinner or bedtime.
Try to schedule study time so it doesn't conflict with a favorite activity or
There are many homework guidelines and resources available online for both
parents and students. For parents having questions about homework or wanting
more guidelines, see the following websites:
*Dear Parents: Math (http://www.dearparents.com/Category/mCategory.shtml)
*National PTA's Education Resource Libraries
(http://www.pta.org/programs/edulibr.htm#home) (Look for "Math matters: Kids are
counting on you and Helping your student get the most out of homework.")
*Apple Learning Interchange: Featured Curriculum Resources
*Parentsoup Online Guide (http://www.parentsoup.com/onlineguide/) In addition
to the math Internet resources described previously, the following website offer
resources for doing homework:
*Homework Central: Math Search Engines
*Star Tribune Online Homework Help
*Schoolwork. Ugh! (http://www.schoolwork.org/)
*Kids Connect (http://www.ala.org/ICONN/kidsconn.html)
*The New "Homework" (http://fromnowon.org/feb97/teach.html)
*B.J. Pinchbeck's Homework Helper: Math
Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (Eds.).
(1994). "A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student
achievement." Washington, DC: National Committee for Citizens in Education. [ED
Kanter, P.F. (1994). Helping your child learn math. Washington, DC: U.S.
G.P.O. (Available online at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Math/title.html)
Paulu, N. (1995). "Helping your child with homework." Washington, DC: U.S.
G.P.O. (Available online at: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Homework/title.html)
Sutton, S. (1998). Beyond homework help: Guiding our children to lasting math
ENC Focus, 5(3), 8-11. [see http://www.enc.org or
Weaver, M. K. (1998). "Helping" with homework. "Enriching Kansas Families,"