How To Help With Homework If Math Is A 4-Letter Word In Your House
I recently posted a picture on Instagram that showed a close-up of the 4th grade multiplication worksheet my son Jack was working on. I think my caption said something like, “Math homework: Don’t ask me for help, kid.” And apparently I wasn’t alone in my sentiment of being mystified by grade school math because other moms immediately left comments on the picture agreeing with me. Or saying something like, “That’s why I’m glad I married my husband, so he can help with fractions!” Oof.
I admit that math was never my favorite subject in school, but one would think that with my college degree and previous job managing a multimillion dollar budget as a network media buyer for Disney, I’d be able to at least understand what nine and 10 year-olds are learning these days. But no. I take one look at my son’s worksheets and run in the other direction. And I don’t even get close to my older son Sam’s 6th grade advanced math book because it’s so scary. The way kids do math now just seems so different from the way we learned it back in the dark ages, doesn’t it? But because my kids often yell for me when they’re stuck on a problem, I decided I had to get over my math aversion and find a better solution. Well, a better solution than just yelling, “I have no idea what time the first train arrived at the station! Google it!”
So, here are my suggested ways to help kids with their math homework:
1) Ask Them To Explain The Lesson To You
Per Jack’s 4th grade teacher’s advice, I tried this one out and had limited success at first. (“What? I don’t know how to do it! That’s why I’m asking you!”) But with a little patience, and me easily playing dumb, Jack warmed up to the idea of him telling me how to do the math problems. Saying the lesson out loud helps a lot of kids understand it better and it made me understand it, too.
2) Suggest They Study Before Solving
Kids are given math homework to reinforce what they learned during class. Therefore, teach them to go over the worksheet or textbook examples a couple of times before diving in to the problems. It may seem like an obvious step, but most kids don’t take that extra minute or two to understand what they’re doing before they starting the first question.
3) Rely On Older Siblings
My boys are only two years apart, so fortunately Sam still remembers everything that Jack is doing in class. Of course, Sam sometimes just tells him the answers because he wants to go play videogames, but most times he’s good at explaining to Jack what needs to be done. As far as helping Sam, the oldest, with his homework, we’ve called friends with older kids and/or asked our high-school babysitters for help when desperately needed.
4) Don’t Be Scared To Have A Math Lesson Yourself
It might be embarrassing to ask a grade school teacher for a math refresher, but I know a few parents who’ve visited their kids’ teachers during office hours and asked them to explain certain lessons. Teachers realize some of us learned things differently than kids do now and are almost always happy to help. I’ve also had a few friends highly recommend the book “How To Help Your Kids With Math” because it explains math with quick, simple visuals.
5) Keep Your Cool
I can say from personal experience that frustration with math homework may lead to tears from a kid, a parent or both. So be sure you take a break when needed and consider coming back with a different approach. The website CoolMathGames.com (which my kids love) also has a lot of great advice for parents helping with homework (no longer available), including simply saying, “Let’s read the problem together and make sure we understand what it’s asking.”
6) Make Sure Your Child Shows Their Work
A lot of teachers require this on homework, much to Sam’s dismay, but even if it’s not required, it’s still a good idea to have your child do it. That way, if they don’t get the right answer, you can both look over what they’ve done and see where they’ve gone wrong in finding the solution. Yes, it takes longer, but it can help make things easier in the long run.
Finally, last week a friend mentioned that her daughter’s middle school math teacher was trying out something called a “Flipped Classroom” in which kids don’t have a traditional classroom lesson, then take-home homework. Rather, they watch the teacher give a lesson at home via YouTube, then do the hands-on work the next day in the classroom under the teacher’s supervision. I absolutely love this idea and hope more teachers consider trying it out.
As for me, my efforts to be more patient and open to learning have made me slightly better at 4th grade math. But more important, they’ve cut down on a lot of frustration for all of us.
But I still have no clue what time the first train arrived.
What tips or tricks do you use to help your child with math homework?Published November 1, 2013. Last updated June 4, 2018.