Project M²—Family Resources-Helping

Helping Your Child

If you have reached this page, you are probably looking for ideas to help your child with math. The math your child is working on may not look like anything you remember from when you were in school. Instead of a worksheet with 30 problems, your child might have only a few questions to work on, and your child will be asked to explain how she or he found the answers. This math program emphasizes understanding and problem solving, but that doesn’t mean your child won’t learn basic skills in the process. Yes, your child needs to master the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Yes, he or she should be able to give reasonable estimates, work with fractions, tell time, and make change and many other mathematical tasks. Children need many different math skills. However, in the past these skills were often taught without giving students an understanding of how the skills related to solving real problems. The focus of math class became the worksheets, memorizing facts, and the ability to rapidly add, subtract, multiply or divide without understanding the reasons behind the math. Problem solving in real life contexts was missing. The math units in Project M²: Mentoring Mathematical Minds Project are based on a problem solving approach to teaching mathematics with a focus on the development of critical and creative thinking skills.

How can you help your child become a critical and creative mathematical thinker? One of the best things you can do is ask them to explain what they are doing in class. After listening to the response, ask more questions such as:

  • What was the best (most fun, challenging, exciting, different, etc.) thing you did today?
  • Can you show me how to do…?
  • Did anything you worked on in math class today surprise you?
  • What questions do you want to ask your teacher tomorrow?
  • Is this like something you have done before?

Remember, the fun part of math is about the struggle: not knowing the answer right away. Even though answers may not come easily, encourage your child to continue to try. If your child complains that, “my teacher never taught us how to do this,” resist the impulse to show them how. Instead help your child by asking:

  • Does this remind you of other problems?
  • What have you come up with so far?
  • Where do you think you should start?
  • What is the problem asking you to do?
  • What do you already know? What information does the problem give you? How can you use that information?
  • Would a picture or diagram help?
  • How can I help you? (without giving away the solution)

Adapted from Math Talk, 1(2) Oct 2002, Tacoma Public Schools

Once your child has solved a problem, ask if he or she can find the same answer another way. In this way, you can challenge your child to look at problems in different ways, and encourage him or her to develop a deeper understanding of mathematics. There is no one right way to solve a problem. Understanding there are several different ways to solve a problem gives your child more confidence, especially if their first approach does not work.

Have your child proof read his/her math to make sure:

  • The actual question that was asked has been answered;
  • All the parts of the question have been completed;
  • The solution makes sense;
  • Mathematical terms have been used correctly and effectively;
  • The correct units are used;
  • The steps to the solution are so clear that someone else could read their work and understand how they found the answer;

You can find additional information, along with ideas and activities to encourage mathematical thinking on Internet sites such as these:

  1. Suzanne Sutton has done work with parents, teachers and students. On her web site she writes: “Math is one of the greatest learning and living tools we can give our children, regardless of their career plans. Children who build their math strengths are building life strengths – and it has much more to do than simply being ‘good with numbers.’ Math teaches us to think clearly, to reason well, to strategize effectively. It teaches us not to be fooled by packaging, but to be able to see through to the essence of things. And math teaches us to maneuver without a ‘road map,’ very much like life will ask us to.” You can read more about Suzanne and her ideas on how to help your child at her web site, Newton’s Window.
  2. Checkout the U.S. Department of Education’s booklet, Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics.
  3. Have you wondered why they use calculators in math class? The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory Quick Takes provides several good reasons why this is appropriate.


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