How can I help my child?
Most parents want to help their children learn mathematics. However, traditional ways of helping, such as showing children the steps to get answers, are at odds with our efforts to engage students in solving high-level tasks and developing conceptual understanding, thinking, and reasoning. Parents need specific suggestions about productive ways to help their children and how to implement them.
A key shift is for parents to ask questions to help their children solve unfamiliar problems rather than to show them how to solve them. Explicitly tell parents that when their children are struggling with a problem, their role is to help them solve it by asking questions such as the following:
- What are you being asked to find out?
- What does the problem tell you? Can you describe it in your own words? Have you seen a problem like this before?
- Is there any part of the problem that you already know how to do?
- Is there anything you don’t understand? Where can you find the answers to your questions?
- Will it help to make a list, a chart, a table, a drawing, a diagram? Can you act out the problem?
- What do you estimate your answer will be? Why?
- Is your strategy working? Why or why not?
- Is there another way to check your answer?
- How do you know if your answer is right or wrong? (From A Parent’s Handbook, Grade K–5, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, p. 2; similar questions appear in the Grades 6–8 and Grades 9–12Parent Handbooks.)
Parents can support their children’s learning in other ways
- Practicing basic facts. Children are expected to develop immediate fact recall as well as understand the meaning for operations. Immediate recall requires practice, in addition to understanding—and time for practice in the school day is limited. Parents can help in a variety of ways, especially since orally presenting facts promotes immediate recall more effectively than worksheets. Perfect times to practice are while driving, walking, waiting, and so on. Just be sure that parents understand that this practice should build on understanding of operations, not occur in isolation.
- Playing games. Games are a great way for parents to give their children practice with mathematics concepts and skills and develop strategic thinking, while also promoting positive parent-child relationships.
- Posing contextual problems. Mathematics problems are part of everyday life. Parents help children see that math is all around them when they pose problems that arise in everyday situations.
Resources for parents
- Family Resources, NCTM
- Figure This! Math Challenges for Families, NCTM
- Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics, U.S. Department of Education
- Parent Roadmaps to the Common Core Standards-Mathematics, Council of the Great City Schools
- PARCC games