Completing homework assignments helps kids develop study skills, responsibility, independence and time management. Math homework comes with a distinct challenge. Math is made of building blocks, so when a child doesn't understand a concept, it is difficult for him to move forward. As a parent, you might need to step in and help. Some children only need help here and there, but others consistently seek their parents' help when it comes time for math homework.
You might not remember how to do certain types of problems. Even if you do, you worry that you're overstepping your bounds. You can help your child and still ensure that he is moving toward independence in completing his math homework.
Have the Right Attitude
A positive, upbeat attitude is contagious. Emphasize how important mathematics is in everyday life, recommends Jan Coley, fourth grade teacher at West Bendle Elementary School in Burton, Michigan. Point it out when you're using math in baking, balancing your checkbook, budgeting and figuring out how much carpeting you need for the family room.
Your child will take cues from you as he develops an attitude toward math. "When a parent tells me her son isn't good in math because he takes after her, it makes me cringe," says Coley. If your child hears this kind of talk from you, he'll feel defeated and figure there's no point in trying.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics advises parents to think of themselves as guides, not teachers, when they help children with homework. You don't want your child to think you're going to step in and solve the problem for her when the going gets rough. That just encourages her to give up easily.
Talk to your child as she's doing her math homework. Make sure she understands the directions. Ask what she gets and what she doesn't understand. Question her about where she should begin, what information she'll need to solve the problem and whether or not she thinks her answer is reasonable. Support her as she works, but don't do the homework for her, warns Coley.
Require your child to use a daily planner, advises Christina Mullen, fifth grade teacher and counseling intern at Lincoln-Edison Elementary School in North Las Vegas, Nevada. She should record homework assignments in it every day. This eliminates the problem of forgetting what the homework assignment is for that night.
Encourage your child to take notes in math class. She might feel she gets it at the time, but she could easily forget when hours or days pass. Notes and examples written in a way that makes sense to her will jog her memory later. Ask your child what she learned in math class that day and encourage her to look at her notes as she relays the new math skill to you, recommends Mullen. This will help her process the information.
Use hands-on materials to help your child move from concrete to abstract thinking, suggests Mullen. If he is learning to multiply, he may not fully understand the concept. Use buttons to show him what 3 times 4 looks like. Set out three rows of buttons with four in each row so he can see the array of 12. If your little one is learning to subtract, pull out some pieces of fruit to show him how many are left when you have five apples and take away three.
You don't really know what your child is thinking until he writes it down or depicts it in some way. Encourage him to draw illustrations or write explanations as he works through math problems. You'll see his thought process, and his teacher will see how he solved the problems.
Do the Odd-Numbered Problems
Most math texts have the answers at the back of the book for the odd-numbered problems. This is why teachers typically assign the even numbers as homework, says Coley. Have your child work through a few of the odd problems so she can check her answers and make sure she's on track. If she's solving the problems correctly, she's ready to move on to the even numbers that were assigned for homework.
When your child has difficulty with a topic, take advantage of the online resources that are available for helping kids with math homework. Sites such as math.com provide illustrations, explanations and examples of various math topics, ranging from addition to calculus.
Your child can play a math game online. If she's learning to reduce fractions, playing a game will interest her and focus her attention. Once she's mastered the concept through playing the game, she will have an easier time reducing fractions on paper.
Seek Outside Help
If your child needs more help than you can provide, talk to his teacher. She may be willing modify his work or meet with him before or after school to get him on the right track with homework, says Mullen. Many schools have after-school homework clubs. If your child's school doesn't have one, you can talk to school administrators about the possibility of starting one.
Individual tutoring is an effective way for a child to receive math help. Professional tutors are effective but can be expensive. It might be easier on your budget to hire a college student or a peer tutor.