26 October 2009 03:08 PM

Helping with Math Homework

by Dr. Rick

Helping your child with homework is a delicate balancing act.  Guiding, encouraging, supporting, and organizing are different from being suckered into doing the homework yourself.  When you do the actual homework (you’d be amazed at how many parents confess to doing just that), no one learns anything.  Except maybe the child, who learns that you just may be useful after all.  Math homework offers its own unique challenges.


No, there are other much more valuable things you can do to help your kid learn his math and become a more-or-less independent learner in the process.  Try these.

  1. Practice, practice, practice.  You’ve read my blogs.  You know the value I put on practice, persistence, and effort  Talk to any kid and ask how excellent athletes, musicians, actors, and other performers got to be so good, and he’ll be able to tell you – practice, and plenty of it, is key.  (How many thousands of miles does Michael Phelps swim each year?  Listen to him talk about practice and focus.)  Same for practicing for math.  Think of it as Phelpsing.  The more practice the better.  It’s important for your child to work on math problems each night at home.

  2. Organize.  Another of my favorite themes.  Help your child organize his time , his study space, his study supplies, his routines.  Help him create a quiet, comfortable, well organized space that’s as free from distractions as possible.  Show him how to keep a planner and assignment book.  Math in particular – because of its daily practice – needs an assignment book.  Help him recognize what part of the day is best for studying – right after school?  Later at night?  Early in the morning?   It can be different for each kid.  If he tells you he doesn’t have any math homework, assign it yourself.  That’s allowed.

  3. Don’t put off homework.  Make sure your child does his math homework the night it’s assigned.  He should go over his class notes nightly, while the content is still fresh in his mind and he can identify questions he’ll want to ask tomorrow in class. If he needs the encouragement and structure, have him go over the notes with you.  On the nights before tests  and major assignments, make sure he schedules extra study time.  Extra study gives extra confidence.  Additionally, as students prepare for tests, leverage the 2,000 instructional videos and self-tests on www.sylvanmathprep.com.  Take advantage of the two-day free trial.  

  4. Get help if you need it.  Everyone needs a little help now and then.  If you suspect he needs it, get your child the help he needs now.  Putting it off only makes a little problem grow into a big one, especially in math, where skills build on one another.  Teachers stay before and after school to help kids, and the company I work for, Sylvan Learning, has excellent math tutoring for kids wanting to catch up, keep up, or get ahead.  It even has “Forgotten Math for Parents” seminars that can help families at homework time.  Check them out at www.sylvanlearning.com.

  5. Review.  Go over the skills he’s learned each week.  (Or daily, if you need to.)  I’ve discovered that when you ask a child to explain what he’s learned, he reinforces those skills.  Nothing like teaching something to make you learn it even stronger.

  6. Read the math book.  Too many kids skip over the words in the math book, concentrating only on the number problems.  Make sure he’s reading the explanatory words, too.  The best math texts have helpful examples, practice exercises, and explanations.

  7. Get a study buddy.  Another one of my favorite learning strategies.  When two or more motivated kids study together, they increase their opportunities to learn from each other in “kid speak,” to ask immediate questions, to challenge each other, to encourage each other, and to celebrate with each other.  No reason why learning can’t be fun and social, too.

  8. Monitor daily.  The final step in the homework process is your checking the work for timeliness, neatness, and completeness.  You don’t have to be an expert in the subject, but it’s good for him to know you’re going to be checking it.  You’re allowed to give your own pop quizzes, too.

  9. Use math around the house.  Use every opportunity to “speak matharound the house  (cooking, measuring), while playing (keeping score, understanding stats), while watching TV (count the commercials with the youngest math learners, if you can count that high), while eating in restaurants (help with figuring a 15% or 20% tip), or while driving (figuring out mileage or distance).

  10. Work with the teacher.  Ask for suggestions to help at homework time and for help with dealing with math strategies that are different from the ones you learned while you were learning math many years ago.  Be careful of confusing the child.

Math homework time does not have to be stressful.  Show your child that his learning math is important to you, that you’re going to be involved in his learning, and that you’re going to have high expectations.  He’ll rise to those expectations.




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