We all know how important it is to read with our children. In our culture, a story at bedtime has become nearly as routine as brushing one’s teeth. But what about that other very crucial subject in school… Mathematics. What can you do to help your child succeed in math?
Be Aware of Your Own Math Attitudes
The first thing experts in the field of math education will tell you is to explore your own attitudes about math. “I was never good with numbers” is not a comment likely to engender enthusiasm for math in your child.
If you lack confidence in your mathematical ability, or if you were not fond of the subject during your own school years, a valuable alternative to expressing a positive math attitude is to make it relevant for your child. Help him understand how math is important in everyday life.
No need to profess love for geometry if you don’t really feel it. Instead, tell your child how he will use geometry in real life. As you drive over a bridge, point out that the engineers who designed it had to be familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem to make it all work.
The same goes for decimals (needed to calculate a tip when dining out), arithmetic (critical for balancing the checkbook), and fractions (an absolute must in cooking).
Familiarize Yourself with What Your Child is Learning in School
Each grade has a set curriculum comprising learning objectives to be covered during the school year. Find out what those objectives are for your child. Armed with this knowledge, you might be surprised at how you can naturally figure out ways to work practice opportunities into daily life with your child. Your child’s teacher will also be able to offer suggestions of ways you can reinforce at home what she is teaching at school.
It’s the How, Not the What
Being too focused on always getting the “right answer” is one surefire way to extinguish a child’s enthusiasm for math. Instead of immediately saying, “That’s right!” ask instead, “Are you sure that’s right?” or “How did you get than answer?”
It is important to know that there are many ways to get the “right answer” – even for the most straightforward arithmetic problem.
While it is valuable for your student to learn traditional methods for solving problems, it is equally important to affirm that his methodology is correct if his way does indeed help him arrive to the correct answer. It is also valuable to help him understand how his way is not working if it is not. Either way, you are helping your child believe in himself as a mathematician – as a student whose thinking is worthwhile and purposeful.
By encouraging your child to explain his thinking – this is called metacognition in educational circles – you are modeling interest in the process of math. This interest or curiosity is what will keep a child’s enthusiasm for math at a high level, even when faced with a daunting problem or difficult task.
Also, research indicates that a person who can explain how he got an answer is much more likely to remember the information required to get the answer in the first place. Another way to help a child in this manner is to ask him to teach you what he learned that day in math class. Again, by explaining the process to you, he is reinforcing his own understanding of the process.
You Don’t Need to Have All the Answers!
As your child progresses through the grades, even in elementary school, there may be homework problems or entire topics that you don’t understand. No need to fret or be embarrassed. By helping your child look through resources to find the answer, you are teaching him how to be self-reliant. It is just as important to know where to go for information as it is to have it already accessible in your brain.
Encourage Your Child
Many students feel that they can’t be good at something if they aren’t the best. Remind your child that every student is unique. Just because he has not been successful in the past with math does not mean that he cannot become more capable in math now. If you suspect that your child is comparing himself to other students and that these comparisons are stifling his progress, help him set reasonable goals for himself. As he meets these goals, he will build self-confidence and begin to view himself as a capable math student. Oftentimes hearing that someone else (especially a parent or teacher) has faith in his ability is just the inspiration a child needs to restore his faith in himself.
In helping your child foster an appreciation for math’s relevance in his daily activities outside of school, you are doing more than boosting his math grade. You are helping to make math real for him. This will serve him well in the classroom… and in life.