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Help Your Kids Learn Math
Math has become a four letter word. That’s what I keep getting from parents sitting at their kitchen table trying to help their kids navigate their math homework. Have you tried helping your child with math lately?
Somewhere along the way, a new mathematical language has formed that both children and parents struggle to speak and understand. When did borrowing become pooling and the lowest conditions become simplifying? According to a 2005 study funded by the US Department of Education, children in the United States perform consistently lower than most of their peers around the world. What does it mean?
We fail in mathematics as a whole – teachers, students and parents. It’s not that the math is so awful, but that we just don’t know what to do with the new rules. Teachers do their best to follow the strict standards imposed on them. As parents, we try to understand today’s math by showing our children how to do it as we were taught in the dark ages. I think every parent has heard, “But that’s not how my teacher taught me how to do it!” And the fights begin. Unfortunately, it’s the kids who end up suffering as they bring home bad grades, feel like failures, and learn to fear math.
Even children who are naturally good at math will experience panic about upcoming tests. Not knowing how to study or what to study, they are left to their own devices. And, it has happened to many parents that their own children’s math abilities have supplanted their own. Sloppy habits affect other students. They don’t want to write down every step, but prefer to “just do it in their head”. Their columns don’t line up and there are often doodles and illustrations on the sides of their pages. It takes them forever to do some problems because they often daydream instead of concentrating and getting the job done. To top it off, today’s math requires a lot of reading. Poor readers are penalized even if they are good at mathematical calculation. Eventually, children learn to avoid math and even fear it.
So what can we as parents do to help children who speak this new mathematical language? Here are some activities I do at home and with my own students:
Make sure emotion is taken out of the equation. Relieve the student’s fear and pressure by remaining calm and keeping the student relaxed. Let them show you how their teacher does it and you copy that method.
Make sure children have good number sense. Count out loud, count by threes, fours, etc. can help.
Mathematics is sequential. The student may need to fill in some missing parts. This is easy to do with exercise books from teacher supply stores. If the student is failing algebra, chances are they don’t have a solid mathematical foundation of fractions and decimals.
In order for long division to be accomplished, the student must know the multiplication facts. Traditional flashcards may not work. Have them write their facts in sand or shaving cream. “Feeling” the math facts can help them stick.
Break the calculation into small pieces. Sometimes kids look five pages ahead and panic about a formula they will have to do in the future and it seems too hard for them to master. Assign five problems, give a break, then ask them to do five more.
Use colored pencils or markers on a blank page of white paper. Color occupies the creative right side of the brain so that the analytical left side is accessible. If the teacher does not allow color, ask the student to transfer the answer to pencil.
Some students do better by listening to music. Again, this occupies the right side of the brain so that the left side can do its job. Make sure the music is quiet.
Math doesn’t have to be pessimistic. I recently helped a student who feared math to the point of absolute avoidance. After using some of the strategies above, I finally heard him exclaim with a smile on his face, “Math rocks!” I think it means “math is fun” in childish language.
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