Help Your Child With Math - a 3 Step Plan for Parents
I'm often asked by parents if there is anything they could (or should) be doing in the home environment to better support their child's math learning. The trigger may be a disappointing school report, the start of a new school year or simply a belief that their child could be doing better than they are currently doing.
And the answer is a resounding "Yes, you can help." And the good news is that it needn't be difficult or time-consuming to have an impact if you put a few of these tips into practice.
Math ability is not set in stone and parents can help in very practical ways. Here are the three ingredients to get you started!
Step 1 Be Aware
Learning math is like building a pyramid. Math skills such as counting, addition, subtraction etc are the foundation building blocks that make up the base. If one math skill doesn’t quite sink in, it makes the foundations shaky and new skills become harder to learn.
This is what causes children to start to lose confidence and fall behind. So early awareness of a potential problem is key so it can be addressed before confidence is damaged.
However, it can be tricky to really know how your child is doing in math - even after you've read the school report!
So here are a few tips to help build an accurate picture of your child’s math strengths and weaknesses (forgive me for stating the obvious here).
Speak to your child regularly - What are you doing in math this week? How did you do in that homework / weekly test?
Look at his/her school books.
Check out the common core math standards to familiarize yourself with the skills your child will be working on in school
Speak to the teacher - they will have a good grasp of how your child is doing compared to what is reasonably expected for their age.
Prepare for parents' evening (or any meeting with teacher) - have a few questions in mind to draw out the detail - What can I do to improve her understanding…? Which curriculum areas…?
If you have particular concerns, don’t wait until parents' evening to address. Although teachers are busier than ever, there are very few who wouldn’t welcome the efforts of an engaged parent.
Step 2 Practice
Math, very much like sports or music, is a skill that needs practice. But don’t just take my word for it:
Professor Brian Cox, “I’m not a natural mathematician but few people are...you have to practice.”
Professor Marcus du Sautoy “Think of having a mathematical muscle in your mind that with practice gradually gets stronger.” I particularly like this idea of a 'mathematical muscle.'
Colin Hegarty (math teacher short-listed for the Global Teacher prize), “Do some math every single day. Math is one of those things you need to practice regularly.”
For the best outcome, the ideal plan includes a mix of different approaches to math practice to develop true math fluency. And by that I mean:
Direct, targeted practice based on your knowledge of your son or daughter’s strengths and weaknesses, and complementing their school work. This the core of what is required (and where Komodo math comes in). But, tread a fine balance as too much/too often is likely to burn out even the most enthusiastic learner. (This is why Komodo uses a little and often approach - more of which later.)
Real world math. Math is all around us - so you can use everyday experiences to reinforce and develop math skills and vocabulary. Measurement, fractions, shapes, time and money all benefit from real world application and often can be naturally harnessed as a way to learn math. You just need to make a habit of it.
Here are just a few ideas:
Shopping - involve younger children in counting out items, talk about one more, one less, bigger smaller etc. Older children can practice money management, and comparing discounts are a great opportunity for some quite complex mental math.
Cooking - always a mathematician's favourite! Perfect for understanding and practicing numbers, measuring, size, shape and time. Fractions can also be introduced in sharing out portions.
Gardening - most kids love to help out in the garden so it makes a fun and memorable learning opportunity. Counting, measuring, reading temperature, sorting are all easy mathematical activities for younger children. Older children may enjoy planning a gardening project - introducing scale, evenly spacing out seeds, checking temperatures and measuring plants as they grow.
Games and puzzles - I’m particularly keen on the value of math puzzles when it involves the whole family and younger members can be involved in working through and finding creative solutions. Check out these puzzles from the Komodo Blog.
Step 3 Develop A Healthy Mindset
A healthy mindset towards learning math includes self-belief, confidence and the resilience to keep learning even when it gets tough.
Start with yourself and your partner - are you setting a good example? Throw away remarks like “I’m no good at math,” “I hated math at high school” etc are easily picked up by children, influencing their attitude to math. So show enthusiasm towards math - even if you need to fake it!
Build confidence - if your child is struggling and has lost some confidence, go back a few steps to the skills that they feel comfortable doing and build from there.
Praise for effort, not performance - it’s continued effort that is important. Making mistakes isn’t bad, it’s a necessary part of the journey for every learner. Change “I can’t do it,” to “I can’t do it yet.”
Keep your child motivated - a key role (and challenge) for parents. Think more carrot, less stick. And consider getting other family members involved in the all-important encouragement.
I'm Ged, Co-founder of Komodo, ex-mathematics teacher and dad. If you have any questions please get in touch.
About Komodo - Komodo is an online math learning program for ages 5 to 11. It’s designed by qualified teachers to help parents support their child’s math learning in an effective and rewarding way.
Building math confidence and fluency through little-and-often learning sessions is at the core of how Komodo works. Each child receives a teacher assigned personal learning plan that ensures learning is at a level appropriate to their needs and the curriculum.
Plus, with features such as Komodo rewards and belts, we’ve ensured there is plenty of motivation built in.
Find out more about Komodo and how it helps thousands of children each year do better at math - you can even try Komodo for free.