​5 Tips for Helping your Child with Math Homework | exSTEMsions

​5 Tips for Helping your Child with Math Homework

The least favorite homework: math

We recently shared a blog about why we started exSTEMsions, (you can read it here if you haven't already!) and what we’d like to help you accomplish with your kids. As part of that I mentioned that many of my friends and colleagues, who are incredibly bright and accomplished adults, were uncomfortable helping their kids with math, for lots of different reasons. Well, just saying that got some responses all on its own, so now it makes sense to talk a little more about what’s happening to people I know and love, and maybe to you also.

Most of my friends dread the idea of helping their children with math homework. They feel kind of like the cat in the picture - they'd rather hide under the bed, thank you very much. I know this because, well, they’ve told me just that!  If I ask them how they feel about doing math with their kids, they will actually say “Ugh, I dread it!” I am a nosy soul, so of course, I ask why. Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order:

  • “I was just so bad at math when I was in school. How will I even begin to be able to help someone else?”
  • “The way they do math now in school is just so different, I’m not even sure where to begin.”
  • “My child just doesn’t like it, and they’re so unmotivated, it’s a huge fight to get them to do anything related to math.”
  • “They’ve moved past the ‘easy’ math, that I knew how to do, into things I don’t even remember learning.”
  • “What they’re learning seems so disconnected. No one topic is clearly related to the next, so the math doesn’t make sense, and feels unimportant.”

Any of these sound familiar? Maybe they do, or maybe you have another reason entirely.  What’s amazing to me is that these same answers come from friends with kids who are 6, or kids who are 16!  

Math homework has changed

One thing that’s useful to remember here is that the way math is taught is evolving all the time. Today there is more of a focus on problem solving than ever, because we know it’s so vital for the careers of the future. But while parents and teachers know this is incredibly important, the structures of schools and traditional curricula haven’t kept pace; this is part of what leads to math feeling disconnected, irrelevant, and confusing.

It’s pretty clear that there are some fundamental issues here that go beyond the ages of our children. Thankfully, there are ways to work through these issues, but you have to start with a couple of simple (but not easy) principles. And although these principles are true, you might have to “fake it until you make it” a little before you can really make them your own. Gradually, as you start to realize how right they really are, you can begin to not only feel less anxious about helping your child with math, but maybe even start to enjoy it a little!

Tips for helping your child with math homework

  1. You can do math. EVERYONE can do math. There is no such thing as someone who is not a math person.
  2. It’s totally okay to try and solve a problem and not get the right answer. It’s okay the first time, the tenth time, and the hundredth time. As long as you and your child are learning as you go, adjusting your thinking, and trying new things, it’s all good.
  3. There is no one right way to solve a problem. Certainly, there are ways that are more efficient, and there are ways that are faster, or simpler, but so what if that’s not the first way (or the tenth way) that you or your child tried? As my mom always liked to say, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
  4. You can help your child do math. You know how your child thinks. You know how they are most likely to understand things. You know their life experiences and how to relate to them, and what they know. You know them best, and as a result, you are best equipped to help them make sense of ideas that may not make sense otherwise. You are best equipped to help them connect ideas to themselves, and to the world around them.
  5. Math is interesting. Math is fun. Math is wondrous. It is, really. Show that you are wowed. Your kids will be wowed too. Most of what kids get in school are tiny disconnected pieces of math, that don’t get to be as awesome as they could be. When you show them you find math to be amazing, they will too!

These are core mindsets that we think you should try on for yourself. Wear them for a bit, like a new pair of shoes. Break them in, try them in different conditions. The more you use them, the more they’ll feel like your most comfortable shoes!

These principles are the heart of exSTEMsions. They are central to how we’ve built our problems, our tools, and our resources. The math your child is learning in school may not be super interesting, or lend itself to serious problem solving - if that’s the case, we can help. Once you have good problems to start from, and a sturdy set of core beliefs to clothe you, the rest will fall into place. We believe in you. We believe in your kids. We know you can do this.

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