More simple strategies for engaging your kids in math
We know we have a responsibility to support our kids, get them to and from school, and help with their homework. Being engaged in their lives as students is what LEARNING STARTS is all about. Or more to the point, being engaged is what good parenting is all about.
But it’s not easy.
PBS, one of our favorite sources for educational programming and resources, reminds us that helping with homework starts with paying attention.
Some children will work best by doing homework right after school; others need a longer break and must run around before tackling the work. Most will need a snack. If your child does after-school activities, set a homework time before or after the activity, or after dinner. Whatever routine you choose, help your child stick to it.
That’s a simple and valuable reminder regardless of the subject your young student is studying. But some of us need more specific guidance on how to help our kids, especially when the subject is outside of our comfort zone. In a recent post we looked to TERC, the creators of Investigations, a K-5 mathematics curriculum, for thoughts on how to engage kids around math. To get started, TERC suggests asking questions and encouraging children to think critically and carefully about their math problems.
As for working directly with your child in the challenging subject, TERC has more to offer and it begins by walking through specific challenges and discussing the ways problems might be solved (hint: there are often many). You can also solve problems together and explain your thinking and strategies along the way. Have your son or daughter explain their thinking, too. More specifically:
Try to use productive questions that promote mathematical activity and reasoning such as "What do you think…?" or "Why do you think…?" These questions encourage children to develop ideas and test and defend their thinking. Other helpful questions include:
- Why did you solve the problem in this way?
- Will your strategy always work?
- What else did you try?
After you ask a question, be patient. Don't automatically give your child the answer. Instead, give your child time to think about the question and how s/he might answer it. If your child gives the wrong answer, ask how s/he got it. Probe to gain a better understanding of their thinking. Suggest alternate strategies that might help your child find the correct answer. Help him/her think about where their thinking went wrong.
Solving problems together and exploring the thinking that led you (and your kids) to a solution is a great way to reinforce understanding of the concepts at hand. It’s also a way of presenting the different approaches and tools that were helpful in getting to an answer. According to TERC, that itself is “an important part of a child’s growing understanding and ability to explain and defend their thinking. As children describe and compare their representations, their understanding of mathematics deepens.”
These are things you can do together even when you’re not sitting over the kitchen table with their math homework laid out in front of you. Talk about your thinking and your reasoning when shopping, when cooking or doing chores around the house, or whenever a question or a problem arises. Even mistakes present a great opportunity to build on these computational skills, reinforcing the value of problem solving and critical thinking, and making your engagement in their studies that much more routine.