Help Your Child Build Math Skills

By Elizabeth Wistrom

Children develop their mathematical knowledge and understanding over time, through meaningful and connected learning experiences. Read on to learn more about how you can help your child improve math skills.

Lay the Groundwork for Mathematical Literacy

Are you looking to help your child improve math skills and gain confidence? According to the Organization For Economic Co-Operation and Development, mathematical literacy can be defined as "an individual’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgments and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen."

So, how can you help your child gain a solid foundation for understanding math at home? Work together to improve math skills. Here are a number of suggestions that will promote learning success:

1. Create a daily routine for homework assignments and skills practice. With the beginning of each new school year, sit down with your child to select a specific time for completing assignments each day. At the same time, select a location for setting up your child's homework desk. Having a pre-determine routine will take the guesswork out of homework time, so that your child can get right to the task at hand. Include a time for skills review - be it flashcard practice, related word problems, or even just worksheet pages from math concept books found at the local drugstore - regardless of whether there is assigned homework or not. Just spending 10 minutes a day will drastically improve math skills by providing opportunities for repeated exposure and practice!

2. Use homework to revisit learned concepts. Math curriculum is typically comprised of a carefully planned sequence of educational experiences and learning. Teachers use homework to help students make connections between these experiences and learning, and then use that information to build on the skills they already posses. In their "Home Connection Handbook" for parents, Everyday Mathematics publisher Wright Group/McGraw-Hill likens the process to "climbing a spiral staircase - with each twist of the stairs, the previous steps can be seen, but you are farther and higher." You can help improve math skills at home by working with your child to relate the homework assignments back to concepts that have been previously learned.

3. Know and understand the grade level expectations and curriculum being used to meet these goals. Your classroom teacher should be able to provide you with a list of the goals and outcomes for your child's particular grade level, as well as the name of the curriculum being used to deliver instruction. By understanding the skills your child is expected to master by the end of the year, you will have a better understanding of how the instruction progresses, and may then use this information to move your child along in his or her own process of learning. Take this one step further by visiting the publisher's website. There, you will more than likely find fun and easy activities that you can do at home with your child to support the learning that takes place in school.

4. Maintain open communication with your child's teacher. Remember, your child's teacher has many students he or she must attend to throughout the day. Today's trend of large class sizes is not conducive for instructors to meet one-on-one with each student, every day. Ask questions if you or your child do not understand a concept or assignment. Keep your teacher informed of any difficulties your child may be having with their homework. Let your teacher know if you see process or skill mastery, as well! Most importantly, if you feel that your child needs additional assistance beyond what you are capable of providing - be it remedial or enrichment work - begin by asking the classroom teacher for guidance.

5. Ask your child questions. Spend time with your child reviewing assignments. Ask questions about the steps they used to solve different problems. This will often give you a first-hand glimpse at their level of mathematical knowledge and development. Do they truly understand the process they used for solving the problem, or have the simply memorized and regurgitated a formula? This will also give you the opportunity to correctly identify any breakdown in understanding.

6. Review terminology. Use the appropriate mathematical terminology in your discussions of math at home. Spend time with a dictionary or on the web if there are terms and concepts you are unfamiliar with. You may even wish to help your child create his or her own mathematical dictionary, to keep track of learned these learned terms, rule and concepts.

7. Share real-life math situations. Encourage your child to think about how math fits into their everyday lives - while doing chores, at the grocery store, in sports activities, during regular play time, in the kitchen - even having a lemonade stand. Then, take it one step further by requiring them to use their mathematical knowledge to solve real-live problems: How many tablespoons are in 1/4 cup of butter? Can you sort your socks by colors? Since there are nine cookies left on the plate, how many will you and your two sisters each get so that it is a fair share? The book Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka is a fun look at how math and numbers are a part of every-day life.

8. Play games that encourage mathematical thinking or reinforce skills. Playing math games is a fun way to again improve math skills, and make real-life connections. Your child's teacher may have games at school to lend, or may be able to suggest store-bought games that reinforce grade-level concepts. When in doubt, just enjoy a good game of Crazy Eights, War, Yahtzee, Chess or Checkers!

9. Encourage mathematical exploration. There are toys, products and gadgets around your home that provide students with the opportunity to improve their mathematical literacy. Here is a list of a few to get you started:

  • a home calendar
  • a watch
  • a map or globe
  • a book of mazes of puzzles (like Sudoku)
  • a ruler or tape measure
  • a compass
  • a measuring cup
  • containers labeled by size (pint, gallon, quart)
  • a scale
  • a bank

Helping your child improve math skills is easy, fun and will make their learning meaningful. Above all, remember that by working to improve their mathematical literacy, you are preparing your child for future success!