Helping Your Child with Homework Assignments
Let's face it, when you graduated from high school or college, the last thing you ever hoped to have to do again was explain the difference between an isosceles and an obtuse triangle or find the circumference of a circle in centimeters versus inches. The bad news is, many parents are finding themselves faced with these very issues once again when their child asks for help with homework.
Then and Now
Many parents feel that the schools our children attend today are different from those of a generation ago, and experts agree. "The difference between our memories of elementary school and today's reality for our children can lead to conflicting emotions," says Douglas B. Reeves, Ph.D., author of Reason to Write: Help Your Child Succeed in School and in Life Through Better Reasoning and Clear Communication (Kaplan, 2002). "On the one hand, we want our children to have more opportunities, better education and a more sound preparation for the rigors of secondary school than we had. On the other hand, many parents occasionally wish that today's schools were more familiar, with a little less structure, fewer tests and more fun."
If you don't recognize the math in your child's homework, think about how the world has changed since you were in school. The math looks different because the world is different.
"Advances in science, technology, information processing and communication, combined with the changing workplace, make it necessary for all students to learn more math," says Gay Dillin of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in Reston, Va. "The basics are changing. Arithmetic skills, although important, are no longer enough. To succeed in tomorrow's world, students must understand algebra, geometry, statistics and probability. Business and industry demand workers who can solve real-world problems, explain their thinking to others, identify and analyze trends from data and use modern technology. Instead of worksheets, your child may bring home problems to investigate that are related to real life – investigating salaries, life expectancy and fair decisions, for example. After all, the future is closer than it may appear."
Knowing More Than You
What if your child's homework stumps you? It is bound to happen one day. Your child will ask you a question or show you a homework problem that you can't even understand, much less answer.
"The main reason for this is that the terms you used in school are not always the same ones your child is learning," says Cynthia Johnson, co-author of Homework Heroes, Grades 6-8: It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Done! (Kaplan, 2001). "For example, you wouldn't think a word like 'subtract' would ever go out of style, but in some areas this word has been replaced by synonyms like 'reduce' or 'lessen.' But when faced with the inevitable stumper, don't worry. Remember, you may have forgotten a few things, but you are still much more experienced than your child at finding the information that you need. You can turn the occasion into a learning experience for both you and your child as you track down the answer together."
Parents Are Teachers
"Family members – as children's first teachers – are crucial to student success," says Dillin. "And the more adults become engaged in their children's education, the greater the chances that children will succeed."
If your child's homework assignment consists of learning to play the scales on his French horn, don't worry that you have never picked up the instrument in your life. According to Johnson, it is not important that you know everything.
"In this case, and in others, you won't be able to impart the correct knowledge to him at a moment's notice," she says. "But regardless of the subject matter, when your child asks you for help on his or her homework, you can always be supportive, caring and kind when answering. If you don't know the answer and the two of you search and can't find the answer, don't get frustrated and upset. Keep in mind there's a larger issue at stake, which is the relationship between you and your child."
The Learning First Alliance offers the following top 10 tips for parents regarding math and studying in general:
- There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Regardless of your own experience with school mathematics, you can encourage your child to develop a love of math through supporting his performance, helping with school projects and discussing their homework.
- Stay informed. Keep yourself apprised of the specific academic standards that children are required to meet at each grade level.
- Make sure your kids are taking advanced courses. The mathematics that students study in the middle grades has a strong effect on whether they will be able to take the higher levels of mathematics necessary for admission to college and for an increasing number of jobs.
- Be a champion for challenge. A challenging math curriculum can stimulate children to learn and can positively influence growth in other areas of their education. Advocate for mathematics reform efforts that focus on raising expectations for student performance.
- Make math fun. Spend time with kids on simple board games, puzzles and activities that encourage better attitudes and stronger math skills. Even everyday activities such as playing with toys in a sandbox or in a tub at bath time can teach children math concepts like weight, density and volume.
- Mix in math. The kitchen is filled with tasty opportunities to teach fractional measurements, like doubling and dividing cookie recipes.
- Use real-world examples to teach math. Point out ways that people use math every day to pay bills, balance their checkbooks, figure out their net earnings and make change and tip at restaurants. Involve older children in projects that incorporate geometric and algebraic concepts like planting a garden, building a bookshelf or figuring how long it will take to drive to your family vacation destination.
- Prepare them for a profession. Let kids know what vocations require a sound base in mathematics. Careers in carpentry, landscaping, medicine, pharmacy, aeronautics and meteorology all require strong math skills.
- Tune in to technology. Encourage your child to use computers and the Internet at home, your local library and after-school programs for tasks like developing charts, graphs, maps and spreadsheets.
- Encourage children to solve problems. Provide assistance, but let them figure it out themselves. Problem solving is a lifetime skill.
Just remember, mutual caring and respect between you and your children will always be more important than any homework fact or figure. "If you find yourself losing your composure because you and your child cannot find out what year the Treaty of Ghent was signed, don't get upset," says Johnson. "Reassure your child that homework doesn't have to be perfect every time, and he can always learn from his mistakes. This positive, caring attitude, more than any one fact, is what will make you a Homework Hero in the eyes of your child. By the way, the Treaty of Ghent was signed in 1814."
There are many places to get wonderful information to help both parent and child get the most out of homework. If you have trouble finding such a place, go to the source itself – your child's teacher. If the teacher can't offer you the assistance, he or she may be able to refer you to a place that can and will give you all the information you need.