How to Help Your Children in Math?


Finding math a challenge is a fairly common problem. Some people seem to have a natural talent for numbers but others struggle. Luckily, good teaching and tutoring assistance can help children who find math difficult to overcome their frustrations and anxiety and gain an understanding of the concepts and skills necessary to function in a society where numerical literacy is important skill for everyday life.

Research on the Benefits of Math Tutoring

A study published in 2014 by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that intensive tutoring is one way to bring youth up to speed on the mathematical knowledge they need. The study was conducted in Chicago among impoverished African-American Grade 9 and 10 students who had weak math skills and poor attendance records; about 25 per cent of them also had a learning disability. One group of students was randomly assigned to receive intense tutoring and behavioural counselling; this group was compared to a control group that didn’t have these options.

The researchers found that in eight months, based on standardized test scores, the students who received the assistance learned what the average high school student learns in three years, over and above the results of the control group.

Professor Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab, who led the study, said that it contradicts the common assumptions that if disadvantaged students aren’t helped with math by the age of six, it’s too late. One hour daily of tutoring made a huge difference to these teens.

Tutoring is also a promising solution for families, because parents aren’t always equipped to assist their children with math homework and issues. A 2009 study conducted for Intel by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates indicated that parents would rather talk to their children about sex and drugs than about science and math, and more than half of the 560 surveyed said they had trouble helping their children with these subjects.

Help Your Children be Successful in Math

Writing for the New York Times’ parenting blog, education author Elizabeth Green offers some suggestions to parents who want to work with their children on improving their math skills and success:

  1. Identify the problem: If you don’t get to the heart of the problem, you won’t be able to solve it. Really listen to your child as he/she explains his or her thinking in solving a math problem. You’ll be able not only to explain the right steps, but show your child why the wrong ones don’t work.
  2. Demonstrate how math fits into everyday life: It’s valuable to your children to understand that math is connected to and useful in their daily lives. Calculate the tip at a restaurant out loud, or talk about how much change you’ll get from the cashier at the grocery store if you give him a 20-dollar bill for the $14.23 cost of your purchase. Take every opportunity to connect math with daily living.
  3. See spots: Use dots to help children understand basic arithmetic concepts. The visual connection between adding three dots to two dots is useful to understanding. Dots can also be arranged in arrays so the child can visually begin to understand multiplication. Three rows of four dots equals twelve; if you add another dot to each row, what does that equal?
  4. Both memorization and understanding are helpful: Teaching both memorization and understanding together helps deepen understanding. Help your children memorize the multiplication tables while explaining the concept behind them so it doesn’t seem like a useless, silly exercise.
  5. Introduce big ideas early: There are simple ways to demonstrate basic algebraic concepts such as variables while teaching arithmetic. For example, you ask your child, “Five plus what equals seven?”and write it out, too. The what/blank is equivalent to x in higher mathematics. Why not give your children a head start in a simple way?

Test Anxiety and Math

What about the dreaded test, you may ask. Good question. Test anxiety is common among students, and math tests can be very stressful for those who aren’t comfortable with math. Here are some tips to help students get through testing time:

  • Test yourself: Don’t simply re-read your notes or the test. Create questions or flashcards that force you to retrieve information. Retrieval boosts learning and retention and should improve performance.
  • Don’t cram: Research shows that reviewing information over time lets the brain forget and re-learn the key information and leads to success.
  • Vary routine: Don’t follow the same study pattern each time. Mix up the problems you’re practicing and do them in a different order each day. It forces you to think about the kinds of problem you’re facing, rather than doing them by rote.
  • Calm the anxiety: A yoga breathing routine or spending 10 minutes prior to the test writing about anything that comes to mind have been shown to have calming effects.

Problems in learning math can be overcome with the right help, so don’t panic. As Franklin D. Roosevelt, the former U.S. president, famously said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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