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Math Homework: How to Help Your Child

Updated on August 28, 2012

Math homework doesn't have to be a battle of wills and tears. There are some easy things that you can do to make math easier for the whole family.

A Guide to Understanding "The New Math"

Have you noticed that math is not being taught in the same way that you learned math as a child? If so you are not alone. Many of my parents come to parent teacher conferences and say, “I don’t know how to do this math. I didn’t learn math this way.” So why is math so different today and how do you help your child?

The math today isn’t any different; it’s the approach that has changed. When you and I were in school the focus math was procedural. You watch how I do it and now you repeat it over and over until you memorize how to do it and get it right. Then maybe like me, you got to Geometry in high school and the teacher started to talk about theorems and proofs and your eyes began to glaze over. There is a reason for this, your foundational understanding of math was weak.

Students sharing their math thinking.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Changes in Learning Math

Math today has a much different focus. Today math teachers and the curriculum from which they teach has a much deeper focus. Students are encouraged to be reflective and make connections with what they already know and what they are currently learning. In my class we explore a concept by using questions to deepen our thinking on a particular topic. I ask my students what they notice or what makes sense to them to get them thinking about what they already know about a particular concept. As each student begins to think about what the other has said, they are able to make connections that are more real to them and make more sense.

When we learned to add, we were told, add the ones column, carry the number to the tens place and so on without any real understand about WHY we were carrying. In my class we use a method called partial sums. For example, 29+45 would look like this: 20+40=60 and 9+5=14, you then combine the sums to make a total of 74. We connect this process to place value. The students are actually talking about adding the value of each digit in it's place, the 2 is not 2 but 20 because it is 2 tens not 2 ones. We then talk about what do we do with the one, what is it's value. Students are then able to make the connection that the one has a value of one ten and understand that we have to bring that one over to the tens column.

Manipulatives are also an important part of building on the understanding of each concept. Of course we do move into the traditional carrying method once the connection to place value is made. You may be thinking, wow that's a lot of extra stuff just to get kids to add. The simple response is, yes, but their understanding is much deeper when they are through. Then as we move on to other concepts like multiplication and division the same approach is used and they are able to make those connections much more quickly.

Books to Help your Child with Math Homework

Five Tips to Make Math Homework Time Easier

  1. Set aside a designated place to do homework. Make this a place away from distractions like the tv or computer.
  2. Declare a certain time as the time to start homework. This does not have to be immediately after school but close. Sometimes kids need a little break when they get home from school. Allow them this bit of time to relax their brain before getting back to work.
  3. Do Not tell your kids that you understand why they are having a hard time with math because you weren't good at math either. This allows them to have an out if they are unsuccessful. You may think that you are sympathizing with them but in reality you are giving them permission to not be successful. Instead you could say something like, "let's work on this together to solve the problem.
  4. Keep a box or basket of tools that your child may need for math. This can include things like: pencils, rulers, calculator, extra paper, bingo chips to use as counters, and maybe even graph paper for older kids.
  5. Have your child keep a math notebook. This will serve many purposes for both you and your child. First it can be a place for your child to record his or her thinking. What is confusing to him? What does he really get? So why is this so helpful? It will create a list for you of specific things that you can ask the teacher to help you understand to assist your child or for your child to ask the teacher for some additional help. Sometimes by writing down what you "get" it can lead you to make connections to what the question is actually asking.

Posters of our Math Thinking

Click thumbnail to view full-size
These are the questions that we use to guide our thinking.Here is an example of recording our thinking as explore a division problem.Our observations about patterns in mulitiplication.
These are the questions that we use to guide our thinking.
These are the questions that we use to guide our thinking. | Source
Here is an example of recording our thinking as explore a division problem.
Here is an example of recording our thinking as explore a division problem. | Source
Our observations about patterns in mulitiplication.
Our observations about patterns in mulitiplication. | Source

Math Games for Home or School

Math games are a critical component of math understanding. We play math games every day in my classroom. Not only are they fun but they deepen conceptual understanding for students. If your child is struggling with math, consider playing some math games with him. There are many great games that are produced by learning companies but if money is tight, here are few that are easy to make and fun to play at home.

  • Capture 5 is a game that we play often in my class and my students LOVE it. It is simple to play and can easily be made and played at home. I allow my students to choose to put their game piece anywhere they choose. Eventually they see that where they place their game piece is a strategic move and they become more thoughtful about it's placement. The goal is to capture 5 chips or coins. Check out the video for instructions on how to play.
  • Number Top It is another game we like to play. This is similar to the game of war but involves basic math facts. This is a two player game and all you need is a deck of cards. Each person turns two cards over and place them in front of themselves. If you are playing addition top it, the person that has the largest sums gets all of the cards and then you repeat until all of the cards are used. Variations would be multiplication top it and the largest product would be the winner and take all the cards. You could play with subtraction as well.
  • Cover All is a great basic math facts game. Take a strip of construction paper or card stock that is about 10 inches long and divide it into 10 one inch squares. Number each square from 1-10. You will need one for each player (no more than 4 players), ten bingo chips or pennies to cover your game board, and a pair of dice. As you roll the dice you can add, subtract, multiply or divide to get the number that you need to cover on your board. For example, if you roll a 1 and 4 this could be 1+4=5 and cover 5 or 4-1=3 to cover 3. Each player must say the fact that they are using. If you roll two sixes then you have to clear your board. If you roll a 5 and 6 you get to choose someone else to have them clear their board. This is a great game for children at all math levels. If you have one child just learning addition, they can still play with a sibling who has learned their multiplication facts.

Capture 5 addition and subtraction game

Do you struggle with helping your child with math homework?

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Above all, don't be afraid to talk with your child's teacher.  If your child is struggling with math his teacher will be the one that will be able to tell you exactly the area of your child's weakness and give you some tips on how to help him.  Keeping the lines of communication open between home and school are very important to helping your child be successful in school.  Don't forget to be patient.  You may already know this information but your child is just learning! 


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    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      I so appreciate the link to FB Siena Pies. If I had a nickel for every time a parent told me that they did not know how to help their child with their math homework I could retire! It is very important for us as adults to let children develop their critical thinking/analytical skills. This is one way to do that. Thanks so much for the read and comment and again for the share.

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      9 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Amazing hub! Voted up and useful. I LOVE point #3 about not giving your children an out. That's exactly what most of us would say and you are correct that it weakens our children's resolve to conquer the subject. I'm bookmarking this one and sharing it with my Facebook Fans. They're all parents and will appreciate the wisdom.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks LearnFromMe, I appreciate your feedback. I have the same problem with my parents every year! The questions are actually from Betty Garner's book Getting to Got It. It is a fantastic book that really gets into where learning deficits really come from. I think that you are right that most of society to could benefit from asking themselves these questions regularly. Thanks for reading and voting up!

    • LearnFromMe profile image


      9 years ago

      These are awesome tips for parents (and other teachers looking for ideas!). I couldn't tell you how many times I had to encourage parents not to give up and tell their children they were 'bad' at a subject in school. I would suggest that they look up some tutorials online together or contact the teacher for further clarification.

      I love your Questions to Think About poster. That should be in every classroom (and office, store, home...).

      Voted up and awesome!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks MsDora, math is so much more fun today than it was when I was in school. We have a great time with math in my class and I encourage kids to take the fun home with them! I appreciate you reading and voting up.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      9 years ago from The Caribbean

      Voted up and useful. The games makes me want to try math again!

    • toknowinfo profile image


      10 years ago

      Thanks for the well put together hub. It really is like a generation gap when it comes to helping my kids with math. I divide people into those who have a math mind and those who don't. I don't have a math mind, so I am not able to help my kids, who don't have math minds either. I also have learned I shouldn't help them with math, unless in an alternate universe my answers would be correct. Somehow they get through it. Rated up and useful

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      So gald that you enjoyed it Phantus and that you can use some of the information! Stay tuned...I will be adding more hubs soon about learning in math and cognitive structures that may also help you, thanks for the read.

    • phantus profile image


      10 years ago from Nairobi

      hey Cardelean, this is really a helpful, i have some kids whom i teach maths and i think my approach has always turned them away from the subject, i will follow some of what you have recommended , this is great stuff here

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Yes we do use Everyday Math! It is a big leap for the parents. Thanks for the read and comments!

    • gypsumgirl profile image


      10 years ago from Vail Valley, Colorado

      Great hub! I can so relate to your content as an educator. Do you happen to use Everyday Mathematics? You are so right about the approach to learning math changing over the years...definitely moved from procedures to concepts. There's more thinking involved in today's mathematical approaches. I enjoyed reading your hub...thank you!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for the comments, I try to be a good teacher Genna! Although it's not always easy.

      Shelly, we have been working on this for the last 10 years and we STILL have a lot of resistance among our teachers. Change is good but it takes a lot of self reflection.

    • shellyakins profile image


      10 years ago from Illinois

      Wonderful ideas. I think that the knowing why we are doing something makes for better learning in all subject areas. When I taught in Texas the district where I worked was teaching this way. There was resistance until the teachers saw results and light bulbs going on for their students.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Excellent hub...fascinating subject, and a great teacher. This hub opens the doors to us all on understanding how the "new math" actually works. Thank you.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      WildIris: I hope that you enjoy the games. I have just recently heard about Singapore math and have started to look into it. What we teach is not just an emphasis on place value but an emphasis on conceptual understanding and finding patterns and connections in math. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Sarah: I hope that you can use the information as you teach. Enjoy, I know that your students will!

    • profile image

      Sarah Webster 

      10 years ago

      I can honestly say, I don't think I've ever seen partial quotients before. I've used partial sums and love it, but I don't remember learning the technique for division. Maybe I haven't taught in the upper grades enough! Thank you so much for the new information. I can't wait to use it.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great game suggestions. Number Top It sounds like fun. What you describe in "Changes in Learning Math" resembles the same approach Singapore Math takes by emphasizing place value. This makes mental math quick, but it takes practice.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      LOL,not really sure that I am a cool teacher but thanks! I think it really depends on the child for the homework time. Some kids want to get right into it and get it down and for others they need a break. As for your last question...I don't know I only teach elementary school! Just kidding. I think that alot of teaching at home about how to be organized and how to "study" is needed. Those skills that are not developed have to be built, they don't just "appear." Good luck with that!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! You are a cool teacher. Interesting points with both #3 (never thought of it like that) and #5. Same with this.

      So, is it better to do homework shortly after returning from school after a whole day of school work when the mind just wants to veg out? Or, is it better to take a break for a few hours and do it just before bedtime?

      And, how do you motivate a 17yr old? who has not developed good study skills?

      Thanks for the great hub.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Julie for stopping by and commenting! I know it is very hard for parents to break that habit. I hope that many find it useful, the games especially are easy to make and do at home.

    • profile image

      Julie Franke 

      10 years ago

      Right On!! In regards to tip #3 of making homework easier...that has always been my biggest pet peeve of teachng. I wish parents would stop making it ok for math to be hard for their child because it was hard for them. Math is just another language. No one would ever say, "I am sorry, it's just too hard for my child to learn the language." We all know that it's children who are best at learning languages. It's the same for math.

      I am sure this will be a helpful article to many parents.


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