Teaching someone math seems like it shouldn’t be that hard. In theory, you should be able to just do the math in front of them, explaining your steps along the way, and then they will be able to do it too. But in practice, it’s not that simple. It turns out that teaching math is a lot like teaching someone to ride a bike. It might help them a little bit to watch you do it beforehand, but at a certain point, they need to try it themselves.
Consequently, it is important that when you are trying to help your child with math, you avoid doing it for them. Remember that the reason that students get homework is for them to practice, so do their problems for them is essentially like taking away their practice time. They might appreciate the help at first, but in the long run, it will likely do them more harm than good.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to help your child! In this article, we will detail some great ways to help your child in math while avoiding doing it for them. We will begin with some short-term solutions that can help your child if they are struggling with a particular problem or assignment. Towards the end of the article, we will describe some more long-term solutions to help your child get through a difficult course, catch up after they’ve fallen behind in a class, or generally become a better math student.
Ask guiding questions
When your child asks for help with a math problem, the best first step is to ask them questions that will help them break down the problem and help them understand what in particular is confusing them. Try beginning with simple questions like “What is the problem asking us to find?” and “How do you think we should begin this problem?” These kinds of questions can be particularly useful in order to figure out exactly where your child is getting confused. Remember that it is far better for your child if you show them how to do the single step that is confusing them rather than doing the entire problem for them.
Make the problem simpler
Similar to the previous strategy, making a problem slightly simpler can help to pinpoint why a problem is difficult for your child to solve and can break it down into more manageable steps. For example, if it seems like your child is being thrown off by large numbers or fractions, ask them how they would do the problem if the numbers were easier to work with. Once they have worked through a simpler problem, they will likely have an easier time performing the same solution strategy on the original problem.
Show them how to do a similar problem
When your child isn’t just confused by one step and instead needs more comprehensive help, one of the best ways to make sure you aren’t robbing them of the practice they need is to come up with a similar problem and show them how to do that instead. Most of the time, this can be done by just changing the numbers in the problem they are working on slightly. Remember that the purpose of this strategy is for them to be able to repeat the solution method afterward. A great technique to help them do that is to ask them to describe everything that you did on your problem after you finish it so that they will be able to repeat those same steps on their problem.
Have them call a friend
Many people underestimate how helpful it can be for children to work on math with a friend. The simple act of talking about a math problem, particularly with someone who is also learning it for the first time, can really enhance understanding. It is important to ensure that they are discussing how to solve the problem rather than just sharing answers.
Look over their notes with them
Taking a look at your child’s notes or other materials from class can be a great strategy for helping them both in the short term and long term. For the short term, you will be able to see the strategies and techniques that your child has been going over in school, and you can use their notes to point your child in the right direction while also demonstrating how to effectively use notes when doing homework. For the long term, you will be able to see whether your child is taking effective notes and whether they are organizing them effectively so that they are able to use them later on. If not, you can help them develop some better note-taking and organizational strategies.
Help them make a schedule
Another great long-term strategy to help your child is to help them set aside specific times that they will work on their homework and study for assessments. Many students struggle to complete their homework not because they aren’t capable of completing it but because they just put it off until it’s too late. When they lose out on that repeated practice that is so important when learning math, that is when they can start to fall behind. When trying to schedule specific homework and study times, be sure to take your child’s own preferences into consideration. If, for example, they don’t feel capable of starting homework right when they get home from school, then you can always schedule some relaxing time as well. And keep in mind that the best time to schedule homework is when someone else will be home who would be able to help if needed.
Get them a tutor
Many parents realize that while they are certainly capable of helping their children with math, they just don’t have enough time to commit to helping their children whenever they need it. In that case, finding a tutor who can provide frequent, professional support to your child is certainly the best option. At Zinkerz, we offer math classes ranging from 1st-grade math fundamentals to AP Calculus BC and SAT Math, as well as homework help on any topic. If your child needs support in any math topic, we will be able to match you with the right tutor.