How to help your child with math

You might also ask, “Where were the calculators when I was in grade school?” And you might observe, “Math class sure has changed!” it’s true: mathematics instruction has been in a state of flux for several years. Why? First of all, technology is chaging. The wide availability of calculators and computers today has diminished the need for human beings to do low-level calculations. Second, job demands are more often related to higher level thinking and decision-making than low-level calculations.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has played a strong leadership role throughout this process. In 2000, NCTM adopted six new principles to guide the planning of school mathematics programs and ten standards to serve as a framwork for k-12 curricular planning. Likke previous standards, the revised principles and standards put an emphasis on logical reasoning and understanding of math concepts – particularly as they relate to real-world problems – while reinforcing the need for basic computational skills.

What does a math class look like today? Chances are your child will still learn how to do basic calculations but will also receive instruction about how to develop “calculation fluency.” Math classrooms today also focus on problem solving, communication, reasoning, and using mathematics with technology and other real-world applications. Also, elementary curriculums are now likely to include areas previously taught only in high school, such as basic algebra. Your child won’t use just a pencil and paper for mathematics; she will also use a computer, a calculator, and lots of hands-on manipulative materials.

Because the nature of mathematics instruction has changed so radically since we adults were students, you’ll want to become familiar with the curriculum and teaching procedures at your child’s school. Here are some questions to guide your discussion with the teacher.

“Please tell me about the math curriculum. In what ways is my child learning about calculation, problem solving, communication, reasoning, and connecting math to the real world?”

  • “How are students grouped for math instruction?”
  • “How are computers and calculators used in the classroom?”
  • “How is my child’s progress in math monitored?”
  • “How will I be informed if my child is falling behind in math?”
  • “How can I support the math program at home?”


“My son is in third grade. At the beginning of the school year, we received a list of school supplies we needed to buy. A calculator was on the list. I’m worried that my son won’t learn his math facts.”

In the past, so much attention was placed on computation that there was insufficient time left over for learning math skills such as solving word problems and using mathematics to solve real-world problems. NCTM emphasizes the importance of developing fulency in calculation. The organization also recommends that students learn to use technology – including calculation and technology skill are balanced in the curriculum.

My daughter keeps talking about estimating answer. What’s wrong with getting the right answers? I don’t understand the emphasis on estimation.”

In everyday mathematics, there are times when we need an exact answer and times when an approximate answer will do. When you’re at the store, in the workplace, or in a discussion with a family member, you may need to do some speedy mental arithmetic to make a decision or respond to a question or an observation. Examples: “There’s 20 percent more in the bottle, and it costs a dollar more… Is it a bargain?” “Do I really agree with the proposal for the new retirement plan?” “Let’s see; two dollars more allowance per week equal how much more per year?”

Knowing how to estimate is a real life, real world skill. Also, children who are good at estimating are able to quickly realize when an answer is way off base and rule out some incorrect choices on standardized achievement tests. If exact answers are needed, they can use calculators or pencil and paper.

Rest assured that your daughter is learning and will learning how to arrive at exact answers to problems. She’s probably learnnig multiple wats to slove problems for different purposes. Talk to the teacher to find out how estimating and metal arithmatic fit into the curriculum.

Math was and is my worst subject! My palms still sweat when I think about math tests, and now it’s the same for my daughter. She’s a basket case on test days. How can I help her?

Math anxiety is very real. Children and adults with math anxiety become extremely fearful of mathematics and avoid it as much as possible. Talk with your faughter’s teacher and, if necessary, the school counselor. Enlist their help. Try to understand the math program at your daughter’s school and be supportive of it. Avoid communicating your dislike of mathematics; instead model a positive attitude about the subject and stress the importance of math in daily life. You might compile a mental list of real-life, everyday situations where you use math. Math becomes less scary when we realize it is just a tool to help us make decisions and slove real life problems. Also point out any instances you observe where your daughter uses math without anxiety. Examples: Figuring out if she has enough money to pay for movie and popcorn; deciding whether her bed will fit in a corner or be too big; planning the time she’ll need to complete a long-term project or report.

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