What to do when you don’t know how to do the problem – Math Resources for Parents and Caregivers

by Sasha Fajerstein

posted by Sasha Fajerstein

One of the most common complaints I hear from friends with young children is that they have no idea how to help their children with math homework. I’ve heard many parents say that while they can solve the problem, they do not understand the process that is being taught to their child at school.


                                        Photo source: www.danscartoons.com

Let me start by saying that it’s not a parent or caregiver’s job to be a master at all subjects their child is learning in school. It is more than ok to just check to make sure that your child has completed the homework even if you don’t know if our child has all correct answers. The teacher will most likely have students self-check homework, collect the homework at school, or go over problems as a class. However, I imagine most of you reading are thinking more about scenarios like this one:

Child: “I have no idea how to do my math homework”

Parent: “Ok, let me look at it… oh this is addition – you just line up the digits and then add them, carry the one if you need to”

Child: “No! That’s not how we do it!”

The best way to handle this type of situation is to have your child show you similar problems from class that they do know how to solve and ask them to explain the steps to you. Oftentimes, having kids (and adults) explain the thought process used to solve a similar problem is all that is needed to realize they actually do have the tools to solve the problem they are struggling with. If that doesn’t work, there is no harm in showing a method that is not exactly how they learned it in class as long as you can explain why your method works. The entire basis of inquiry-based mathematics is conceptual understanding. Oftentimes, teachers now will ask students to solve a problem using more than one method in order to help deepen understanding. Let’s start by assuming you have no idea how to do the problem (the new way or the old way). Don’t worry; there are plenty of resources out there to help you. It’s best to start with the child’s teacher. The teacher will often have suggested websites, YouTube videos, or even handouts for parents. If that’s not an option, here are some resources that I find helpful:

IXL Math: https://www.ixl.com/math/

You can search this site for similar questions to whatever it is your child is struggling with. It is broken down by age group and then by category. Once you find a similar problem, you or your child can attempt to solve the problem. If you get the answer wrong, IXL gives a short tutorial on how to do the problem.

Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/

Khan Academy has video tutorials created by experts in mathematics and math educators for almost all types of math concepts and questions (so far, I haven’t been able to think of a topic in math that isn’t covered on Khan Academy).

U.S. Department of Education: http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/math/index.html

Many people don’t realize that the U.S. Department of Education actually has resources for students, parents, caregivers, and educators. While this hasn’t been updated since 2005, the activities and ideas are still relevant. If you’re looking for ideas for activities that you can do with your children to help support mathematical thinking, this site actually has quite a few excellent suggestions.

State Board of Education Website: http://www.corestandards.org/standards-in-your-state/

You can use the link above to click on your state. It will take you to your state’s board of education website, and many of the state websites have resources and ideas for parents.

Modeling and encouraging perseverance is one of the very best things you can do for your child. The process it takes to get to an answer is equally as important as the answer itself. Having your children explain their thinking, encouraging them to talk to the teacher, talking through the steps with them, and using online resources to learn together are all excellent ways to work through a problem. Building these foundations will help your child from early math through high school math and beyond.





One Reply to “What to do when you don’t know how to do the problem – Math Resources for Parents and Caregivers”

  1. This blog was helpful, because it was 100% accurate. It is definitely okay to not understand a child’s math homework. There are many resources available to us today to help both you and the child to better understand mathematics. Also, there is also almost always more than one way to solve a math problem. Sometimes a child may not get how to do a problem using the teacher’s methods and you can show them how you learned to come up with the answer using a quicker or easier method.

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