Academic journal article School Community Journal

Math out of School: Families' Math Game Playing at Home

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Math out of School: Families' Math Game Playing at Home

Article excerpt


This study investigated the potential of an approach to involving families in regular integration of math into home life, addressing the following: When families are given math-related games unconnected with children's school, does what parents believe impact the extent to which their families play the games, and how do parents describe their family's learning with the games? We distributed games integrating math and U.S. geography to 30 parents with children aged 7 to 13. Over four months, we followed the extent and nature of families' playing of the games. Families with children under 10 were more likely to continue playing over time; parent education and occupation did not relate to extent of play. Parents described a rich, shared educational experience that they and their children shaped to their interests and interaction styles; some drew a sharp contrast with homework. Although all parents believed the games promoted learning, only one related this learning to potential benefit in school. In light of parents' stated distinction between educational game playing at home and homework, we conclude by considering ways to establish and investigate the impact of a culture of families' engaging in math-related activities for fun at home.

Key Words: math, families, games, home learning, parent involvement

Background: The Need for New Ways to Involve Parents in Children's Math Learning

Benefits and Challenges of Involving Parents in Children's Math Learning

School-age children stand to benefit when parents support their math learning at home: children may be more likely to achieve academic success, to have positive attitudes about learning, and to acquire new skills (Chavkin, 1993; "Engaging Parents," 1998; Epstein, 1994; Henderson & Berla, 1994; Shumow, 1998). Programs at national, state, and local levels have been instituted to promote parental involvement in children's math learning (e.g.,,, Homework and home-school connections are often the focus, encouraging parents to make sure homework is completed, to recognize when and how to help, to engage children in activities that reinforce school learning, and to use homework as a way of learning about school content, pedagogy, and standards. (Note: "Parents" is used throughout this article to refer to those responsible for children's upbringing at home, which may include grandparents or other guardians.)

Parents' schedules and circumstances are not always congruent with the demands of such programs. Classes and school- or community-based events can be very beneficial for those who have access to them and the time to attend. However, at all levels of the parental economic and educational spectrum, the competing demands of work, chores, and childcare pose obstacles for attending programs and events (Hewlett & West, 1998).

Additionally, not all parents seek further involvement in school-related issues. Some parents, such as those who had limited or negative school experiences or who are learning English, avoid school-related events or are hesitant to seek help from schools (Delpit, 1995). Many working parents express the desire for the limited time they have with their children to be focused on the social and emotional side of family life, rather than on homework (Kralovec, 2000; Public Agenda, 1999). Increasing numbers of children complete their homework at after-school programs, rather than at home, and the majority of those who do their homework at home are regularly in conflict with their parents over when and how to complete it. Such conflicts are often exacerbated in math, an area in which many adults feel insecure, and in which current content and pedagogy is sometimes quite different than what parents experienced in school (Ma, 1999; NCTM, 2000; NRC, 2001).

Disconnecting Parent-Child Math Games from Homework and School

The present study was conducted as part of a broader effort to explore alternative approaches to involving parents in their children's math learning. …

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