BEYOND HELPING WITH HOMEWORK: Parents and Children Doing Mathematics at Home

By Kliman, Marlene | Teaching Children Mathematics, November 1999 | Go to article overview

BEYOND HELPING WITH HOMEWORK: Parents and Children Doing Mathematics at Home


Kliman, Marlene, Teaching Children Mathematics


How can parents help their children be enthusiastic about mathematics? What is the mathematical equivalent of reading out loud to children every day? How can teachers support parents in doing mathematics with their children in engaging and productive ways?

Ongoing parental involvement in mathematics - as in any subject - can provide a solid foundation for children's learning and attitudes (Peressini 1998; Mokros 1996; Apelman and King 1993). When parents maintain high expectations for their children's performance in mathematics, regularly do mathematical activities with their children, and display a positive attitude toward mathematics, children benefit. They are more likely to feel confident in their abilities; to enjoy and learn more from the mathematics that they experience at school; and to develop a sense of the richness, usefulness, and pervasiveness of mathematics.

This article offers ideas to help parents integrate mathematics into their family lives in ways that are consistent with the NCTM's Standards (NCTM 1989). These ideas were gathered from teachers in a wide range of school settings. As teachers made changes in their mathematics teaching, they kept parents informed and enlisted their support. They let parents know what was happening in class and asked them to help with homework. Some teachers also encouraged families to do mathematics together regularly and experience mathematics as an engaging family activity.

Getting Started

To succeed in integrating mathematics into daily family life, parents need to understand how doing mathematics at home can foster children's learning, and they need appealing and manageable activity ideas. The following paragraphs offer some suggestions for teachers to help parents get started.

Begin early in the year

Launch the idea of doing mathematics at home near the start of the school year so that parents have plenty of time to try a range of activities, to share ideas with one another, and to reflect on their children's mathematics learning at home and at school. A parent night or conference is an ideal time to introduce the idea; if that idea is not possible, send a letter home. In one district, the mathematics coordinator sent a letter to parents about a month after school began, explaining the importance of regularly doing mathematics at home and offering a few activities for families to try. Teachers followed up in their classrooms with activity ideas and resource lists sent home throughout the year.

Draw a connection to the family's role in literacy

Most parents are familiar with the importance of reading to their children regularly; teachers may find it helpful to draw a parallel between supporting children's literacy and mathematics at home. Ask parents to consider the ways that they support their children's reading and writing throughout the day and give some typical examples. For instance, many parents point out familiar words on package labels to beginning readers, listen while their children read aloud, encourage their children to write thank-you notes, and make up stories and rhymes with their children. Explain that encouraging children's mathematics skills is similar to encouraging their language skills. Just as many opportunities arise for supporting children's literacy throughout the day, so are many opportunities possible to enjoy mathematics together.

Share anecdotes

One first-grade teacher sparked parents' awareness of mathematics in everyday situations by sharing anecdotes about their children's mathematical thinking outside of mathematics class. At parent conferences early in the year, the teacher cited examples from the classroom - children figuring out how many minutes remained until lunch time; reasoning about spatial relationships when doing a construction project; and combining, comparing, and categorizing as they discussed their collections of toy animals, toy cars, and shells. …

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