1. Learn some math yourself. You can make learning part of your family culture by showing that everyone in your family is learning something new. This doesn’t mean lecturing your kids on the virtues of lifelong learning—it means modeling it yourself. There are lots of free online resources (try edX, or Khan Academy) for learning (or re-learning) mathematics. In addition to becoming more knowledgeable, you will also grow in compassion for their struggles. As adults it’s easy to forget how vulnerable it is to be completely clueless (and possibly not perfect at something the first time around.) Putting ourselves in the place of the student goes a long way in helping us understand our child’s experience.
2. Connect with their math teacher. Most schools have open houses or parent information nights where parents can come and meet teachers. Show up to these events and it will make a difference to your child and their teacher. As a teacher, meeting a parent signals to me that my student has a supportive home environment, and it’s helpful to get a fuller picture of their lives outside of the classroom. Establishing a relationship also makes it easier to reach out if there are questions or concerns later in the year.
3. Make sure they have clean, quiet place to work with the supplies they need. Many of the students who struggle in my classes are highly distractable, and environmental cues are helpful for signaling that it’s time to focus and get to work. Most teachers provide a list of supplies at the beginning of the year. It’s a good bet that for math class they will need pencils, erasers, paper, and a ruler. Other possibilities include a scientific calculator, and graph paper. Be sure to check in every couple of months to see if they need refills.
4. Show them real math at work in everyday life. To stay motivated, your child will need come up with their own reasons why it’s important to study math (and these are likely to change over the years.) We work on this some in the classroom, but it’s extra effective if it also comes from home. Statistics in news articles, measurement in building and cooking, probability in decision-making are just a few of the different kinds of mathematics in the world around us. Practice looking and you’ll see more and more.
5. Offer encouragement to build perseverance. Everybody struggles in math at some point in their lives. Yet we seem to have this idea that, “Either I’m a math person or I’m not.” The reality is that there are a lot of different kinds of mathematics, and a lot of ways to be good at math. Struggling with math one day does not mean that you won’t find satisfaction or even joy in it later. Seeing mistakes as an opportunity for growth is a mindset that will help your child in math class and beyond.