“Can you help me with my math?”
Cue the sweats, the expanding pit in the stomach, the preemptive anxiety attack, and the knowledge that one or both of you will be crying soon.
Here are some helpful tips to get your kids through homework time and still like each other afterwards.
Find a quiet place to work
Total silence and no distractions is not always possible, so I’m not even going to suggest it. All you really need is enough light and a flat surface to write on. Try to eliminate visual distractions, but if your kid is into music while they study, have at it.
After about 20 minutes of working, TAKE A BREAK. Try to encourage something physical. Jumping jacks, wiggle the sillies out, whatever gets the blood pumping and the brain reset. Just a few minutes to switch from the brain to the body and back makes a world of difference. A physical reset is also important when the frustration level (you or the child!) begins to rise. Take a break and dance it out. If you have a child on medication to treat focus issues, make sure you aren’t at the end of the medication’s effectiveness period. It’s an uphill battle that you will not win.
Math isn’t what you remember
Yes, Common Core Math is different and a little odd. It’s a new way of thinking and maybe a more complicated process than how we learned mathematics, which is a good thing. I’m not going to go to deeply into my defense of Common Core except to say, I promise it will pay off eventually. That said, it’s completely okay to admit to your child that you don’t quite understand the method and that it is different than how you learned. YouTube tutorials are your friend. From multiplication and division to algebra and calculus, there are thousands of walkthroughs available. Watch the video together, ask your child questions about how they learn in class, and have them explain the process to you. Listen to the child, and DO NOT GRUMBLE ABOUT THE METHOD. If you’re being stubborn about learning something new, you’re setting the tone and deciding it’s frustrating before pencil is even put to paper. Common core is here, so let’s figure it out together!
Use note cards
Mathematics has many rules. Create a collection of notecards with those basic rules, acronyms, and frequently made mistakes to refer to. Keep the note cards on hand for any homework and especially for studying.
Study for three days prior
I have a three-day rule when it comes to studying for math tests. Three days before is for going over the elements of the chapter that are most challenging. Two days before the test is a good time to take a practice test. (If the book doesn’t have a practice test, Google one. There’s tons of practice stuff available online for free.) The night before is overview time. The morning of the test is OFF LIMITS for cram time. Last minute cramming can raise the test anxiety and even confuse the child even more.
Encourage the child to skim their test before they begin. If a problem jumps out as easy, DO IT FIRST, even if it’s problem number 11. Beginning a math test with a problem that feels easy is a great boost of confidence, while attempting a difficult problem first can increase frustration levels, making silly mistakes easier to make and setting a negative tone for the entire test.
Outsource if you need to
Tutoring agencies are great resources, but they can get pretty expensive. Also, most of what you’re paying goes to the agency, not the tutor doing the work. I always suggest contacting your local high school National Honor Society’s organizers. Teens need community service hours, and tutoring younger kids absolutely fills that requirement. Local colleges and universities are also great resources to find good tutors. I’ve had several clients find me via local swap pages as well. I’ve done math problems via FaceTime with students and even traded picture messages of algebra problems. Calling in reinforcements for homework help does not mean you are stupid. Quite the opposite. You’re smart enough to know when to tap out and let someone else take over.
Our kids don’t need us to have all of the answers. It’s okay to admit that you’ve hit the wall and need help. It’s okay to figure it out together. Math is not just about the numbers, but also about learning problem-solving skills.