Doing Math Together

Expect Your Child to Work Hard and Be Able to Learn Math.

Many adults leave school thinking that mathematics doesn’t make sense. The way they learned math did not always enable them to solve problems in efficient ways that made sense to them. When working with your child, keep in mind that children can make sense of mathematics if given the opportunity and support. Encourage your child to stick with a task even if it seems challenging. Be sure to talk through what the problem is asking and discuss some of the strategies that might be used to solve the problem. Help your child learn that there are many ways to solve problems.

“When parents and teachers alike believe that hard work pays off, and when mathematics is taught and learned by using all the strands of proficiency, mathematics performance improves for all students.” Kilpatrick, J. & Swafford, J. (2002, p. 21).

Ask Questions

There are many different types of questions that you can ask your child. Try to use productive questions that promote mathematical activity and reasoning. Productive questions include: “What do you think…?” or “Why do you think…?” Questions such as these encourage children to develop ideas and test and defend their thinking. Other helpful questions include:

  • Why did you solve the problem in this way?
  • Will your strategy always work?
  • What else did you try?

After you ask a question, be patient. Don’t automatically give your child the answer. Instead, give your child time to think about the question and how s/he might answer it. If your child gives the wrong answer, ask how s/he got it. Probe to gain a better understanding of their thinking. Suggest alternate strategies that might help your child find the correct answer. Help him/her think about where their thinking went wrong. For example:

“How did you add the 7 and the 8? Sometimes, I start with 7 + 7 because I know that equals 14. Then I know that 7 + 8 = 15. What strategy are you using? Let’s try it again.”

Even if your child answers correctly, it is also important to ask why s/he came up with the solution and probe to learn more about their thinking.

“A good [productive] question is a stimulating question, which is an invitation to take a closer look, a new experiment, or a fresh exercise.” Harlen, W. (2001, p. 34).

Solve Problems and Explain Thinking

Encourage your child to ask questions and explain his/her thinking and do the same yourself. When you see a method that you do not understand, take the time to analyze and figure it out. Prove to yourself that the answer makes sense. In school, children will use pictures, symbols, diagrams, words and numbers to explain and prove their thinking. The ability to use different representations and mathematical tools are an important part of a child’s growing understanding and ability to explain and defend their thinking. As children describe and compare their representations, their understanding of mathematics deepens.

You can model successful approaches to solving problems when you verbalize your math thinking and show your child your methods. By asking questions, making mistakes, and talking about what you think, children will see the importance of working through a problem and make connections with mathematics in everyday situations. Don’t worry about using the same strategy that your child uses. In everyday situations, people have devised many different, effective ways to solve problems. What is important is that each person solves problems in ways that make sense to him/herself.

For example, when shopping, talk out loud about how you are figuring out how much money your items will cost or how much change you will get back. When building an object, sewing, organizing your closet, for example, think out loud and ask your child for his/her ideas to help you find a solution.

Learn More

Learn more about fun and engaging games and activities, to play online and offline.

Learn more about everyday activities and mathematical children’s literature that provide opportunities to do math together.

For additional ideas, see:

  • Burns, Marilyn. (1976). The Book of Think. Yolla Bolly Press.
  • Mokros, Jan. (1996). Beyond Facts and Flashcards: Exploring Math with Your Kids. Heinemann.