There was a time when the United States of America had some of the highest math scores in the world for students in grades k through 12. Much has changed since those days, and to help children get back on the path of being good math students, parents must play an important role. Parents can help develop many of the foundational skills necessary for children to be successful in math when they attend school. Parents can do things that will support schools, and hopefully schools will do the rest.
To develop a student with good math skills, parents must play a key role in the learning process. In addition to parents, teachers and other family members are very important to a child’s mathematical development. Elementary teachers and parents play the most important role in a child’s mathematical development, especially from kindergarten through fourth grade. Time spent in school learning math or not learning math can never be replaced. Parents should ensure that the elementary math teacher is knowledgeable and a good teacher. Anything less could cause children to suffer tremendous loss. The teacher that parents must be trusted to teach their children math is a person who will challenge their children regardless of their age. In addition to the challenges, the teacher should encourage the children to make an effort. Children need to know that their teacher cares about them and is not just trying to give them a lot of work. This teacher should believe in giving homework every night. Homework reinforces what was taught and learned in class and gives parents and the teacher an opportunity to see if the child understands that information.
I have observed teachers who really challenge their students to achieve higher order thinking. These teachers take their students from second grade and teach them how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide using only their bran. We call this Mental Math. When I observed a second grade class that had their students mentally answering math questions, I put my own son in that class. Soon after enrolling, he, too, learned to do mental math. From that moment on, math was my son’s best subject. Teachers can really make a difference and parents can help make the change.
The role of parents in the mathematical development of their children is very important and should start as early as possible. Teaching young children to mentally count, add, and subtract numbers without pencil and paper can stimulate the brain to think mathematically. Parents can start the process by teaching children to count from one to one hundred. Teaching children to mentally solve math problems should also be part of this process. They can start by asking simple math questions and move on to more difficult questions as the child grows. Parents should continually ask children questions about math and give positive feedback when they answer. Children love positive feedback and that encourages continued growth.
In addition to mental math activities, children should receive grade level math workbooks to strengthen their math skills. Parents should keep these books and other content-themed books at home for additional homework and practice. These can be purchased at bookstores, teacher supply stores, and multi-purpose department stores where school or office supplies are sold. As children become more confident in their math abilities, give them worksheets one grade level above their current grade. Help them if necessary, but when students are successful in higher-level workbooks; your confidence will really improve. The seed will be planted early and parents will be able to watch it grow.
A parent should know what level of math and whatever other subject, for that matter, their child is performing in each school year. When children enter kindergarten and the school recommends that children know the alphabet and know how to count to twenty or any number, it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that the child is prepared before enrolling in school. Also, when the child is in the second or third grade and their child cannot add simple two-digit numbers, it is up to the parents to ensure that their child receives the extra help necessary to be successful. Parents cannot wait at school every time their child has an academic deficiency. Part of being a good parent is making sure your child performs at the correct grade level throughout their academic career.
Another strategy is to allow your child to spend some time at a computer playing math games. The computer can be a wonderful resource that supports math and other subject area skills. There is software available that will measure a child’s level of math ability. Some of the software is developed in game format. Children will think they are playing, but they are actually learning math. Technology can be great, but I must warn parents not to allow children to spend a lot of time unsupervised on the computer.
Another recommendation for parents is not to allow children to use calculators at an early age. Children first need to develop their brains to be able to do math on their own. Consistent use of calculators at an early age can hinder children’s mathematical growth. If children develop math skills by mentally thinking about the answer to simple problems, they will be better prepared for everyday life, like grocery shopping, balancing a checkbook, to name a few. For example, all children should learn the multiplication tables for third grade. They should be able to repeat them, verbally, without using a calculator. Children in elementary school who depend on the calculator for answers are creating math deficiencies, which could have a negative impact on their math development.
In addition to good teachers and involved parents, children should participate in extracurricular activities that support math. In the state of Michigan, students can join a club at their school that plays a game called Academic Games. This form of play is challenging for children. It helps them develop their academic and math skills. Children can start playing these games as early as second grade. This form of play will teach children to play the game of equations, a form of algebra, at the age of seven. These skills are called higher order thinking skills. Children also compete at the local, state and national levels. The experience is invaluable. There are also other math games and clubs that kids can join that will help build skills and are fun. Parents should contact their local school district or state Gifted and Talented Programs office to obtain this information.
Children can take classes from various organizations that will support their math development. These organizations may offer classes during the summer or on the weekends. Some of the classes may teach children to build robots, toy cars, toy airplanes, etc. These classes may be in the area of engineering, computer science, or some other technical field. Classes can be taught at various colleges or universities in the local area. This is a community approach for colleges and universities, but children will develop academic and social skills that carry over into their classroom and into adulthood.
In trying to develop good math students, all avenues should be tried. Parents can make additional progress by allowing children to visit workplaces that use a lot of math. Children should be exposed to as many races as possible. Careers in math and even science should be on your list of considerations. Parents should inform children which careers require them to have good math skills.
Parents who are positively involved with their children and want the best for them will ensure that their children keep up with their math skills and succeed in school. The strategies used in this article are a sample of the many ways that parents can ensure that their child is developing strong math skills. The number one way to help a child develop good math skills is to positively and actively involve their parents in their educational journey.