How to teach math at home

How to teach math at home

If you’re old enough to be a parent, you may remember elementary school math as mostly five rows of six problems with a few word problems thrown in every now and then.

If you’re a little older, you may even remember the teacher calling it arithmetic rather than math, a reminder of the then-popular belief that if we concentrated on arithmetic in elementary school, junior and senior high (now called middle school and high school) would teach the rest.

If you’re involved in your children’s math now, you will see that math has changed. The six rows of five long division problems have been replaced by pages of word problems, graphs, estimation, and algebraic expressions.

What does this all mean and how can I help my child, you ask.

The new paradigm is more like this: Each year your child is presented with a balanced math curriculum including all of the different areas of math (computation, estimation, geometry, probability, number theory, algebra, graphing, etc.) Each year the material is presented in more detail and more concepts are added.

Given this paradigm, the best way to help your child to be a better math student is to give him/her a variety of math experiences at home. Here are a few suggestions.


Any time you can involve your child in the math that you do around the house, you hare helping him/her to gain a sense of math. You can invite your child to cook with in and become involved in measuring.

If you are doing a craft or building project, you can involve your child mathematically. You can ask him/her to help measure, to figure the costs of a project, or to help you figure out how much of a particular ingredient is needed.

Household activities present a host of ways to involve your child in a large variety of high-interest math activities. Once you start looking for them, they’ll come up on a daily basis.

Going through the newspaper with your child can provide a lot of mathematical conversations and experiences. You can discuss the graphs that accompany many news stories. Advertisements, especially sale ads, can help your child understand percentages. The business section can provide a variety of mathematical experiences for your older child.


Estimation skills are extremely important in the new math instruction. Any time you can find high-interest ways to encourage your child to estimate, you are doing him/her a favor.

If you are on a driving trip, for example, and you see a sign that your destination is so many miles away, you can tell your child your driving speed and the distance and ask him/her to estimate how long it will take to get there.

If you are going shopping and have a list–either mental or written–you can ask your child to estimate how much the items will cost and if bringing a certain amount of money to the store would do the trick.


The stores are full of inexpensive, high-interest software programs that will help your child with math. Some are game-oriented ways to help with computation. Others emphasize more problem-solving. Look for ones that are both interesting to your child and that cover a wide range of math skills.

Used properly, the calculator can be a tool, not a crutch. Using a calculator for application problem can help your child concentrate on the problem-solving process without getting bogged down in the computation. This can help your child grow in his/her mathematical sense. Also, when your child uses a calculator, stress the need to check his/her work first by asking if the answer is reasonable and then by redoing the calculation and seeing if her/her answers match.

If you use financial software, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, your older child can set up his/her own account for allowances, gifts, and money earned through chores. You can set up a separate account group for your child. (S)he can enter allowance money into “cash” and then record expenses by category.

If your child is saving for a particular goal and you can’t find a bank that allows small enough accounts without fees, consider establishing a bank account with the Bank of Parents and recording deposits, interest, and withdrawals in the electronic ledger.

Websites provide a variety of high-interest mathematical activities. Figurethis, for example, is a site operated by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. A search engine or a chat with your child’s math teacher may help you find other sites.


Many home school curriculum writers suggest that involving the child in a business reinforces many skills. Children educated outside the home can benefit from involvement in a business as well. This can be either a child-based business or participation in a parent’s home-based business.


Even with all the tools available today, computation still is important. If your child is having difficulty with his/her number facts or is making many errors in arithmetic, some additional practice may be in order.

Look for ways to make it interesting. Many children respond to timed exercises, trying to increase their accuracy in a given amount of time. Others respond to software. Almost all respond to frequent feedback and encouragement.


Just as the new elementary school math curriculum is more varied than it used to be, so are the ways that you can help your child to thrive in it.

It is easy to view the new curriculum as a threat or an enemy. It’s easy to look at your child’s math book and become intimidated or angry. If that’s what happens to you, step back, take a deep breath, and look again. Then think of all the ways that you use math in your daily life. Share mathematical experiences with your child and (s)he will do better mathematically both in and out of school.

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