How to Help With Home Work

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math problem

As parents, we sometimes forget how confusing, frustrating and difficult middle school can be, and for some kids, math is especially confusing, frustrating and difficult. Being a middle school math teacher, I hear from many parents who want to help their children but aren’t sure how. Whether you identify with the Carla*, a mother who helps her son too much because she’s eager for him to get good grades or Todd*, a dad who doesn’t know how to help to his daughter because he “doesn’t understand the math” himself, every parent can benefit from these tips for supporting children who struggle with middle school math.

Before you can help your child, it’s important to understand what is happening (mathematically) to the adolescent brain. Middle school is an exciting time; adolescents’ brains are transitioning from reasoning in a concrete manner to understanding abstract concepts and ideas. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, middle school math typically begins with concepts such as fractions and decimals, and by the time students’ move on to high school, they have learned pre-algebra concepts, such as manipulating variables and solving or writing equations to find unknown values—ideas that cannot easily be visualized or explained with physical objects. Keep in mind that this is particularly hard for students stuck in a concrete state of mind; they tend to rely on memorizing steps or procedures to solve problems, which can lead to more difficulties later on.

Here are some useful tips on how you can support your child in math:

  • Always have notes from class, a textbook or other resources right next to a homework paper. If your child gets stuck, she is likely to find a similar problem in one of these resources that can help her move forward.
  • Ensure the student takes responsibility for her own learning by finding assistance independently; the ability to access help on your own is essential for student success in all areas of academics.
  • Never give children the answers to problems! By giving away answers, you’re depriving your child of the chance to develop the mental processes required to learn a new concept. No parent enjoys seeing their child struggle, but providing answers could set them up for frustration when they have to tackle more difficult problems and might even stunt their progress as classmates move to more advanced lessons. Furthermore, your child’s teacher will not be able to address the misconceptions or areas of weakness that should be targeted in school if homework assignments do not reflect the student’s level of understanding.
  • Encourage your child to underline or highlight key words or phrases in situational problems, as these often help students set up a solution.
  • Realize that your child may struggle with abstract concepts if his or her brain is not quite ready to reason at an abstract level. Your child’s brain will mature in time, and success in math class is likely to accompany this development.
  • If your child is frustrated by mathematics, show him how to focus on concepts rather than procedural knowledge. This might help some students approach and solve problems in a different way—one that makes more sense to them. For instance, ask your child to explain one problem in their assignment each night. If possible, choose one that incorporates both words and computation. If your child is simply reciting step-by-step instructions, encourage her to elaborate by asking questions focusing on the “why” of the problem:
    • What is the goal of the problem?
    • Why does that step work?
    • Why would we want to do that next?
    • What does this step in the process accomplish?
    • How do I know if my answer is reasonable?
    • Can I check my work to make sure it makes sense to me?
  • After your child has completed an assignment, ask her to share what she believes was the most important idea:
    • What is the goal of the problem?
    • What did these problems have in common?
    • Where would I use this in “real life”?
    • Why do you think your teacher gave you this assignment? What did he or she want you to learn?
    • How is this assignment related to the homework you had yesterday? In what ways is it similar or different?
    • Now that you can solve these problems, what do you think you might be able to do next?

    The most important thing to convey to your children is not to give up. Mathematical concepts are intricate and take time to fully grasp. Encouragement and patience go a long way. Read a book with your child while she works on homework or finish a Sudoku or crossword puzzle with her at the table while she studies to keep her company—just being in the same room and working on your own mind-stimulating puzzles might make them more comfortable with difficult homework. If your child continues to struggle and you’re becoming concerned, speak with the teacher or another administrative specialist.

By Diana Goldberg

Instill a Love of Math

Leadership, Math, Math News No Comments »

Family playing checkers

Parents are bombarded with messages to read with their children, but it’s rare to hear about the importance of doing math with them. Here are some helpful tips on why and how to instill a love of math in your children.

Early Math Matters
We may take for granted that our children will inevitably learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but early math lessons establish the base for the rest of their thinking lives. “Mathematics that kids are doing in kindergarten, first, second and third grades lays the foundation for the work they are going to do beyond that,” says Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). “They are learning beyond just counting and numbers.” That’s why it’s so important to help children love math while they are still young. Parents can build on those first preschool lessons by counting with their children, asking them to look for patterns and recognize shapes, then moving on to numbers, Gojak says.

The goal should be to make math “real” and meaningful by pointing it out in the world around you. That could include checking and comparing prices at the grocery store, driving down the street counting mailboxes, reading recipes, calculating coupons, or even measuring food or drink at the dinner table. Kevin Mahoney, math curriculum coordinator at Pennacre Country Day School in Wellesley, Mass., says when his children were little, his wife kept a small measuring tape in her pocketbook. While they were waiting for their order at a restaurant, the children would measure different items on the table.

Just as you encourage your early reader to look for familiar letters, ask your child to watch for math, regarding math as highly as you do reading. “Every parent knows that it’s a good idea to read to your child every night, but they should also realize the importance of talking about mathematical situations with children every day,” says Mahoney.

So What If It’s Hard?
What if you hated math as a child? Parents should try to set aside their distaste for math and encourage their children as much as possible. Young children are eager to learn. “It’s hard to learn to talk or walk. But they don’t care,” says Sue VanHattum, a community college math teacher in Richmond, Ca., who blogs about math learning on www.mathmamawrites.blogspot.com. “They just push themselves over their limits. They are going to come at math with that same attitude.”

Avoid talking negatively about math, even if you have no need for trigonometry in your daily life. “A lot of people will only joke that they cannot do math or announce publicly, ‘I’m not a math person.’ When a parent does that in front of a child, it suggests that math’s not important,” says Char Forsten, education consultant and writer, who urges parents to create that desire to learn by constantly screening the environment for math. “Have you seen any good math lately?” she likes to ask students.

If your child believes that math doesn’t really matter, he’s not going to be as open to learn. “Attitude has everything to do with learning. You can’t make anyone learn. If a child has learned not to love math, if they don’t love math, and aren’t willing to learn, you have to deal with that first,” Forsten says.

If you are stuck on how to foster math enthusiasm, talk to your child’s teacher about some ways to support math learning at home. There may be a new game that you have never heard of, which both you and your child will love.

Play Games
With so many facts and figures to memorize and apply to math problems, children learn early that math is something that requires work. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun; keep the pleasure in math by playing games with your children. Many games, even the ones adults play, rely on math. With countless websites, computer games and phone apps, parents have endless options, but don’t forget about the nondigital games you loved as a child. The classics that require manipulating cards and game pieces, calculating along the way, may have the same appeal for your kids as they did for you. One game worth considering is Chutes and Ladders. A 2009 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon and the University of Maryland found that preschoolers who played the game improved math skills significantly compared to those in the study who played a different board game or did nonmath tasks.

As you play with your kids, try to tap into your own love for math. When you play Trivial Pursuit, you are using math to determine how many spaces you need to get to the next wedge or predict which category you can answer best. The game doesn’t have to be about math, but should involve it. If you have a good game store in your area, stop by and ask the salespeople for help. Some of VanHattum’s favorite games really push logic, which is the basis of math, and get children thinking visually. Check out Link, SET, Rush Hour, Blokus and Spot It, to name a few.

“Playing games is a great family activity,” VanHattum says. “The more you have a tradition of playing games, the easier it is to bring in other games you like.” So while you may not be passionate about your child’s latest board game, you can work up to another game you like. Try to make the game personal to your family by playing it in your own special way. “Mathematicians make up their own rules,” VanHattum says. “It’s really important to be open to making up your own games. Change the rules. ‘In our family, we play the game this way.’”

Flexing Math Muscles
Riding a bike, swimming in the deep end, and playing an instrument are just examples of our favorite childhood activities that require practice to master. So does math.

“Math is an intellectual muscle building; it’s crucial for fully developing a child’s potential,” Mahoney says. “Those muscles can atrophy. If school is the only place you do math, then it becomes something you only do at school. Then you don’t even think about using it in real life.” So brush off those negative feelings about math and instill enthusiasm. Math will play a role in your child’s life forever.

“It’s important to remember that those basics are essential for later learning. A lot of the stuff we learn in math we apply in different ways later,” says Gojak, who emphasizes the thinking skills that math provides. “I might not have to worry about what an isosceles triangle is, but it’s still an important part of education.”

As they grow, kids will learn that they are willing to work hard at something they love. It may just be math. Either way, remember that your child does not have to excel at math to enjoy it. “It doesn’t matter if they’re good, it matters whether they like it,” VanHattum says.

By Laura Lewis Brown

When is it Time to get My Child a Math Tutor

Leadership, Math, Math News 1 Comment »

As parents, we all want to see our children excel in school. Some children are great at motivating themselves, while others need a push to catch up or even a little help to accelerate beyond their current curriculum. When it comes to building math skills, there is no reason to postpone giving your child that push.

Signs Your Child May Need a Math Tutor
If your child is old enough to receive report cards, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not he might need help when you see his grades. “Always look at grades,” says Richard Bavaria, Senior Vice President for Sylvan Learning, who offers helpful tips and advice on DrRickblog.com. “Grades can indicate anything from a straight-A student getting her first B to a kid showing signs that he needs extra help.”

Beyond slipping grades, look out for a lack of enthusiasm for math. “Elementary school kids love to learn about new subjects, especially math. They like to learn about counting, money, telling time, all math-related subjects,” Bavaria says. “When you see enthusiasm slip, that definitely signals something.”

That loss in interest could signal that your child needs help, but it also may mean that he or she is bored. That’s where a tutor can come in. “Tutoring is good for children who are highly able, not just for children who need academic help,” Bavaria says. “If the math course is not challenging enough, that might mean that your child is pretty smart in math and in need of extra challenges.”

One of the best ways to get more insight on how your child is handling math is to talk to his or her teacher. It is important for the teacher to know your child’s relationship with math, especially if it has changed. If your child used to love math in second grade but suddenly dislikes it in third, let the teacher know. Since you cannot be in the classroom, starting a dialogue with the teacher will help you identify how best to help your child.

Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later
Whether you choose to hire a tutor or provide more games and learning opportunities at home, it’s important to identify your child’s signs of needing extra help early on, particularly in math, due to its linear nature.

“No subject is more important than math when it comes to vigilance,” Bavaria says. “Each new year, each new course builds on the previous lesson and course. Once you miss a lesson, once you don’t master a particular skill, it’s difficult to build something on top of it without it all falling down.”

By delaying the process of getting your child the help he needs, you risk letting him slip further behind as well as lose confidence, which is essential to continuing learning, Bavaria cautions.

Hiring a Tutor
By the time your child has reached second grade, it will be pretty clear whether a tutor would be helpful. Once you decide to find a tutor, take your search seriously. You want someone who is properly trained, will assess your child correctly, has a good reputation, and will provide lessons that are age appropriate. Stay away from tutors who rely mostly on technology, because the time spent tutoring should be focused on the child and tutor working together, Bavaria says. That being said, the tutor should attempt to make learning fun.

Above all, you want a tutor who will be a partner in your child’s education. This means that communication is key on many levels: between student and tutor, parent and tutor, and especially between tutor and teacher.

“For tutoring to be effective, the tutor needs to have contact with the classroom teacher in order to discuss the current curriculum and classroom goals, teaching styles and practices, and gaps the teacher is seeing in the school,” says Shannon Keeny, a private tutor in reading and math in Baltimore. “The tutor should support the learning in the classroom by reteaching or accelerating. The tutor becomes an advocate for the student’s learning for the school and a support for the parents.”

Setting Goals
When you select a tutor, make sure you explain to him or her what you (and your child) expect from the experience. To determine this, first sit down with your child and identify two to three goals you want the tutor to focus on, Bavaria suggests. Consider whether your child wants to catch up, keep up or get ahead. Does she want a higher grade? Does she want to study for tests better? Does she need help organizing? A good tutor should ask you some of these questions to help set goals.
When you establish the objectives, also determine how the tutor likes to work, so you can provide the best learning setting. “I like to have a quiet workspace. I don’t like the parent to be hovering, but it could be important for the parent to be in earshot to hear the language that is being used,” says Keeny, who tutors children in their homes. She also recommends parents explain to their children that tutoring is not a punishment, but rather is designed to help them succeed in the classroom.
“Half of my clients are tutoring for enrichment, not for remedial support,” Keeny says. “Tutoring is not looked at as something only for the kids who are behind and need a tutor; often they are at grade level, but parents want them to be challenged.”

Helping at Home
Math may not have been your best subject in school, but you can help your child by dusting off your math skills and knowing the lingo. If your child asks you to look at her geometry assignment, you want to be ready to relate as best you can.
“When you suspect that your child is having a little trouble in math, or any other subject, that may be a time to start boning up on stuff that you’ve forgotten since you were in a math class,” Bavaria says. “That doesn’t mean you have to be in expert in quadratic equations, but you should at least have the vocabulary to know what your child is talking about.”

You can ask your child’s teacher or tutor for ways to provide support. Another great way to keep in touch with your child’s schoolwork is by checking out the teacher’s web page, which many teachers maintain on the school’s site. Don’t let your child’s latest math challenge be a surprise to you.
Keep in mind, though, that you’re not required to be the teacher. If your child is struggling, let his teacher know that he needs more help and has been having a hard time with certain assignments. “Parents can encourage kids by giving them time to do their homework and by giving them a place to do their homework,” says Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). “It’s not their job to be the teacher.”

Free Resources
Tutoring, especially if you do it on a weekly basis, can be expensive. With sessions running $35 to $75 an hour in many places, you may be interested in other options. Luckily, there are numerous free math websites that offer lessons, games, or a combination of both. These include funbrain.com, which has tons of math games, and sylvanmathprep.com, which offers free instructor-led videos. Gojak recommends the Illuminations section of the NCTM website, which provides activities for different grade levels as well as a collection of more than 700 links to online math resources.

You can also work math into the regular day. Keeny recommends normalizing math language in the home and conjuring up real-life math problems throughout the day. On the way to the store, talk about how long it takes to get there, then ask your child what time you will arrive. When you set the dinner table, ask your child how many forks you need, including how many to take away if Dad won’t be home for dinner.
“Math is everywhere,” Keeny says. Use that to your advantage and give your child the best chance for math success.

By Laura Lewis Brown

7 Tips That Will Help Our Children Grow Into Leaders

Leadership No Comments »

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While I spend my professional time now as a career success coach, writer, and leadership trainer, I was a marriage and family therapist in my past, and worked for several years with couples, families, and children. Through that experience, I witnessed a very wide array of both functional and dysfunctional parenting behaviors. As a parent myself, I’ve learned that all the wisdom and love in the world doesn’t necessarily protect you from parenting in ways that hold your children back from thriving, gaining independence and becoming the leaders they have the potential to be.

I was intrigued, then, to catch up with leadership expert Dr. Tim Elmore and learn more about how we as parents are failing our children today — coddling and crippling them — and keeping them from becoming leaders they are destined to be. Tim is a best-selling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults, and the Habitudes® series. He is Founder and President of Growing Leaders, an organization dedicated to mentoring today’s young people to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Tim had this to share about the 7 damaging parenting behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders – of their own lives and of the world’s enterprises:

1. Let our children experience risk

We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. The “safety first” preoccupation enforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to protect them. It’s our job after all, but we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking behavior and it’s had an adverse effect. Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee, they frequently have phobias as adults. Kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. Don’t Rescue too quickly

Today’s generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did 30 years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with “assistance,” we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short-term and it sorely misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail or fall short, an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct.” When in reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and therefore it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.

3. Don’t rave too easily

The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s. Attend a little league baseball game and you’ll see that everyone is a winner. This “everyone gets a trophy” mentality might make our kids feel special, but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Kids eventually observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.

4. Avoid letting guilt get in the way of leading well

Your child does not have to love you every minute. Your kids will get over the disappointment, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So tell them “no” or “not now,” and let them fight for what they really value and need. As parents, we tend to give them what they want when rewarding our children, especially with multiple kids. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds. Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the mall. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.

5. Share our past mistakes

Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own. We as adults must let them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them navigate these waters. Share with them the relevant mistakes you made when you were their age in a way that helps them learn to make good choices. (Avoid negative “lessons learned” having to do with smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) Also, kids must prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

6. We should not mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity

Intelligence is often used as a measurement of a child’s maturity, and as a result parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Some professional athletes and Hollywood starlets, for example, possess unimaginable talent, but still get caught in a public scandal. Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. There is no magic “age of responsibility” or a proven guide as to when a child should be given specific freedoms, but a good rule of thumb is to observe other children the same age as yours. If you notice that they are doing more themselves than your child does, you may be delaying your child’s independence.

7. Practice what we preach

As parents, it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live. To help them lead a life of character and become dependable and accountable for their words and actions. As the leaders of our homes, we can start by only speaking honest words – white lies will surface and slowly erode character. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully by volunteering for a service project or with a community group. Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will take note and do the same.

Why do parents engage in these behaviors (what are they afraid of if they don’t)? Do these behaviors come from fear or from poor understanding of what strong parenting (with good boundaries) is?

Tim shares:

“I think both fear and lack of understanding play a role here, but it leads with the fact that each generation of parents is usually compensating for something the previous generation did. The primary adults in kids’ lives today have focused on now rather than later. It’s about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it’s a reaction. Many parents today had Moms and Dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and getting ready for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results.”

How can parents move away from these negative behaviors (without having to hire a family therapist to help)?

Tim says: “It’s important for parents to become exceedingly self-aware of their words and actions when interacting with their children, or with others when their children are nearby. Care enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. Coach them, more than coddle. “

Here’s a start:

1. Talk over the issues you wish you would’ve known about adulthood.
2. Allow them to attempt things that stretch them and even let them fail.
3. Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
4. Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
5. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
6. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
7. Initiate (or simulate) adult tasks like paying bills or making business deals.
8. Introduce them to potential mentors from your network.
9. Help them envision a fulfilling future, and then discuss the steps to get there.
10. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.

Kathy Caprino

Kathy Caprino, Contributor

I cover career growth, leadership & women’s professional development

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