When Math Homework Doesn’t Add Up

All parents want their kids to be happy.  When the kids are involved in a school setting, the definition of happiness usually includes the desire for them to achieve a level of success.  When we see them struggling academically, we have the same reaction we would have if they were struggling physically, we want to jump in and help.  But how?  There’s Common Core math, Singapore math, Russian math, Saxon math, Chicago math and many more. Should parents help their kids with math homework?  Must a parent who wants to help be familiar with all or any of these “maths”?

The short answer is no – with a qualifier.

The one we are asked about the most is Common Core. There are many misconceptions about the Common Core Standards for math.  They are just that, standards.  They are not a curriculum.  Although these are guiding principles, the standards, which have been adopted by forty-two states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)1, do not prescribe how math should be taught.  What they do prescribe is what math topics a student should learn and master at each grade from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The underlying principles of the Common Core standards for math emphasize certain themes that are derived from research about how learning takes place in the brain.  There is short-term learning and there is deeper learning. The Common Core aims to nurture deeper learning of math.  Consequently the principles involve getting students to:

  • understand the concepts rather than memorize a set of rote steps that will soon be forgotten. Students do need to know which steps to perform but they should follow them out of understanding rather than purely from memory.
  • demonstrate their work thus focusing on the thought process as well as the answer.
  • explain their work, because explaining reinforces our understanding.
  • apply the concepts to real world situations, because that application will reinforce retention.

Each of the different math curricula may approach the teaching of various aspects of math differently.  It is not possible for parents to have in depth knowledge of each of these approaches nor is it necessary.

Our recommendations:

  1. Evaluate the situation. Determine if you should, in fact, intervene. Take a step back and ask yourself these questions:
  • Does my student want my help?
  • Am I knowledgeable enough to help?
  • Do I have the patience to help?
  1. If your answer is “no” to any one of these questions, then the best way in which you can help your child is by providing a resource other than yourself.
  • Suggest calling a friend.
  • Encourage connecting with a Tutor.com tutor
  • Recommend doing her best, noting what is challenging and bringing it up with the teacher the next day. Teachers need to know what their students are finding challenging.
  1. Proceed with caution. If your answer is “yes” to ALL of the questions, then keep in mind these guidelines:
  • Gather information. Ask your student to explain what s/he is trying to do and what they are having issues with. Sometimes the very act of explaining a problem can help us to understand it a bit more. Find out as much as you can about the directions for the assignment including the methods or approach used or referenced in class.  You should reinforce that method.
  • Use guided questions. Do not do the work or tell your student what to do or how to do it but lead them to understanding. Provide options where possible.  For example, if they are misinterpreting the question, you might say, do you think that the question is asking this or that?  If you want to lead them in a particular direction suggest an approach:  What do you think would happen if you substituted 2 (or any simple number)?
  • Stay calm and know when to stop. Learning often involves struggle. Remember that this is an assignment not life or death.  Be ready, if frustration levels are rising, to encourage putting it aside temporarily or requesting help from the teacher or a friend.   It is never worth sacrificing your relationship with your kids for homework.


1 Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/

10 Responses to When Math Homework Doesn’t Add Up

  1. Hammad July 30, 2018 at 5:13 AM #

    math is really a tough subject atleast for me so i prefer biology instead of Maths in my Intermediate Education

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  3. Govt Exam Result April 24, 2018 at 11:31 PM #

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