Friday, February 4, 2011

Supplementing Your Child’s Math Program: Step 1 Researching the Math Program

This issue is more of a concern for those who send their children to school than homeschooling parents. However, I have heard from homeschooling parents who purchase canned programs and then question the issue of how or when to supplement the program. I decided to write a few blogs about how parents can get information and use it to help their children.

Schools and teachers can be split on the issue of how parents can help their children with math. However, when parents see their children failing they do have a responsibility to be active in helping them to learn the material. Some publishers sell the schools on the idea that they are a complete package and interference by using outside materials will only confuse the students. This contradicts a foundation of modern education. Students learn differently and we should make sure our students receive instruction that meets their educational needs.

As a parent, you should be working with the child’s teacher to find the best methods to help your child. I do not challenge that idea at all. However, many students arrive to the upper elementary grades lacking math skills with assurances from teachers that students will eventually “get it” because these programs are designed to be cumulative. If they do not achieve mastery in this unit, it will be gained in the next visitation. Again, this works for some children. I would not suggest any parent run up to the school in a panic because a child does not master a math process immediately. However, diligence is required. What did your child not master and why? This series is not going to focus on the parent/school relationship. I have written a few articles to help with those issues. These articles are going to focus strictly on parents helping children learn math at home.

One thing all parents can and should know is something about the math program the school is using. This is not a deep dark secret. Some districts are much better than other school districts are about educating parents regarding the methods used in the district. If you are not in one of those districts, I have some suggestions.

Find the title, publisher, and date published of your child’s math book. Even if they use a workbook, this information is important. The date is only relevant in that it tells you how old the text is that your district is using. When researching, this may or may not be relevant. I recently looked at a program that is virtually the same program I used a decade ago. Only the format looks updated. However, programs can change so the information you find may not apply if you have an older version of the publisher’s text.

People often forget to give me the publisher when they ask me for information. The publisher is critical. There are a couple of math series with distinct titles. However, several are generic. After all, there are only so many exciting ways to talk about a math book and publishers repeat them frequently. Also, be aware that publishers do change names. I recently researched a program with a title that sounded like a series I knew, but I had never heard of the publisher. It was the same program, under new management. The title was no help because the title has hundreds of math books published under the same name.

Google and Yahoo are your friends when searching for information. Most of these textbooks have websites. They are designed for teachers, but smart parents can also access information about the programs, material covered, and goals by grade level. Some even offer sample pages to provide you with an experience of the program. Do not expect answer sheets. Yes, I have been asked that question.

My next article will focus on what to do with this information once you have gathered it.


  1. Aidan's digging the math lessons so far! :) Granted, he's 5 and we're just getting him started, but he has a blast with adding and subtraction and we're definitely encouraging that.

    Also, not so related- how do you feel about using Wii educational games in a homeschool curriculum? I was thinking about doing that as a reward incentive.

  2. I think games can be a great incentive. My husband and I have started the Wii Fit and have been doing the math addition. I was thinking it would be a GREAT way to get kids to practice math facts in a fun and active way. There are so few methods that use physical activities to teach that I encourage the ones I find.

  3. Great advice! My kids love the math on the Wii too.

  4. I haven't tried any of the math games for the Wii that others have mentioned, but I should. My daughter would probably love them since she loves the trivia game she plays with me.

    As for math processes, our school district sends home Unit Family Letters each time they start something new that contains an explanation of what the children are learning in math, as well as how to figure the math problems out and the answers to their homework assignments so we can check to make sure they are correct.

    What also helps my husband and I is a set of books we bought that are meant for kindergarten all the way to 12th. It covers all the different math techniques that schools use today. Let me tell you, the math book has saved our butts on more than one occasion. My daughter is being taught to do things completely different than the way I learned. I can't imagine where we'd be without it.

  5. Some districts are better than others about keeping parents aware of what is going on in the classroom. Everday Math has a great set of parent letters that are very easy to send home with each unit. Others require the teachers to organize their own and that tend to lead to less communication.