Saturday, February 12, 2011

Supplementing Your Child's Math Program Part 2: What Does Your Child Know

If you followed step one, you have researched what program the school district is using. You have some idea of the material that your child will be expected to master during the year.

Now I want you to work against your instincts. I do not wish you to focus on that curriculum, yet. I want you to look back and make sure the foundations are in place so these challenges will be met with success.

Please do not assume that because your child has always zoomed through every math challenge that he/she understand the process. Memorization and understanding are not the same practices. As children progress into upper elementary grades this difference starts to emerge. As they move through middle school and high school, the lack of understanding can create huge issues in math. On the other side of the coin if your child has always struggled, do not believe all is hopeless. This is a time to build foundations using different methods. However, first you need to discover what they know and what they do not know.

I always suggest starting with place value. When I work with kids who struggle with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division one of the primary reasons is a lack of understanding of how numbers work. When working with subtraction we have called it a number of things borrowing, regrouping, and other names to describe the process. Over the years, there has been a belief that if we change the name kids will understand the process in a more meaningful way. I have long believed vocabulary has never been the issue. The methods we use to teach kids why we "borrow" or "regroup" have far more to do with their ability to understand how to do the function than any vocabulary choice.

There are many ways to evaluate what your kids know. I do not recommend drill and kill. One way to make sure your kids rebel against improving their math skills at home is frustrating and boring them. There are practical life skill ways to see what math skills your children have mastered. Can they count change? When you are playing games that require addition to keep score, can they handle column addition? Have them help you work on real life problems that require the use of math. These will help you evaluate their math skills and provide them with the chance to see we do actually use math in "real life" not just in the classroom. If they can demonstrate an age appropriate knowledge of place value, addition, and subtraction, move on to other skills. In the beginning, your goal is to make sure the foundations are solid. Many parents push ahead without checking the foundations. As anyone who builds anything knows, without a solid foundation no structure is sound. Once you have given kids proper foundations you will be able to build higher level math skills.

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