The jump to middle school can be hard for many students in many different areas. One area that can be particularly difficult is math. As a parent you want to help your child understand and do well in all subjects. Some parents are “math” people and innately understand it while others struggle to be able to help their children.
Before you can help your child, it is important to understand what is happening to their brain in middle school. PBS.org had the following to say:
“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.”
The tips below are great for all parents, whether you’re a “math” person or not.
- 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.
- 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?
For the first part of a child’s life, they watch TV and movies passively without deeper understanding of the characters or plot. When children reach about seven or eight, they begin to be able to understand more of what is going on. As a parent there are many things that we can do to help develop our children’s understating of all types of storytelling – TV, movies, books and web.
Help your child become an active viewer. Ask your children questions about what is going on in the show or about a specific character. Even if you don’t know the answer yourself, wonder out loud with them. This will help them develop more then just becoming an active viewer. By understanding what is happening in the show, you are teaching your children critical thinking skills. PBS.org has come up with a list of tips to help your young child become an active viewer and develop those critical thinking skills. Share your thoughts about their list and what you do in the comment section below.
- Ask your child questions about what he sees and hears on TV.
- Take advantage of the control you have with a DVR. Or use commercial breaks to ask “why” and “how” questions rather than yes-or-no questions
- Talk to your child about why he likes certain characters.
- You won’t know why your child finds certain characters appealing until you talk to him about what he thinks of as courageous, admirable or smart: Who do we know that does that? Is that character truly admirable or does he just look cool?
- Inspire your child to create images of her own.
- Remind your child that people create all images, on TV, websites or the side of a bus. Then close the circle by pointing out that he/she can create pictures, too. Get your child to take photographs, paint, draw or doodle. This is the first step in helping your grade schooler discover the value of the visual arts firsthand.
- Let your child peek behind the scenes of movies or TV.
- Your grade schooler may not realize how directors use camera angles, digital animation, stunt doubles, miniature models, make-up, costumes and other tools to create a fictional story. Talk together about these elements. Wonder aloud how various programs were made.
- Help your child create “fall-back” activities — including physical ones.
- Rather than flipping on the set at random, teach your child to select programs in advance. (Try to do the same yourself!) Help your child start some long-term projects—a collection, a puzzle, a scrapbook—that he can return to when bored. If the project requires a table or a special shelf to store materials, set aside space you won’t need to disrupt.
- Attune your child to the sound of TV.
- Ask your grade schooler questions such as these: What music is used—and when? How do the voices of different characters sound? How is silence used? (Possible answers include building suspense, to show that someone is deaf; to change the mood.)
- Make a game of “close viewing.”
- See how many voices or accents, how many types of clothing or how many places you and your child can identify. This can be a good way to start a conversation about stereotypes; who is portrayed on TV? Who is missing?
- Avoid programs in which characters use violence to solve problems.
- When a character hits, kicks or bites his way out of a problem, point it out to your child. Ask him to come up with another way to solve the issue, such as negotiation or discussion. Explain that violence has very real consequences, but cartoons rarely show these.
There are many ways to help your kids become stronger readers, but one of the best ways is to read with them. Other great strategies for parents to try include reading aloud, providing print materials, and promoting positive attitudes about reading and writing. They all help you set your child up for success in reading. Looking for more ideas? The U.S. Department of Education has come up with this list of helpful tips.
Share how you help your kids become stronger readers in the comment section below.
- Invite a child to read with you every day.
- When reading a book where the print is large, point word by word as you read. This will help the child learn that reading goes from left to right and understand that the word he or she says is the word he or she sees.
- Read a child’s favorite book over and over again.
- Read many stories with rhyming words and lines that repeat. Invite the child to join in on these parts. Point, word by word, as he or she reads along with you.
- Discuss new words. For example, “This big house is called a palace. Who do you think lives in a palace?”
- Stop and ask about the pictures and about what is happening in the story.