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BEYOND HELPING WITH HOMEWORK: Parents and Children Doing Mathematics at Home

Author(s): Marlene Kliman


Source: Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 6, No. 3 (NOVEMBER 1999), pp. 140-146
Published by: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41199096
Accessed: 13-11-2016 19:47 UTC
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Parent

Doing
This article offers ideas to help parents integrate

about mathematics? What is the mathematical

mathematics into their family lives in ways that are

consistent with the NCTM's Standards (NCTM


equivalent of reading out loud to children every
day? How can teachers support parents in doing
1989). These ideas were gathered from teachers in
mathematics with their children in engaging
a wide
andrange of school settings. As teachers made
_.___________ productive ways?
changes in their mathematics teaching, they kept
parents informed and enlisted their support. They
let parents know what was happening in class and
parental involvement in mathasked them to help with homework. Some teachers
ematics - as in any subject - can v-pro- v- also encouraged families to do mathematics
vide a solid foundation for children's

together regularly and experience mathematics as

an engaging family activity.

learning and attitudes (Peressini 1998; Mokros


_

Getting Started

To succeed in integrating mathematics into daily


~- ~~~~----~--~^^ maintain high expectations for their children's perfamily life, parents need to understand how doing
mathematics at home can foster children's learning,
..,.. ^^.^^^^^M^^^ formance in mathematics, regularly do mathematiand they need appealing and manageable activity
^^^^^^ cal activities with their children, and displayideas. The following paragraphs offer some sugges-

-^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^H
-^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^H^^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^^a positive attitude toward mathematics, chil-

m^^^^^l dren benefit. They are more likely to feel

tions for teachers to help parents get started.

Begin early in the year


Launch the idea of doing mathematics at home near

,^^..^^^________-____ confident in their abilities; to enjoy and learn more

the start of the school year so that parents have

from the mathematics that they experience atplenty of time to try a range of activities, to share
ideas with one another, and to reflect on their chil-

...-._..._._._^_.__.__ school; and to develop a sense of the richness, use-

dren's mathematics learning at home and at school.

~~~--~--~--~--~~~ fulness, and pervasiveness of mathematics.

A parent night or conference is an ideal time to


introduce the idea; if that idea is not possible, send a
letter home. In one district, the mathematics coordi-

Marlene Kliman, marlenejdiman@terc.edu, is a scientist at TERC, 2067 Massachusetts

nator sent a letter to parents about a month after


began, explaining the importance of regularly doing mathematics at home and offering a few
activities for families to try. Teachers followed up in

Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140. Her current work focuses on developing materials and meth-school
ods for involving parents and their children in doing mathematics together.

140

TEACHING CHILDREN MATHEMATICS

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their classrooms with activity ideas and resource


lists sent home throughout the year.

Draw a connection to the

family's role in literacy


Most parents are familiar with the importance of
reading to their children regularly; teachers may
find it helpful to draw a parallel between supporting
children's literacy and mathematics at home. Ask
parents to consider the ways that they support their
children's reading and writing throughout the day
and give some typical examples. For instance, many
parents point out familiar words on package labels
to beginning readers, listen while their children read

aloud, encourage their children to write thank-you

notes, and make up stories and rhymes with their


children. Explain that encouraging children's mathematics skills is similar to encouraging their language skills. Just as many opportunities arise for
supporting children's literacy throughout the day, so

are many opportunities possible to enjoy mathematics together.

Share anecdotes
One first-grade teacher sparked parents' awareness

of mathematics in everyday situations by sharing


anecdotes about their children's mathematical

thinking outside of mathematics class. At parent


NOVEMBER

1999

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141

conferences early in the year, the teacher cited

- - - ~~~ examples from the classroom - children figuring


__________________ out how many minutes remained until lunch time;
reasoning about spatial relationships when doing a

questions about counting; comparing; and finding


totals and differences, shapes, and measurements.
For instance, they might ask how many butterflies
are in a picture and whether more are likely to be
seen on the next page. How many more gold coins

_ __ .______. construction project; and combining, comparing,


_________________ and categorizing as they discussed their collections
does a character need to buy a magic key? How
of toy animals, toy cars, and shells. For each exammany things shaped like triangles are on the page?

____________ _ pje^ s^e cieariy explained the mathematics that the


Parents can also involve children in estimating
_____________________ cmld was doing, such as counting, adding, and
amounts and sizes: "It says that this dinosaur was
working with properties of geometric shapes.

~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ Providing Activity Ideas

Almost any children's book offers some mathe-

examples based on familiar


that
are rich
ture,situations
including stories with
mathematical
themes,
stories that contain logical puzzles, and stories in
periodically
home
whichsend
characters use mathematics
to help solve

_____..

could we find out?"

matical ideas to discuss. Parents can also explore


more mathematics intothe
family
some
wide range oflife,
children'soffer
mathematical
litera-

- - _ - - -

about twenty-five feet long and seven feet high.


Would it fit in this room? In our apartment? How

everyday problems. See McCarty (1998), Bresser

-,.,-

(1995), and Burns (1992) for recommendations of

.-_----_____-_-_-_

excellent
children's
mathematical
literature. ideas
The following paragraphs
offer
some
useful
"~~

Group suggestions
around family

situations or events

2. Outdoors. Just as many mathematical ideas


can be explored in storybooks, so are many mathe-

matical concepts found in the world outside. As


parents spend time with their children in the neigh-

Most parents will find it borhood


easier and backyard and on the playground, they

to integrate mathematics
into
can
find things to count, compare, and tally: "How
family time by building
onwindows does this house have? How many
many
moredo.
windows does it have than our house? Which
activities that they already
Group your suggestions
window in our house is the longest?"
according to everyday situa- Measuring and comparing arise naturally as chiltions, events, and places rather dren work on their athletic skills - can your child
than content areas. Emphasize jump higher, skip rope longer, or run faster than he
contexts in which mathema-

or she could last year or last month? Parents can help

^^^^ tics arises toyoung children use rulers, tape measures, or stopwatches to figure out just how high, how fast, or how
^^^j^^F show parents

^^^^^B^ and childrenlong is a certain measure and to keep track of and

compare progress. Older children can do more mea^^^^^F that mathemat-

suring,
^^^^^w ics is an integral

timing, keeping track, and comparing by


They can also investigate questions that
involve
rates,
speeds, and averages. For instance,
^^BW life. The letter in
children who are interested in running might keep
H|B7 figure 1 suggests

themselves.
^^^ Part f everyday

track
Hg^B integrating mathe-

of their running times or speeds, compute aver-

ages, and graph their progress.


family

jH^^' matics into


f V ' meal time. Some
/ '' ' other everyday

3. On the road. Car or bus trips are wonderful


times to explore numbers, shapes, and counting.
One activity appropriate for a wide range of ages is
^|r ities follow. See NCTM (1998) and Mokros
Wr (1996) for more ideas.
a mathematical scavenger hunt. Family members
take turns finding something to watch for, such as
1. Story time. Reading together is a wonderfula truck with eight wheels, a speed limit over thirtyway to explore ideas with children, includingfive, a house number between 995 and 1195, or a
contexts for activ-

mathematical ideas. Many parents naturally pauseroad sign shaped like a square. While a parent is
to ask about characters, objects, and events: "Why
driving, the children can keep their eyes open!
do you think Chi-Hoon left the party? What do you Another car or bus activity that is fun involves
think will happen next?" Parents can also include estimating, collecting data, and keeping track.
TEACHING CHILDREN MATHEMATICS

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Sample "Math at Home" letter

Dear Families:
Tl

This month's letter is on Meal Time Math - quick ways to do math with your children as you plan,
cook, serve, and eat meals. Each idea includes questions tried by parents in our class and a grade
range for the activities.

How much food should we make? Ask your children to help you figure out how much food is
needed for a meal, a set of lunch boxes, or a party. They'll practice counting, adding, or multiplying.

How many sandwiches do we need if each adult eats two, Ana eats half, and the other children eat
one? (pre-K-2)
We need enough soup for three meals. Will we have enough if we double this recipe? What if we
triple it? (2-6)

What do we need for this recipe? Involve your children in reading and adjusting recipes as you
prepare meals. The work involves measurement, fractions, volume, and ratios.
Can you measure out exactly three-fourths of a cup of flour? (pre-K-2)
I'm going to make one-third of this recipe. It calls for twelve carrots. How many do we need? (2-4)
For this punch mix, we need two ounces of lemon juice per cup of soda. How much lemon juice will

we need if we use a gallon of soda? Can you find a container that holds a gallon? (2-6)
What do we need to set the table? Enlist the help of young children when setting the table to give
them practice counting and combining things that come in two and threes.

Put out a knife, fork, and spoon for everyone. How many pieces of silverware did you put out?
(pre-K-2)
We have two guests. How many plates do we need? How many spoons, if everyone gets two?
(pre-K-2)
What's fair? Next time your children clamor for fair division of a favorite food, invite them to propose
their own solutions! For food that comes in small pieces, children practice with counting, arithmetic,

or fractions. For food that comes in pans or large pieces, children work with shapes and area.

How can we divide these cherries fairly among three children? (pre-K-4)
What's the fairest way to share these three brownies among the four of us? (2-4)
How can we split up this tree-shaped pan of Jell-0 so that everyone- gets the same amount? (2-6)
A miniproject: How far to our table? As children explore where their food comes from, they work
with distance units, scale, and maps. (All ages)
Predict which food in the meal comes from farthest away and which comes from closest to home.
Check product labels or stickers on fruit and vegetables for places of origin.
Use maps to find out how many miles the food has traveled to get to your home.

Children can make predictions about how many

eery store tomorrow." See figure 2 for data about

dogs they will see; whether more traffic lights or

dogs that two children gathered on car trips.

stop signs will be found; or whether more billboards on the route will advertise food, clothing, or

entertainment. During the trip, they can count and

4. Household chores. Sometimes asking a mathematical question or two can make children more

keep track, using tallies, numbers, pictures, or

enthusiastic about participating in household

charts. After the trip, parents can work v/ith chil-

chores. Parents can engage children in matching,


sorting, and counting as they do the laundry: "I
wonder who has the most clothing in this load of

dren to explore the data: "How many more stop


signs than traffic lights did you see on the way to

school? Why do you think that more stop signs

laundry? Let's sort it to find out." Household

were found? Do you think that it would be true for

chores can also provide a context for estimating


and counting large quantities as children organize

any road? Let's count again when we go to the gro-

143

NOVEMBER 1999

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reading tables and charts, and working with fractions. In one family, children worked on mathematics every day as they fed a kitten. They used a
measuring cup to find the right amount of kitten
chow each day, usually an amount involving fractions, and they kept track of the kitten's age in
weeks so that they could be sure to give it enough
food as it grew. The parents used the chart on the

back of the food bag, listing the amount of food for

the age in weeks, as a basis for talking about when


and how the kitten's food needs would change.

Offer ideas on activities for the

whole family

Although you will probably emphasize activitie


that are appropriate for the age range in your cla
you should also provide ideas for parents to ada
activities or ask questions that involve the enti
family. Making sense of bar graphs in the newsp
per, for example, might be more appropriate f
children in the middle or upper-elementary grad

Younger children in the family can participa

however, by reading numbers on the graph; det

mining which bar in the graph is highest; or cou

ing how many bars are on the graph. Some teac

ers label their proposed activity ideas wi

approximate grade ranges, as shown in figure 1.

Draw connections to content


from school

From time to time, suggest family activities that

extend or support the content that you are workin

on in class. One kindergarten class was working on

a pattern unit, so the teacher asked families to loo

for patterns in clothes as they sorted laundry. When

the class was working on geometry, the teacher


asked that families investigate roof, chimney, and
window shapes in the neighborhood. These activities were not intended to replace homework assign
ments that helped children practice specific skill
and concepts, but served as broader questions tha
the whole family could explore.

Help parents share with each

other

Solicit from parents ideas on mathematics activities


that they have tried at home, and ask them to write
down activities and anecdotes to share with others.

Encourage parents who have a little extra time, writ-

About twenty-five? One hundred?


One
ing expertise,
or thousand?
computer experience to assume
responsibility for family letters by gathering activity

- _ - .

your bookshelf." Children


can
also
ideas or
producing
the get
letters. involved
In one classroom, in
a
estimating sizes and measurements:
"Here's
one
different family took responsibility
for the mathematics letter each month. The activities in figure 1
be? Up to your knees? Upwere
to
your
waist?
your
compiled
in this
manner. InOver
another classroom,
several bilingual parents volunteered to translate let-

___-___-_-----___ Other chores can involve measuring quantities,


144

ters for parents who spoke little or no English.


TEACHING CHILDREN MATHEMATICS

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Offer ideas for

other parents to telephone them with questions and

optional resources

ideas about doing mathematics at home.

Teachers should emphasize that families can do a

Draw
great deal of mathematics without special materials

and
but that some families may have the time and inter-

connections to teaching
learning at school

est to investigate other mathematical resources.As parents become engaged in investigating mathematics with their children, they not only support
These resources might include books on mathe-

children's learning but may also begin to


matics teaching and learning (e.g., Hartog et their
al.
[1998]; Kanter [1993]; Mokros et al. [1995]); chil-experience mathematics in new ways themselves.
dren's mathematical literature; manipulatives, such
When you speak with parents, look for opportunities to draw connections between the experiences
as pattern blocks and geoboards; parent mathematics education Web sites, such as the site sponsored
that they report having at home and the approaches

by the U.S. Department of Education at www


that you are using in your classroom. One teacher
.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Math; and mathematical
regularly encouraged parents to listen carefully to
their children's explanations when solving probgames, software, and other activities. Parents, other
lems and offered such reminders as these:
teachers, or school librarians might be able to help
"Whether you are working on homework or just
compile a parent resource list. Parents can help by

doing mathematics together at home, if your chilannotating the list with summaries of resources
dren get the wrong answer, the first thing to do is
that they know about and descriptions of how they
have used these materials with their children. Some

ask them how they solved the parents might also be willing to lend their ownproblem." She found that as I
books or games to other families. On your resourceparents explored mathematics
list, note which items that parents can preview orwith their children in a

borrow from your classroom or school library,relaxed

which they might be able to borrow from a publicway,

library, and which they might need to purchase.

Providing Ongoing
Support

Parents will benefit from continued opportunities to

share suggestions for, and experiences with, doing

mathematics at home; to discuss what they notice


about their children's thinking and learning; to make
connections between mathematics at home and

and informal j^k I

they began to J^^m

appreciate the ^^
importance of ^^H I

communicating ^^^B I

mathematical ^^^^L I

thinking. Her ^^^^^L

reminders helped ^^^^^b


parents recognize ^^^^^Ht

that explaining strate- ^^^^^^


gies for solving prob- ^^^^^H

lems is just as important ^^^^H

mathematics in the classroom; and to talk about


when children are working ^^^H
changes in their own views of mathematics. Theon
folhomework

as it is when ^^H

lowing are some ways that teachers can help. they are doing mathematics in ^

Keep communication open

class. Another teacher found ^

that when parents became aware


of their children's strategies for
Check with parents about mathematics at home
from time to time - when you see them at parent
solving computation problems

in ^^^^^H

night, parent conferences, or other school events.


everyday life and began to reflect on ^^^^^H
Ask parents about their experiences of doing maththeir own mental arithmetic strate- ^^^^^H

ematics with their children and relate anecdotes

gies, they were more supportive of her ^^^^^B

about their children's mathematical thinking that


approach to teaching computation, ^^^^^|
you have noticed outside mathematics class. You
which involved children inventing their ^^^^H
can also help parents share their experiences with
their peers. If parents visit your classroom on a regular basis, devote a corner of a bulletin board to

own strategies. l^^^H

Encourage parents to find ^^

their own approaches ^^

mathematics at home and invite parents to post


notes about their successes and challenges. In one
In your letters to, and other communications ^^H
school, a teacher helped a group of parent volunwith, parents, emphasize that the activities ^^H
teers take responsibility for communicating with
you suggest are just a sampling of the many ^f

ways that parents can share mathematics in H&


other parents about mathematics at home. The

teacher led a few sessions on mathematics activi-

everyday life with their children. As parents go


ties for families, then the volunteers encouraged
through the day, they will find many other sit-
NOVEMBER

1999

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145

uations that are rich with opportunities for ing


mathesending out two or three sets of activity ideas

ingare
the school year, providing regular newslette
matics, such as estimating how many cookies

needed for a party, measuring cloth for a sewing


resource
prolists, holding parent meetings, and co

rating with active groups of parent volunteers. G


ject, counting the number of days until a birthday,

ally,
the more engaged and interested the par
figuring out the time difference before calling
a rel-

community
is, the more successful the efforts w
ative in another time zone, or determining the
right
to involve the parents in doing mathematics with
change in the grocery store. When parents recognize

children.
Although some parents need just a
these mathematical opportunities, they can draw
the

experiences out for their children by asking activity


a ques- ideas to get going, others gain confiden

motivation from sharing ideas with their pee


tion or two, then listening while their children
need
explain their thinking. Parents can also look
forsupport in finding playful ways to do math
with their children.
opportunities to demonstrate ways that theyics
themselves use mathematics as they go about the day.
No matter what kind of support you have
They might try talking out loud about the process
able of
in your own classroom and community,
balancing a checkbook or tripling a recipe. haps
Even the
if
most important message to give to p
children are too young to understand the details,
is that they can play a dynamic role in helping
they will see and hear their parents using mathematchildren develop skills and interest in mathem
confidence
in their mathematical abilities, an
ics to solve important problems, taking time to
work
itive
attitudes toward mathematics. Assure pa
through ideas, checking their reasoning, and
even
finding and correcting mistakes.
that they do not have to be mathematical expe
enthusiasts to help their children. All adults ever their backgrounds - use mathematics in a

The Most Important


Message to Parents:
You Can Make a
Difference!

ety of situations every day. By involving childr

some of these situations, several times a day o


once a week, parents help their children view

ematics as a meaningful, natural part of eve

Teachers can help parents integrate more mathematlife, a tool for solving important and relevant p
ics into their family lives in a number of ways, lems,
includ-and an entertaining way to spend family

References

Help Your Colleagues Take Flight


Apelman, Maya, and Julie King. Exploring Everyday M
And Win a FREE Trip to the Ideas for Students, Teachers, and Parents. Portsmou
N.H.: Heinemann, 1993.
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Bresser, Rusty. Math and Literature (Grades 4-6). W
Join the "Each One, Reach One"
Membership Campaign

Plains, N.Y.: Math Solutions Publications, 1995.


Bums, Marilyn. Math and Literature (K-3). White Plains,
Math Solutions Publications, 1992.

Hartog, Martin, Maria Diamantis, and Patricia Brosnan. "Do

Watch your mailbox for Each One, Reach One.


Mathematics with Your Child." Teaching Children Ma
You'll receive "flight tickets" - personalized with
matics 4 (February 1998): 326-30.

your own prize entry code - that you can giveKanter,


your Patsy. Helping Your Child Learn Math. Lexing
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McCarty, Diane. "Books + Manipulatives + Families = A M


Tell them about the excellent benefits and the
ematics Lending Library." Teaching Children Mathema
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Mokros, Jan, Susan Jo Russell, and Karen Economopo


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Beyond Arithmetic: Changing Mathematics in the Eleme


will all go into a drawing. You could win the grand

prize-roundtrip airfare and registration totary


theClassroom. Palo Alto, Calif.: Dale Seymour Publi

tions, 1995.
Orlando Annual Meeting. Other prizes available.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). CurSo, remember, it's Each One, Reach One, and the

riculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics.

more you reach, the more chances you'll have


to Va.: NCTM, 1989.
Reston,
win. The campaign ends on March 15, 2000.
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and Industry." Teaching Children Mat

^^ i 1906 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-9988


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146

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