By the time your child reaches high school, ideally he will be self-motivated and able to tackle courses like algebra, geometry, and statistics. But for many teenagers, a lifelong fear of numbers, lack of motivation, and a weak foundation make high school math a struggle.
Students who get lost may need to go back and relearn the basics, says Joseph R. Davis, author of The Essentials of High School Math. But convincing your child she needs help can be a challenge. “When it comes to students who really need help, it’s almost like they rebel,” Davis says. “The more parents push, the more students push back.”
If your child says she doesn’t want or need help in math, don’t give up. Let her know you want her to make peace with math. Even if she plans a career that doesn’t specifically require math, she could suffer setbacks if she doesn’t have a solid grasp of the fundamentals. Here are some ways you can help your child get her math skills on track.
Inspire your child. So many students just lack confidence. By the time they get to high school, they are comfortable saying “I’m not good in math.” In many cases, they’ve been saying it since 4th grade. Look for every opportunity to boost your child’s confidence. Point out math skills he might not even realize he has. For example, his knowledge of the stats for his favorite baseball team might reflect a deep understanding of math concepts. Sometimes just one A on a quiz will turn a child’s attitude around. Study with your child so he can experience that feeling.
Tutor your child. If you have a solid math background, even if you haven’t used it for a while, you may be able to work with your child. Instead of leaving her to labor over homework assignments, set aside time every week to work on the specific skills that are holding her back.
Hire a tutor. In some cases, even if you have a close bond with your child and you are strong in math, you might not be the best person to help him. Of course you want a tutor with a solid math background, but you also need to find the right personality to connect with your child. Sometimes a simple rephrasing of the steps for solving a math problem will trigger a lightbulb moment.
Get the tools for your child to teach herself. Some free resources on the Internet might be useful. You can help your child assess the quality of sites that offer free math help. For more targeted, in-depth instruction, Davis recommends textbooks aimed at homeschooled students. You can go back to the grade where your child got lost and help her work her way through the skills she missed.
Step away from the calculator. A graphing calculator looks impressive, but it can mask math weaknesses. Sometimes you have to take the calculator away from your child to assess what he really knows. Some high school students never mastered the multiplication tables. “That is the core of algebra,” Davis says. Ask your child to explain to you what multiplication is. If you help your child learn basic multiplication tables without a calculator, everything else just might fall into place.
Encourage your child to use math every day. At a restaurant, have your child calculate the tip. At the mall, have her figure out the cost of a sweater that’s 35 percent off. When you’re driving, ask him how long it will take you to drive a certain distance at a certain speed. Cooking, knitting, and gardening also offer great opportunities to use math at home.
Parents are often reluctant to help their kids with math because they don’t have confidence in their own abilities. Regardless of your skills, it’s a worthwhile investment to help your child get comfortable. Solid, basic math skills will help your child get through high school, get into a good college, and succeed in life, whether she chooses a career as an English professor or a pastry chef.