How do I help with Maths homework when I don't know how to do it?

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Answered by: Stephanie, An Expert in the Homework Help Category
Maths is a subject that is generally either liked or hated by most people. People who are left-brained tend to like Maths as it is all about systems and working through steps to a solution. Right-brained people tend to be more creative and do not like being locked into those systems and processes. It is a difficult thing when a child brings home a complicated problem that does not relate to anything that you remember studying when you were at school. After all, parents are supposed to have all the answers. The following guide is one method for you to help with Maths homework without actually doing any Maths yourself.

The first thing to do is ask your child to read the problem to you. It does not matter whether you understand it or not – the first thing you are checking is that your child has read the question properly. Reading aloud uses different parts of the brain and may help them hear something new in the question.

Next, ask them to show you in their workbook where they have done a similar problem in class. Either of those should contain an explanation that might help them to see where to start. Remember – you do not have to be able to do this problem. That is their job. Resist the urge to try and explain the other problem to your child or work through it yourself. This is not necessary and will mean that you are the one doing the homework, not your child!

Ask them to explain to you how they did the problem in their book and what was done at each step they have written. Again – let this wash over you. They are not doing it for your benefit; they are doing it to put their mind back in the classroom.

If they still do not see a connection, ask them to pick out the important information in their homework question and write it down. Then ask them what they should do next and refer them to the example in their book by asking what they did in that problem. If they still cannot proceed, ask them to go over the example problem again and repeat to you verbally how the problem was done. Then ask them if they have missed anything in their homework problem. Keep them going over their work until they work out the error or see the next step.

Of course, this will not always work. Help with Maths homework is usually the most onerous task for parents who are not good at it. If you have gone through all of this and your child is getting frustrated or still cannot progress, suggest they take a break. They could stretch their legs, have a drink or snack or try other homework and come back to it later. Remember that students should take a break every hour for ten minutes anyway! If they still cannot reach a solution, suggest that they start the problem again on a fresh sheet of paper. Disconnecting from the previous work may also help them to move past the point where they are stuck. If this does not help after a reasonable period of time (dependent on the age of your child - generally they can concentrate for their age in minutes), write a note to the teacher in their workbook saying that your child has attempted their homework but is stuck at this point and let them move on.

Parents should not be more involved in Maths homework than this at any level. If you complete the tasks for them or try and do the problem yourself, then your child is not doing the homework and loses the value of the exercise. Their teacher also cannot gather accurate information about what they are able to complete out of class on their own.

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