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Back to School Tips for Parents

Use these playful activities and lessons to help your child get back to school!

How can I help my child develop an understanding and appreciation of how numbers are used?

Children live in a world filled with numbers, but sometimes they look right past them. Becoming more aware of the numbers around them helps kids see what an important part math plays in their everyday lives. Developing this awareness can also help children better understand mathematical ideas they learn in class while becoming more motivated about learning math.

Here are some fun and easy things you can do to help build number awareness:

Collect Numbers

Ask your child to collect numbers from around the house. The kitchen is a great place to start looking. Examples might include clocks, oven temperatures, telephones, measuring cups, and food packaging. Have her write down three examples of numbers she found, show where they came from, and tell how they were used.

Check the Newspaper

Give your child a few pages of a newspaper. Ask him to highlight or underline all the numbers he finds there. Then have him choose five of the numbers and tell about what they mean. This helps your child become aware of how understanding numbers is important when trying to stay informed.

Take Number Pictures

Help your child use a camera to take photos of numbers in your community. Examples of good photo opportunities include gas pump prices, house and apartment numbers, speed limit signs, supermarket price signs, and billboards with phone numbers. Look at these photos together and discuss how the numbers are used.

Use a Cyberchase Episode

Help your child learn more about numbers by viewing a related Cyberchase episode together. Browse “Using Numbers” on the Cyberchase website to explore related episodes, games and activities.

How can I help my child understand what “estimation” is and how it’s helpful?

In our day-to-day lives we rely as much on estimation as we do on computation to solve the math problems we encounter. When ordering in a restaurant, figuring out how much paint to buy, or how much to put in our cart when shopping, we usually estimate. It’s important for your child to see the usefulness of estimation so it becomes part of her everyday mathematical thinking.

Here are some fun and easy things you can do to build estimation skills:

Share an Example of Real-Life Estimating

Explain to your child that an estimate is not an exact answer, but a reasonable “thinking guess.” Share this example. If I am buying ice cream for three people and the three orders are for items costing $1.99, $2.25, and $1.95, I can reasonably estimate that my cost will be about $6 by figuring that each item costs about $2. I don’t need an exact answer. I don’t have to set up an addition problem on paper or get a calculator. This is using estimation in a real and helpful way.

Who Else Estimates?

Have your child ask adult friends or relatives about when they use estimation (as in the ice cream situation above). Questions to ask could include, “Do you ever estimate when you shop? Do you ever estimate at work? Do you ever estimate at home? How do you estimate?” Discuss your child’s findings together and compare to your own uses of estimation.

Provide Estimation Experiences

Provide your child with opportunities to estimate. When food shopping, list three items you will be buying. Ask your child to estimate what the total cost will be, then compare after you check out. When buying grapes, ask your child to look at the bag and estimate how many grapes you have. When you get home, count them together. Try this with different food items on several occasions. You will see your child’s estimation skill grow with practice.

Use a Cyberchase Episode

Help your child learn more about estimation by viewing a related Cyberchase episode together. Browse “Using Numbers” on the Cyberchase website to explore related episodes, games and activities.

How can I help my child recognize and understand patterns?

There are many different kinds of patterns that children will recognize, which is great because lots of mathematics is based on patterns. Recognizing and understanding patterns helps kids with many kinds of math ideas. Lots of experience with identifying, extending, and creating patterns is the key to helping your child develop this ability.

Here are some fun and easy things you can do help your child learn about patterns:

Am I Wearing a Pattern?

Help your child start to build an awareness of patterns simply by looking at the clothes she is wearing. Have her record in a drawing a pattern that she sees on an article of clothing. Then ask her to lay out a variety of clothes on her bed. Your job is to guess which item of clothing matches her drawn pattern. Now you try the same thing and have her guess which of your clothes items matches your drawing. Talk together about the types of patterns you found.

Listen for the Pattern

Using a can and a pencil, have your child close his eyes and listen as you beat out a repeated rhythm on the can. Ask him to record this pattern with paper and pencil any way he can think of. Then invite him to beat out a pattern of his own. Emphasize the idea of how a pattern has elements that repeat again and again like we often hear in music.

Complete the Pattern

Place a series of objects in a row. For example put out a line of keys. Create a repeating pattern by changing the direction of some of the keys in the row (two facing up, two facing down, two facing up, two facing down). The same thing can be done with other simple objects like pennies turned heads or tails. Have some extra keys or pennies and ask your child to complete the pattern by adding more keys or pennies. Ask her to explain the pattern and how she knew to place the objects. Then invite her to create a new pattern for you to figure out and complete.

Patterns with Numbers

Help your child use numbers to create patterns. A simple counting pattern like 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 is a pattern because each number increases by two. The counting up by 2 is the part that repeats. A set of index cards with the numbers 1 to 100 is a good tool for kids to use to create number patterns. Ask your child to use the cards to create number patterns while you try to guess what the pattern is and use the remaining cards to extend the pattern.

Use a Cyberchase Episode

Help your child learn more about patterns by viewing a related Cyberchase episode together. Browse “Pre-Algebra” on the Cyberchase website to explore related episodes, games and activities.

How can I help support my child in making homework a useful and productive time?

Sometimes doing homework can be a frustrating and unproductive time for kids. Yet homework time can be very valuable in helping kids cement skills and concepts by providing additional practice, just like you would with a sports practice.

Here are some things you can do to help:

Provide a Good Homework Environment

Provide your child with a quiet area free of distractions for homework. Remind her to turn off the cell phone, instant messaging and e-mail. Good lighting and a work area free of clutter also help kids concentrate and sustain a good working effort.

Take a Break

Encourage your child not to try to plow through homework non-stop, but to take a break every so often to stretch, get a snack or drink, take a few deep breaths, or maybe even a little exercise to help refresh and revitalize. These simple strategies can make homework time more comfortable and efforts more effective.

Talk About Homework

Periodically review homework answers with your child. Ask how he arrived at an answer. Encourage him to explain his thinking and show you the methods and strategies that he used. Do not feel intimidated by homework you might not understand. Ask your child. He will learn even more by explaining it to you and you will learn more about his school experience.

Check Homework Effectively

We often tell kids to “check their work,” but we rarely tell them how. One good way to check a math problem is to estimate first what a reasonable answer would be. Then when the actual answer is computed it can be compared to the estimate to help decide whether the answer is “in the ballpark.” Another good strategy is to solve a problem in a different way and then compare results. For example, a problem might be solved by multiplication. The same problem could also be solved by repeated addition. Try both ways. If the answers match, it is a good bet it is correct.

Produced by: Funding is provided by:
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Additional funding is provided by Lynne and Marc Benioff, the Tiger Baron Foundation, Shailaja and Umesh Nagarkatte and Ellen Marcus.
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