Each month, you'll be able to get answers directly from experts covering a wide range of parenting topics. You'll also have a chance to share your own expert tips with other parents. Join the conversation!
Jennifer Klepper is an ex-corporate attorney turned PTO president, volunteer child advocate and Cwist contributor. She is leading a discussion on inspriring curiosity and independence in girls with nature. Read and Comment »
Frances Nankin is the Executive Producer and Editorial Director of Cyberchase. Carey Bolster is Co-Director of Cyberchase Mathematics Content. Read more »
School is just around the corner, and our experts from Cyberchase offered ideas on how to get your kids excited and motivated about math.
Hortense, in Brooklyn, NY asks:
I have a new fourth grader who is really good at math but has difficulties when it comes to money problems. What can we do to help him sharpen this area?
Word problems that challenge kids to calculate with money are difficult for many reasons, but one important stumbling block is that they involve working with decimals, to which 4th graders have only just been introduced. You can help by giving your son experiences at home where he can calculate with real money, solving problems he cares about. What kind of experiences will help sharpen his skills? Here are just a few:
Invite your son to help you clip and save coupons from newspaper flyers for items you regularly purchase. Every time you use a coupon, have him help you keep track of the money you saved. To do this, have him write the listed price of each item, and subtract from that the price you paid with the coupon. As an added incentive, collect the savings in a jar and have him keep a running total of how much money is there. You might keep a small notebook so that you can both keep a running total of what you save over a month's time. Your son will be surprised at how quickly small amounts of change can add up to large sums. And he will get lots of practice adding and subtracting with money. Do you give your son an allowance? If so, rather than call it a "spending allowance" you might rename it his "saving and spending allowance." One way to do this is to set up a bank account with him so that he has his own bank book, makes his own deposits and receives his own bank statements. Kids love to get their own mail, and they are delighted with their bank statements as their savings, and the interest on their savings, starts to add up. Another way to encourage savings is to make a bank that has two sections - one for saving and the other for spending. That way, every time a deposit is made, the child has to make a decision about what the money is for. You can download directions for making a Cyberchase "Buzz Bank" from pbskidsgo.org/cyberchase. Play the "Sorting Coins" game (2 or more players): On large pieces of paper, one for each player, draw 4 columns and label them. "QUARTERS - 25 CENTS EACH"; "DIMES - 10 CENTS EACH"; "NICKELS - 5 CENTS EACH"; and " PENNIES - 1 CENT EACH". Have ready a bowl filled with at least two large handfuls of mixed coins. The goal of the game is to take turns grabbing a handful of coins to see who is able to grab the handful with the greatest value. Player 1 grabs a handful, dumps it at the bottom of his paper, and sorts them into the appropriate columns. Next step is to find the total. To do this, the player first counts the number of quarters and uses repeat addition - 25, 50, 75, one dollar, etc. - to figure the total value. The player writes the total at the bottom of the column and repeats the same process with the other coins. Once he has each of the columns totaled, he then computes his grand total and writes it at the bottom of his paper. The player returns his coins to the bowl and stirs them for player 2 to take his turn, and so forth until all players have played. The player whose handful had the greatest amount wins. Write an amount, such as $3.47, on a slip of paper and give it to your son. Using coins, challenge him to make the amount as many different ways as he can.
These are just a few fun experiences where reasoning and calculating with money come into play and can help reinforce important math skills. For more ideas, visit pbskidsgo.org/cyberchase. Go to the "For Parents & Teachers" section of the site, and click on the Featured Themes pull-down menu. The 'Know Your Dough' button will take you to episodes, web games and print materials all developed to help kids build smart money sense.
Trudy from Broken Arrow, OK asks:
How can I get my daughter to understand how important the multiplication table is to memorize? We are starting long division in fifth grade and she is slow and struggling because she did not memorize the multiplication table in fourth grade. Should I use flash cards to try to catch her up? Is there another trick to help her memorize the multiplication table?
Memorizing the times tables is often a frustrating experience for children because the memorization does not come easily and it takes time. This can cause an "Oh, no! I have to memorize something else!" reaction. Reassure your child that this is an opportunity for a fresh start, and you will help her make it.
Just What Is Multiplication? Part of the problem is that some children "see" multiplication as a whole bunch of isolated facts that they have to memorize and they are overwhelmed with the task of memorizing what feels like an endless number of different answers. And it seems there is nothing for them to fall back on.
Well, they do have a lot of math they can fall back on. First, multiplication is nothing more than repeated addition. (For example, 4+4+4 is 3 groups of 4, or 3 X 4.) So if your child can't remember a multiplication fact, she can first find the answer using addition (4+4 = 8 and 8+4=12). Memorizing multiplication facts is just another, faster way of doing the addition problem. If you help your child think of multiplication as repeated addition, she can use that strategy for the times she gets stuck.
Second, the order in which you multiply two numbers doesn't make a difference. If you know that 3X4 is 12, then you also know that 4X3 is 12. And once your child has learns this fact, you can introduce division as a way to give her more experience. Since 4 X 3 = 12, you can make a division problem out of it by saying, "4 times some number equals 12." That number is 3. This is a strategy for thinking about the problem 12 divided by 4. So by learning the multiplication facts, she is also getting a handle on division. Make sure your child knows about this payoff.
How can I help my child learn the multiplication facts? First, do not get frustrated with your child. Your frustration will be passed on to your child, and what you want is a positive attitude. Set aside some quiet, relaxed time (TV, cell phones and other distractions off!) dedicated to learning the facts. Getting to the point where she can hear the problem and spout the answer takes time.
Kids learn different ways. Here are some activities that might help. Check them out to see which fits your child best.
Triangular Flashcards Cut 10 equal-sized triangles from a manila folder or tag board. Put "30" at the top of one triangle, "3" on the left corner, and "10" on the right corner. Tell your child this is a family of facts... this ONE card tells you 4 facts! You can see that 3 times 10 is 30; 10 times 3 is 30; 30 divided by 3 is 10; 30 divided by 10 is 3. They are all related! Then cover one corner of the triangle at a time, and ask your child what number is under your finger. Tell your child that by practicing with these cards, he/she will be learning multiplication AND division facts AT THE SAME TIME! Create a set of cards for each of the times table families (A family might be any given number times the numbers 1 to 10. So, for example, 1 X 4, 2 X 4, 3 X 4, 4 X 4, etc. up to 10 would be a family.)
TIP: Use different colors when you construct different times table "families", and introduce each new set slowly. The main goal is to avoid frustrating your child.
Calculator Flashcards Using a calculator, press '+ 3' and then the '=' key. What do you get? (3) Now press clear and press + 3 = = . Now what do you get? (6) Now press clear and press + 3 = = = and what do you get? (9) Invite your child to look for a pattern. Ask: What is the relationship between the number of times you press the '=' sign and the answer? (The number of times you pres the '=' sign times 3 is the same as a multiplication problem. It gives you the 3's tables or multiples of 3.)
Now the fun begins. Have your daughter enter a number like +4 and cover the answer display with her finger. Have her push the '=' sign 4 times and predict the answer that is hidden. Once she says the answer she takes her finger off the display to see if she is correct. If she is correct, try another! If she is incorrect, have her state the problem: "4 times 4 equals 16." Often saying the facts out loud helps a child remember them.
Egg Carton Math For this activity, you will need an empty egg carton and some objects like pennies, paperclips, or cereal like Cheerios. The goal is to concentrate on the multiplication facts your child is having a particularly hard time remembering, and to help her think in terms of groups, and numbers of objects in each group. For example, say she is having a hard time remembering 5 times 9. Have her take a stab at an answer, and then show her answer by putting 9 objects in 5 compartments of the egg carton, and counting the number of objects she's used. (She can do this by repeat addition or skip counting: 9, 18, 27, etc.).When she's done, be sure to have her state the fact, "5 X 9 = 54" Patterns on the Hundreds Chart To make a Hundreds Chart, make a 10 by 10 grid of same size squares or use graph paper. Write the numbers 1-10 in the first row of squares, 11-20 in the second row, and so on until you complete the 91-100 row. Then use the chart to locate and color the multiples of different numbers. Try multiples of 3, for example. When your child colors in the 3, 6, 9, 12, etc., she will see that the products are always 3 digits apart. The pattern will show "skip two numbers, color the next." Color multiples of other numbers and talk about the patterns. Using Music to learn Multiplication Facts If your daughter likes to sing, consider putting the multiplication facts to music. They learned their letters because of the alphabet song! Why not try it with math facts? The products of the 6 times tables (6, 12, 18, 24...) fit nicely into the tune for ("Yankee Doodle went to town"). Help your child find a melody to "fit" to other times tables. This simple device can help the memory a lot. (It's hard to get stressed out when you're singing!)
We hope these ideas will help you have fun with your daughter as she learns her multiplication facts.
Barbara from Thomaston, ME asks:
I am dreading the start of the school year and hearing my 11-year-old daughter's complaints about doing her math homework. She hates math. I thought it might help her to feel better about learning math if she understood how important it is in the world outside the classroom. Do you have some suggestions on how I can best do this without sounding preachy?
You are correct in thinking you might turn to the world outside the classroom to highlight the importance of math. But from an 11-year-old's point of view, what does that world look like? Many of us mistakenly think in terms of how math is important, for example, in careers in science or engineering. To an 11-year-old, however, a career is a long time off. It's better if we share ways that math is important to us, here and now, and how it plays a vital role in our everyday lives. Talk about math in an informal setting, in conversation at the dinner table or when driving in a car. Be positive about it and never, ever say you were bad in math. You might say you also used to think you didn't use math and weren't any good at it, but you found out differently, and now you use it all the time. Our goal for you daughter is to get her to personalize math, to "own" the math she uses to make her life easier.
What kind of math are we talking about? Here are some age-appropriate examples you might use as a topic for conversation:
Elapsed Time. By now, your daughter is probably comfortable telling what time it is, but may find it harder to tell how much time has gone by, or what time to start an event so that it is finished by a given time. We call this "elapsed time," and you can highlight examples like these when they come up, and "do the math" together to figure them out. Planning dinner? What time do we want to eat, and when do we have to start cooking if the meal takes an hour and 15 minutes to prepare? Distance. How far is it from place to another? How do we figure out how long it will take us to get there? Whether you are figuring in miles per hour, or city blocks per minute, you can have fun estimating how long it will take and then comparing the actual time with your estimated time. News You Can Use. Swap sections of a newspaper and highlight everything that has math in it - not just numbers, but charts and graphs, ballpark estimations, measurements, even geometry. See who can find the most examples. The daily paper uses a lot of math in delivering the news. Ask, "How does using the math help communicate the ideas?" (It makes the idea easier to understand; it's easier to picture if you use math; you can't argue with numbers!) Math in Nature. Look at the patterns you see in the arrangement and number of petals on flowers, or leaves on a stem or twig. Ask, "What is the pattern, and what advantage might it offer to the life of the plant?" (While your answers might be speculative, they reveal how math can lead to research in the life sciences!) Travel. Ask, "Why do you think license plates use digits and letters?" (Using digits and letters makes it easier to create one-of-a-kind plates.) Eating Out. While waiting for your meals to be served, hang on to one of the menus. Give your daughter a dollar amount she can spend and challenge her to find as many different ways she can to stay under that amount and still order a delicious meal. Math & Sports. Some sports (baseball, basketball, football) keep track of how many points are scored. Some (field trials, races) track fastest times. Others (dance, diving) are scored by a ranking system. In which sports does your daughter have an interest? Talk about the different kinds of math used in that sport and how it makes the sport more fun to follow. Shopping. Shop sales together and figure out what the markdown percentages actually mean. Look for ways to figure out if you've received the right change. (One way is to start with the actual price, and add to that the change in your hand to make sure it adds up to the amount you gave the cashier.)
Kathy from Phoenix, AZ writes:
My 10-year-old daughter says she hates being pulled from her classroom to go to the resource room during the school day. She feels the other kids are learning things that she would like to learn. She said last year she would hide in the hallway to avoid telling her friends that she was going to the resource room. She has been with the resource teacher for three years, and she says that she is not getting new material to learn and is not being challenged. Please advise.
There are many types of pull-out programs. The general idea is to take a child, or a small group of children, out of the classroom setting so they can pursue specialized topics, areas of enrichment or remediation. The primary advantage of pull-out programs is that they can provide individualized instruction that can be adapted to the students' specific needs.
To help you decide whether to let your child participate in the pull-out program or let them remain in the classroom, here are some things to consider:
Attitude is an important factor in a child's learning. Depending on the situation, attitude may turn off or turn on the "learning faucet." If the child has a can-do attitude, she is confident in her ability and thus has a tendency to learn the material. If the child has a can't do attitude, she tends to get frustrated and want to give up or avoid the experience.
Peer pressure is an equally strong factor that affects learning. Kids want a sense of belonging to the group -- in this case, their classmates. They often don't want to be seen as being different. A positive attitude and a sense of belonging usually improve performance.
You indicated a very real concern in relating that your daughter says she is not getting new material to learn and is not being challenged. Often pull-out programs are aimed solely at improving skills. Facility with skills in different subject areas is important and necessary as a child progresses through school. In math, for example, slow recall of facts can impede computation. However, practicing and rehearsing skills without any setting that the child can relate to becomes boring and repetitious. Placing them in a context is more challenging and interesting. So one question you might ask is, "How is my daughter being taught?" What specific areas are being addressed with your child in the pull-out program, and what are the goals?
Your daughter is expressing that "the other kids are learning things that she would like to learn." Bravo! This positive attitude toward learning should be reinforced and rewarded. Have a conference with her teachers. It is important to establish an open relationship -- this is the team that is concerned about her education. Establish a series of milestones where, together, you can note progress and problems as well as adjust strategies. Ask, "How do we measure her gains?" And, if applicable in this situation, ask, "Assuming the pull-out program is successful, when can she expect to join the class full time?" Find out what you can do outside of school hours to help your child achieve these goals. Remember, your daughter's learning depends largely on the teacher- parent team. And, of course, your daughter.
Finally, these ideas are general in nature, as we don't know your daughter or the nature of the pull-out program. Working closely with the school to develop an effective instructional plan for your daughter should improve her attitude and competence in learning.
Jennifer from Walkersville, MD asks:
I have a four- year- old who knows the alphabet, can recognize letters and numbers, knows basic shapes, colors and can count to twenty. She seems generally intelligent and eager to learn. What else does she need to learn to prepare her for Kindergarten, and what activities can I do with her to help her?
It sounds like your child is off to a good start, and you are wise to want to encourage and support her learning in preparation for kindergarten. A caregiver's role in a child's education is important because the child looks to that person for reassurance and building self-confidence. That is why we encourage parents to set a quiet time each day for a fun learning experience they can have with their child when both are relaxed and focused.
For example, just as you probably find a quiet time each day to read with your daughter to help her develop confidence in reading, we suggest you find a similar time to "do math" with her to help her develop confidence in that subject. Teachers tell us that students of all ages have difficulty seeing how the math they learn at school is useful in our everyday lives, and we think parents are the ideal solution to that problem.
What can you do? First, look for examples of age-appropriate math you come across as you go about your daily routine. A few suggestions follow, but you can also go to pbsparents.org and check out the Early Math site for more.
The following activities represent several different areas in mathematics:
Invite her to help you identify patterns that you can see or hear. Examples include identifying a floor tile pattern, or a color pattern on fabric. Together you might extend a pattern with colored beads or blocks, or clap in time to musical rhythms. Listen to bird songs and try to repeat the patterns that you hear. Have her help you organize events in sequence. When cooking, talk about what you do first, what happens next, and what happens last. Have her help you sort laundry items by color, size, or category. Sorting by attribute is an important building block in mathematical thinking. Save those annoying stickers on different kinds of fruit and build a bar graph to show how many of each kind your family eats in a week or two. Stack the apple, plum or banana stickers in separate columns. At the end of a given time period, use the graph to figure out which you ate the most of, and which the least. Help her make a number line and use it to answer the questions "What number is 1 more than (or 1 less than) ...?" Or, "What number comes after (or before) ...?" Your daughter can count to 20. Write the numbers 1 to 20 on a line. (Use a length of adding machine tape or long strip of paper.) Invite her to use the number line to ask you questions about order, too! Share how you measure ingredients when cooking. When you need to measure out sugar or flour, water or oil, talk about what the recipe calls for and invite her to help make the measurements. Share how you measure length when building something, or buying fabric for sewing. Explain that the end of the measuring tape is 0 (zero) and has to line up with the edge of what you are measuring, or your measurement will be wrong! Show pictures of the simple geometric shapes she can name and invite her to copy them onto a piece of paper. Talk about the properties of the shapes. What makes one shape (a triangle, for example) different from other shapes (a square or a circle)? Hide a treat in her room and draw a simple picture map to show her where it is. Have her use the map to find it. She can also hide something from you and have you find it.
Does your daughter watch Cyberchase? While this math-based series targets kids 8 to 11, parents tell us that their younger kids enjoy the show and absorb many of the simpler math ideas. (Check local PBS listings or visit pbskidsgo.org/cyberchase to find out when it is broadcast in your area.)
These are just a few examples of ways you can support the development of different kinds of math skills with your four-year-old. You can easily invent more like them as you go to the supermarket, travel in a car or bus, or take a walk around the neighborhood. Enjoy!
Urmish from Columbus, OH, asks:
My daughter is entering 5th Grade. I noticed that her school does not publish curriculum or the name of a text book her teachers use in the class (for Math or Science etc.). She does not bring her class work home until the end of the year. Talking to teachers has not helped so far since they give only a few vague answers. My question is: What is the best way to figure what is going on in Math in her class?
Kathleen from Natchez, MI, asks:
My granddaughter, who is in 1st grade, and very intelligent, is having a very difficult time with her letters and numbers, as far as writing them, is concerned. We have suggested several things, but nothing is working. Perhaps you have some tried and true work habits that will improve her writing.
The school has experts who can guide and advise you in this regard. We are not expert in this area. Contact your child's teacher and ask for a conference where you can discuss and share ideas and perceptions.
That being said, many young children have trouble in this area and require much guided practice, since the numbers and letters vary in starting positions and often switch directions in their formation. Practice is essential, but varying the practice to include a variety of sensory experiences will help to keep the interest high and make the practice extend beyond pencil and paper. Here are a few suggestions:
Letters and numbers can be organized into groups that are similar. For example, 1, 4, 7, I, H, and T are all made with straight lines. The numbers 2 and 3 begin in the same place and their curves are made the same. The numbers and letters 0, O, and Q are nearly identical, while 6, C,G, d all have curves that move in the same direction.
Practicing in groups where properties are similar can help build confidence in your granddaughter.
You can also try covering a cookie sheet in a layer of salt to create a home-made "Magic Slate" for your child to practice making numbers and letters. To be sure the letters are formed correctly, demonstrate and guide the child. Shake the cookie sheet to redistribute the salt and "erase" each practice letter. Or use shaving cream on a smooth surface, like a countertop, to trace and erase letters. It's as much fun as finger paint but the clean-up is easy!
Use PlayDough to mold and shape long "snakes" then make the numbers
Use ESP (Extra Sensory Practice). Have your child sit with his/her back toward you.
The most important thing is to keep the practice times interactive and fun!
Evanston, IL, asks:
My daughter is entering 8th grade and has been placed in honors algebra I this year with one caveat--that she receive tutoring to bolster her "number sense" because her standardized placement tests show she is deficient in this area, but strong in others. I am willing, but neither the tutor I contacted (a retired high school math teacher) nor I know what number sense is or how to boost it. Any ideas?
This is a difficult question, as Number Sense is not a single topic or a single set of skills that can be taught in a short period of time. When we refer to kids and Number Sense we mean helping kids make sense of numbers, and feel comfortable using them that they have options when solving math related problems.
While we don't know which parts of the standardized test your daughter is having difficulty with, we can give you a few examples to give you a sense of what to look for when tutoring her. (Because we do not know the specific test your daughter was given, the following examples are representative only.)
The child basically understands that placing a digit in a certain place affects the number in terms of a power of 10 (10 times more or 10 times less, as the digit shifts to the right or left).
Question: What is the place value of 3 in the number: 123, 456?
ANS: (thousands place or 3 thousand)
ANS: (hundredths place or 5 hundredths)
The child is flexible in representing numbers as decimals, fractions, and percents in order to solve problems. By knowing how to express numbers in different ways, it will help the child solve problems.
Question: What is 33 1/3% of 66?
ANS: (33 1/3 % is the same as 1/3 so 1/3 of 66 is 22.)
The child is able to tell which of two numbers is equal to, greater than, or less than. Another way to look at this is to compare and order whole numbers, fractions and decimals.
Question: Which is greater. 3 /4 or 3/5?
ANS: (3/4 -there are 3 pieces in each choice, but dividing a pie into 4ths will give you larger pieces than dividing it into 5ths}
Place the correct symbol in the blank: >, <, or =.
1. 45 _ 1.359
ANS: ( > Compare which is greater by place value, and not by the length of the number. When you compare the digits after the decimal point, 1.4 is greater than 1.3 so 1.450 > 1.359)
Skill in working with numbers:
The child is able to do computation with whole numbers, fractions and decimals, and able to estimate, and check reasonableness of answers. Examples:
ANS: (This can be done mentally. Think: 1 pound is $2.40 and ¼ of $2.40 is $0.60. So $2.40 +$0.60 is $3.00)
Question: You multiply 4.5 by 1.2 and get 54.0. Is your answer correct?
ANS: The digits are correct in your answer, but if you estimate 4.5 is about 5 and 1.2 is about 1, and multiply 5 times 1, you get 5, not 54.0. So you know to recheck your calculation.
This gives you a flavor of Number Sense. Your child's teacher will know more about the specifics of the test and help identify the skills your child needs help with. We also suggest that you observe how she does in the Algebra program, and as she encounters difficulty in certain areas, address those specific areas. Hiring a tutor to address all the topics under the Number Sense umbrella doesn't seem appropriate. Addressing specific skills might be a more productive way of approaching the situation.
By the way, your daughter is doing very well in math, so congratulate and encourage her!
Nicaury from Union,
What is the best way to teach a first grader how to add big numbers ex 9+8?
Manipulatives such as pennies, buttons, paper clips, beans or any other small object work well in the following illustration. The idea is to use these objects to form one or more groups of 10 and then add the number left over. For example, when adding 9 and 8, invite your child to lay out 9 objects in one group and 8 objects in another. Ask, "How many do we have all together?"
X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
9 objects 8 objects
One way to find the answer would be to simply count how many objects are there. But this is time consuming and won't lead to a deeper understanding of place value. If you ask your child to form a group of 10 and see how many are left over, your child can readily see that adding a number to ten is easy and faster to do as mental math. There are two ways in this problem to make a group of ten: take one object from the 8 pile and combine it with the 9 pile, or take two from the 9 pile and combine it with the 8 pile. Either way you end up adding 10 plus 7, or 7 plus 10, which your child can quickly see is a total of 17.
Try using this process with other examples your child has difficulty with, providing lots of opportunity to discuss what happens along the way, and writing down each time what results you end up with.
Forming groups of 10 with objects will help your child understand how to add 'big' numbers when the answer is greater than 9 and help develop greater skills with doing the addition mentally.