Log In  |  Join Us
Math at Home: Solving the Homework Hurdle
March 29, 2011 by Terry VanNoy  | 

A very common obstacle to any student’s success with their math class is allowing math fear to affect how they handle homework assignments.  When it comes to the point of a student thinking they can’t understand even the simplest lessons in class, it translates to some unproductive time at the kitchen table during homework time.  What is a parent to do if they see their child stare at the textbook and a blank homework paper, not knowing how to proceed?  How do they overcome this emotional roadblock?

The condition commonly referred to as “math anxiety” or “math fear” can deeply affect how a student handles their required homework time.  It should more accurately be labeled “math avoidance”.  Human beings will always look to escape from things that feel uncomfortable, overly challenging, or even painful.  But letting this habit fester over long periods of time creates a huge emotional block and affects school success, especially in math class.

The very first strategy in helping your child deal with lack of success at the homework table is to explain the value of homework.  Assuming the homework assignments given are not just busy work, are scaled to the appropriate level, and are reasonable in quantity (a large assumption, and the subject of another future article!), parents must explain that assignments are an extension of the lesson.  The teacher can only go over a few examples, and must require the student to try a few more at home to solidify the concepts.  A lot of self-learning happens when the student can take the time to explore the learning objectives on his own, and discover connections within the material.

Homework problems, if appropriate, are a chance to practice skills.  Students start with simple examples to lock in the ideas, then should be able to move into more complicated examples.  In doing so, a successful homework session can reinforce study habits and self-discipline.  If students can finish an assignment regularly, they will feel the rewards of completing a task well done.

A critical key to helping your child become more successful with their homework time is to purposely establish consistency:  in location, time, and quality.

Your son or daughter might argue about this, but you must insist their homework be done in the same location, on the same days and during the same time periods.  This is a very important discussion to have with your child, but crucial in their success in school.  Doing their assignments in front of the TV or behind closed doors in their bedroom is just going to prolong the agony.  Establish a public place for the study session: the kitchen table, a side office, a comfortable chair in the living or dining room.

Talk about a regular homework routine: what times during the day and which days; working around family time and scheduled activities, of course.  Children should be expected to bring home any assignments or projects they completed at school to show you.  This eliminates the “I am already done with my homework” excuse.  If finished, your son or daughter should be able to show you and celebrate their successful completion of the task.  Reward such quality work, and it will become a habit.

Another aspect to homework consistency will be agreeing on the level of quality of your child’s homework activities.  How complete do you expect assignments to be? How much time should you expect it to get completed? Don’t allow sloppy work; poor handwriting, incomplete math problems, a messy heading and missing parts of the assignment.  This will require a call to the teacher to set expectations, but it will be well worth the effort.

If your student understands the reason his teacher assigns homework, and there is a consistent routine set up to get it done, the next step is to open up the communication possibilities.  You can expect your child to become aware of how successful they are doing in their math class.  Encourage them to be clear how to look up current grades, find out when the next exam happens, and when the teacher is available for help.  If you can teach your student to be responsible for these communication lines, then your questions at night about their grades, assignments, and tests should be answered more regularly.  Any hints about your child not knowing these things are symptoms of “math avoidance”.  You want your child to deal with any current frustrations, not escape from them.

Also, do regular checkups about the quality of homework assignments.  Ask every week to see the latest problem sets completed or test/quiz review sheets given out as study guides.

Always, of course, make adjustments to the time, place, and quality expected with your child’s homework.  Ask the teacher about support opportunities, and spend the time to check everything your student son or daughter tells you.  You won’t be sorry!