Parents matter! They are powerful levers for children’s success in school. However, home circumstances can hinder parents’ efforts to collaborate with their children on daily math homework or projects. For example, “My child resists my help, saying, ‘We did it differently in class’,” and “When I arrive home from work, I don’t have enough time to go over homework in a way I would like to,” are voices this math educator often hears during conversations with parents.
Therefore, teachers can utilize responsive strategies concerning two challenges parents face: 1) unfamiliarity with current math learning environments, and 2) time constraints. The voices shared are representative statements stemming from conversations with 225 families from public and nonpublic elementary, middle, and high school settings (Mistretta, 2017).
We don’t know how to help our children anymore. The way I was taught to approach certain problems is not how kids are taught to approach them today. The way kids are taught today is more conceptual and inquiry-based, whereas we [parents] learned in a more direct way, sort of “here’s how you solve this problem, now do it.”
When parents’ engagement in school isn’t evident, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to be involved. Parents do care; however, a lack of familiarity with current curriculum materials and methodology can limit how they support their children with math and suppress the knowledge and talents they can share. If left unaddressed, parents’ unfamiliarity can cause them to either disengage from assisting their children or contradict current classroom practices by assisting in ways that mirror their own learning of math rather than that of their child (Reimillard & Jackson, 2006).
To Support Parents
- Host “Family Engagement Nights,” where parents and children engage in doing math together. At these events, convey how sharing different ways of solving math problems deepens everyone’s understanding of the math involved (Boaler, 2014). This can help alleviate those times children view parents’ differing approaches as inferior or irrelevant—circumstances conducive to children shutting parents out of their mathematical learning. Sharing different approaches and solutions can stimulate positive lessons rather than stressful conversations about math at home.
- Assign homework examples to do with parents that involve multiple solutions and/or methods of solution. Children can share their method/solution with parents, listen to parents’ method/solution, and subsequently share their home conversations during related classroom discussions. In turn, children can look for connections among differing methods/solutions to deepen their understanding.
- Provide vetted online resources. A vast amount of resources is available online. Provide parents with those determined by math experts as offering quality guidance with math content, tips for supporting math learning, and engaging games and tasks such as:
I know about my child’s progress in math only through the school’s online student assessment reports. I don’t have time before or after school to discuss with teachers the questions I have about my child’s report.
Finding time to interact with teachers and collaborate with their children can be challenging for parents, especially if they hold one or more jobs. However, communication with parents is critical for developing trusting home–school partnerships (Redding et al., 2011). Researchers encourage two-way communication for cultivating home–school paradigms that both provide information to parents and accept information from them so as to acquire awareness of both specific challenges and talents surrounding the home.
To Support Parents
- Email and/or call parents with limited availability to attend traditional school events. Phone conversations made to parents’ workplaces during convenient times, although brief, can give you enough time to share how children are progressing, as well as how children can improve.
- Create online interactive newsletters that keep parents in the loop about classroom learning, as well as offer parents opportunities to provide perspectives, ask questions, and offer expertise.
- Help them create conditions to work on projects together with enough time for meaningful and productive collaboration.
- Listen to parents to be informed of how to respond to circumstances surrounding the home. How and where one listens to parents will vary depending on individual settings; however, what is good for all is that listening begins. Otherwise, teachers aren’t positioned to be in-the-know about parents and math and therefore may not be able to provide support for all parents.
By Regina M. Mistretta
Dr. Mistretta is a Professor at St. John’s University’s School of Education. She has collaborated with Pre-K–12 school communities encompassing teachers, administrators, school children, and their parents. She also enjoys serving as Counselor of the Kappa Eta Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.
Boaler, J. (2014). The mathematics of hope: Moving from performance to learning in mathematics classrooms. YouCubed. https://www.youcubed.org/resource/short-impact-papers
Mistretta, R. (2017). Conversations with family members about math. School Community Journal, 27(1), 181–200.
Redding, S., Murphy, M., & Sheley, P. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook on family and community engagement. Academic Development Institute. http://www.schoolcommunitynetwork.org/downloads/FACEHandbook.pdf
Reimillard, J. T., & Jackson, K. (2006). Old math, new math: Parents’ experiences with standards-based reform. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 8, 231–259.