Don’t help with homework! Talk about math instead.

A couple of interesting pieces of research have been published recently involving parents, children, and math. There’s good news and bad news. But the best news is that the good outweighs the bad.

The short version.

Don’t do this.

Do this.


Bad news first.

When parents who are anxious about math help their kids with homework, they tend to pass that anxiety along. This has a negative impact on children’s learning. The researchers ruled out genetic effects as a leading cause, isolating amount of time spent helping with homework.

Now the good news.

The same research team looked at usage of the Bedtime Math app and found that even small amounts of use with children by parents who are anxious about math resulted in substantial gains in school math achievement.

The researchers are careful to point out that the study was designed not as a test of this particular intervention, but of the idea that non-homework-based math talk could be more supportive of kids’ learning than homework help. What the Bedtime Math app seemed to do in these cases is make talking about math something that kids and parents do together. No pressure; no deadlines; no “ways to do it”.

Maybe parents started to talk more about numbers with their kids as a result. Maybe kids started to talk more about numbers with their parents. Maybe parents started to notice kids’ math talk more often. The team hasn’t studied this yet. But when math-anxious parents used the app as little as once every other week, it seems to have opened up a world of math talk in the home.

An important subfinding is that the app had no effect in homes where parents like math! My kids won’t benefit from this app because we already talk about shapes and numbers in our daily lives.


Talking about numbers and shapes as they arise in our daily lives is beneficial for all kids—more beneficial than helping with math homework.

Of course I understand that expectations in schools and at home make homework help necessary. So if you must help with math homework, maybe you can read my book (available for purchase, and probably available at your local library). But the most important part is to talk math with your kids. That’s the mission on this blog, and the Bedtime Math app is a helpful tool for getting started.

If you’re interested in the research details on the good news part of this post, click through to the supplement. It answered many more of my questions than the published Science article did.

P.S. Those tiling turtles in the picture up above are now available in the new Talking Math with Your Kids store.

14 thoughts on “Don’t help with homework! Talk about math instead.

  1. Another blog post, yay! I’d feared you had signed an exclusive with Twitter.

    I wonder if other math enthusiasts had, like me, been reluctant to recommend Bedtime Math, knowing that richer prompts are available? It is exciting that this has a meaningful impact, since it has such a low threshold for parents and can be a realistic, even easy option.

    • Even though richer prompts are available, what a great way to tie in some fun context, even a little silly-pull for kiddos! I find that presenting all the layers (wee ones, little kids, big kids) provide for great conversation and access-for-all. Great stuff!

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  4. I think it matters how you help your child with math homework. Bedtime math gives a low stress, low anxiety way for parents and their children to interact with math. Homework can be the same – if parents, teachers and students are on the same page about its role. As a math enthusiast, I often find that homework can be a jumping off point for some fun conversations (just like raking leaves can get us talking about how big a leaf pile our whole town could make.) As a teacher, one of the things I strive to do is to put homework in perspective and design it so that students can be successful without their parents feeling compelled to be involved.

  5. I teach community college math, and I can’t help wondering how much this type of parent-child discussion would help the parent who is struggling in math. Somebody needs to study this!

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  8. Amazing !! You have suggested an innovative way to help students in maths homework. Its all about learning whatever the medium is!!! Talking maths to the children about shapes is an interesting way.

  9. Although I don’t agree with having a young child play with a media device before bed because it hampers their sleep, another time it sounds great. The fact that you recommend the parents getting involved to better understand the math their children do in and out of school is an excellent way to inhibit the math anxiety that passes from parent to child.

  10. I am, however, an elementary school teacher, and have been for over 20 years. I am also a parent.
    My comment stems from this: I have seen far too many students mislabeled with ADD other learning problems that are described at and I have seen a direct correlation in these labels as the use of computers and video games rise. Not to sound too old fashioned, but kids are full of energy, they are supposed to be, that’s how they grow and develop. But many, many kids do not have an outlet for that energy… I know it is a very simplistic statement, but hopefully you get the idea.
    Also, do you have any idea how much money is being made by doctors, drug companies and other related groups because of this issue? Something is wrong here.
    Yes, I know that there are many kids who suffer from ADD, and I am sorry if I struck a personal chord. My comment was meant to be a general statement regarding this generation of kids.
    I would never presume to diagnose an individual through an anonymous forum… that is ludicrous.
    My main intent was to put the thought out there that homework for younger children (elementary school) is an absolute waste of time.

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