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.

math-stick-14

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.

Summary

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.