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Helping Your Children at Home with Arithmetic

The arithmetic children use in school, that is, number problems on a page, are really a formalization of all kinds of experiences dealing with measurements, time, and space. Children who are performing poorly in math at school do not need drilling at home of specific problems. If they are to develop the foundations for competency in math, they need multiple experiences that allow them to reason with numbers in their activities of daily living. These activities will allow them, in turn, to develop the generalizations necessary for handling the formal arithmetic they encounter at school. Enjoyable, fun experiences will go further toward helping your child than a repetition of the frustration he regularly faces when confronted with formal math.

Children in trouble with arithmetic cannot seem to remember math "facts" even though they review them over and over again. They may seem to remember facts when reviewed on flash cards, but when presented with arithmetic problems, they must revert to finger counting or other aids to assist them.

Here are some suggestions other parents have successfully used to help their children.

Make sure your child can correctly write numerals. Even when children can count sequentially, they may have difficulties evidenced by reversing of numerals. Taking their hand in yours and tracing large numerals helps very much. Use a large, flat surface. Let your child get the "feel" of the shape. Try doing it with your child's eyes closed. Say the numeral as you trace it with him.

If numeral reversals continue, help your child with the understanding of "left" and "right" on his own body. Play games like "Loobie-Loo" that require moving one side of the body or the other. The awareness of left and right also affects letter reversals as well.

Before and after games, with numbers, are helpful for math understanding. First, know how far your child can sequentially count. Then ask, "What number comes after...?" and "What number comes just before...?" This skill is critical for understanding both addition and subtraction.

Use numbers in a practical way around the house. "Susie, bring three forks to the table please," or "Billy, will you give your dad five nails?" This gives children the opportunity to count in a realistic setting and to see, over and over again, that numerals in a problem at school represent real quantities. Use this activity in as many ways as you can.

Board games, which involve tossing of dice or spinning that result in a number of moves across a board, are excellent ways to develop sequential math understanding. These game are particularly helpful if there are backward moves as "penalties" in the game. You can even let your child make his own game by using a large sheet of construction paper. Dominoes are a good math activity because, besides being a game, the matching of numbers (in the simple form of the game) is required. Children see the dots, can orally name them, and then can make the correct match.

Keeping score on games played at home. There are any number of activities that children can do at home which require tallying. Mom and Dad might play a game, and the child can record points by using the style of clustering four straight (upright) lines with the fifth running diagonally. Then, he can figure the totals by counting by fives.

Give your child loads of opportunities to estimate space. This can be a family game if the conditions for involving other children are satisfactory. "How long do you suppose that table is?" Then it can be measured with a ruler or yardstick. The exact number of inches or feet is not critical. The question can be phrased so that the number of lengths is the critical factor. For example, "How many times would this ruler go across that table? You guess and I'll guess. Then we'll measure it." You can practice estimating the distance across a room or up a wall, for example, in handprints, footsteps, paces, et cetera.

Measuring wall. Every home should have one wall that is used for keeping track of growth. Measure your child frequently and date each entry directly on the wall. Let him see how much he has grown as you measure him every month or every three months.

Counting backwards is a game that children like because it ends with "Blast off!" The skill of backwards counting is one that eventually develops the ability to understand subtracting by ones. It is also a visualization skill. Try starting from just "8" or "16" as practice. Count aloud with your child.

Counting and clustering real objects. Use beads or paper clips or buttons or poker chips–anything your child can grasp and that is not too large or too tiny. Let him arrange them into patterns or designs. Try clustering them into groups of two or three. Ask him for a specific number or trade items with him.

Concentration. This game can be played in a number of ways. Generally, a specific number of playing cards are placed, face down, on the table. Your child turns a card over, one at a time, attemptingt to match two cards. The game calls for remembering where specific cards are placed as he systematically searches for pairs. If he does not match a pair, cards are kept face down. Pairs are removed from the table. The game can be played with two people or more.

"Fish" can also be played with playing cards. The object is to ask your opponent if he has a card you need to make a pair. Each player starts out with four cards. Players take turns asking their opponent for a matching card. If the opponent does not have the "match," the asking player draws from the card stack. The game however, can be played as a multiplication game. Whatever pair is gotten, the child doubles or triples the face value of the cards.

Maintaining a daily calendar teaches, in an almost incidental way, adding by seven and multiplying by seven. Children can make their own calendars, with assistance, and then keep track of the passage of time by crossing out each day after it has passed.

There are many ways of using division around the house if opportunities are used when they are available. In fact, creating them helps even more. Let your child assist you in separating things into even clusters. For example, after baking cookies, let your child assist you in solving the problem of how many should go into each plate. As an incidental factor, mention, "That's right, twenty-one cookies and seven plates means each person gets three cookies–because 7 times 3 is 21."

Mathematical, sequential reasoning enters into all kinds of daily uses. Determining halves, quarters, thirds, et cetera, when separating things is done daily in many households; for example, "Let's split this apple. You take half and I'll take the other half." Asking children to follow the directions involved in simple cooking activities gives them the opportunity to measure, mix, and follow a sequence to a natural conclusion.

Here's a game that is fun and can be regularyly played. Write a number over each letter of the alphabet. Let your child use a "master card" so that he can refer to it. That is, 'A' has a '1' over it, 'B' has '2', 'C' has '3', et cetera. Then write a message like "Dad + Jimmy = _________." The problem is solved by changing each letter to a number, adding them, and getting the total. You can also use division by writing "Dad divided by C = _________." (You can use subtraction and multiplication as well.)

Counting with another activity is extremely helpful. Teachers call this the "one-to-one correspondence." For example, as a child moves his piece in a board game, have him count aloud each time he move the piece. Have him count aloud as he takes each step when he walks across the room. Have him clap his hands as he counts or clap for each step as he hops across the yard.


See Also:

Helping Your Children at Home with Reading
Helping Your Children at Home with Spelling
Helping Your Children at Home with Handwriting
Helping Your Children at Home with Vocabulary
Helping Your Children at Home with Geography

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