In my “former life” (i.e. before kids), I was a math teacher. The “New Math” curriculum I had to teach was drastically different than what many of my students’ parents were used to, and the parents oftentimes approached me with their confusion. They were frustrated – and understandably so. After all, as parents, we should have all the answers, right?
Unfortunately, the subjects our kids are learning in school are far from fresh in our minds. Sometimes, we just can’t remember the difference between an adverb and an adjective, we have no idea how to explain to them the theory of relativity, or maybe we know the answer to a math problem, but can’t explain how we got there.
Encountering unfamiliarity while trying to help our children can be exasperating. Here are a few helpful tips that I offered parents when they were stymied by their child’s homework:
Just because you don’t remember how to do something, it doesn’t mean you are incompetent or dumb. It simply means that you haven’t had to use that piece of information in a long time. The brain is an incredibly efficient muscle, purging what we don’t need to make room for all of the new information we take in every day.
Take this opportunity to teach your child about how to approach learning.
If your child sees you get angry or defensive about the “new ways” of teaching, they most likely will approach new situations in a similar way. Instead, show them how to embrace learning. For example, say, “Wow, this sure is different from how I remember it. Come sit closer — we’ll figure this out together.”
Start at the beginning.
Perhaps open your child’s textbook and start reading, at least from the start of the chapter they currently are learning. When you jump into the middle of a topic, you might be missing key concepts previously covered. Once you get to the problem spot, you might be able to make more sense of it.
Use the Internet.
Search for the topic that your child is learning about. Oftentimes you can find short videos that will help explain the concept from the approach your child’s teacher is using. To be the teacher, sometimes you have to be the pupil.
Ask the teacher for resources.
Although the method of teaching may have changed, the way to get help hasn’t. Teachers love when parents reach out via a phone call, written note, email or after-school visit to ask how they can better help their child at home with concepts learned in class. More often than not, the teacher has a book, website, or handout that can be helpful for parents.
Get an older sibling, cousin or neighbor to explain.
Chances are, someone who is just a bit older than your child will be familiar with the new curriculum and will be able to explain it to you (or to your child). If there are no older siblings, bribe a neighbor friend with a plate of chocolate chip cookies to come help after school.
If you can’t help your child with every homework question they come home with, don’t worry. It’s normal. Your role as a parent can just be to point them in the right direction or to guide them to useful resources. One of the most important things to remember is the attitude with which you approach these situations is going to be a valuable lesson to them. Teaching them by example to be caring, patient, resourceful and persevering are life lessons far more valuable than showing them how to get 100 percent on every assignment.