“I don’t like math.” “Math scares me.” These are common statements made by children, parents, and college students alike. The fears and negative views many people have regarding mathematics may be reflective of prior negative experiences and/or a lack of procedural and conceptual knowledge. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and its focus on building a conceptual understanding of mathematics in addition to procedural skills, many parents have found themselves challenged in understanding the different approaches introduced by the CCSS. And the confusion about these standards may stir some of those old fears of mathematics in parents. It is important for teachers to realize that some parents may struggle with both understanding the approach of the CCSS as well as in assisting their children with homework related to the CCSS.
Teachers need to consider what they could do to help parents in understanding the CCSS. Although there are many negative views regarding the CCSS, many parents, especially those of younger children have an open mind towards the CCSS. It is important that we attempt to help parents understand the CCSS and the different pedagogical approaches that tied to them. There are a few things that we should try to do to help:
Family math nights. Many teachers/schools offer a curriculum night where the purpose is for parents/guardians to meet with classroom teachers to learn about grade level curriculum and expectations for the school year. Although this is a great event, specific concepts and pedagogical approaches are not often discussed. Another night focused on specific mathematical concepts that children are learning and possibly focusing on those concepts that may be new in its teaching approach will be very helpful for parents. At this meeting, you can clearly explain various concepts and how you are teaching them. If possible, offering math nights throughout the school year will be even more beneficial since new concepts are frequently introduced. This certainly may be difficult to do in terms of time and difficult for parents as well, but it will help with parents’ anxiety and possible anger towards the CCSS. If possible, work with the other teachers in your grade level team to develop something together. You may consider having the parents bring their children along with them. Parents may benefit from your explanation along with seeing their students in action in your classroom. If math nights are not possible, offer parents an opportunity to ask you questions about homework or concepts either in person on the phone.
Also, during these math nights or even during a curriculum night, be honest about the CCSS. Explain the goal and focus of the CCSS. Many parents will be familiar with the negative backlash but may not have a good grasp of the standards. Explain the differences between how the parents may have been taught and the CCSS. Most parents want to understand the CCSS and will appreciate an opportunity to learn about them and ask questions about them. For parents of younger children, this could build a solid foundation and a positive view of the CCSS.
Communicate consistently. In addition to family math nights, attempt to stay in constant communication with parents regarding the mathematics their students are doing in the classroom. If possible, provide weekly updates of the concepts being learned throughout the year. Be cautious of the language you use in your communication with parents and in introducing concepts to your students. I have been told by many parents that their children tell them, “The way your parents do this problem is wrong.” Or “we don’t do it that way anymore.” Both of these statements can upset parents and both are untrue. There are many ways of solving various problems. And yes, many parents learned a more traditional or procedural approach to mathematics. But that does not make it “wrong.” When teaching children, let them know that their parents may have learned a “different” way. And that they “will learn different ways, and will also learn how your parents were taught too.” It is important to remember that as teachers, we want to provide our students with many different ways of thinking about the various mathematical concepts we introduce. Some may be more conceptual, some may be more procedural but all serve some purpose and assist in children’s ultimate understanding.
Provide resources for parents. As part of the communication with parents, include resources that could help parents understand the mathematical concepts you may be teaching. These resources may include various websites or handouts that you have explaining the concepts being taught in your classroom. However, as mentioned above, make your self available to meet with parents if they have questions. And you should try hard to encourage those questions. Parents may feel embarrassed that they don’t understand various concepts or cannot help their children. Do your best to be approachable and make them feel comfortable to come to you for help. Also, in addition to resources, send activities or activity ideas home that children and parents can do together that enforce the concepts you are working on. With the early grades, many games can be used to build various concepts in the CCSS. Provide those game ideas to parents so they can have fun together with their children and help their children build that strong foundation and love of mathematics.
Mathematics in the early childhood years should be a fun topic to both learn and teach. Many of us have fond memories of learning math when we were younger and others do not. But as early childhood teachers, we have the opportunity to ensure that our students are exposed to mathematics in a fun and interactive way while developing a conceptual understanding of the many concepts that they will learn. We also have the opportunity to demonstrate this to their parents as well. Although this can be challenging, doing so will be worthwhile and beneficial to both parents and their children.
This post is brought to you by Dr. Alan Bates. Alan is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Illinois State University. His research interests include children’s mathematical development, teacher’s math self-efficacy, and parent-school interaction. Check out another post on the ECE Teacher Talk blog from Alan here!