This post is the second installment of a series titled Improving Homeschool Math. Last week, I began the series by debunking a few math myths we’ve faced here in our homeschool. Today, I want to explore how we can gently and lovingly address the math mistakes our children make and give them the confidence they need to move on to the next problem without fear and worry.
As I’ve said before, math can be a source of stress in our homeschool. My children prefer reading and writing over computation and problem solving, so getting them to do math without making a fuss can be a challenge. Over the years, I’ve seen it all during math lessons: crying, whining, moaning, begging, groaning, and on occasion, yelling.
I have noticed the one thing most likely to cause an elevated level of math frustration is when I have to help a child correct a mistake she has made. But this school year I have also discovered the way I respond to my children’s math mistakes often makes or breaks the day’s lesson. Mistakes can’t always be avoided, but helping my children analyze errors the right way can ease math frustration and help my children learn more effectively.
Is your response to math mistakes ineffective? Are you looking for a better way to address your child’s errors? If so, consider using one or more of these suggestions to help your child learn from her mistakes.
- Expect mistakes. Our children are going to make mistakes in math, so when that happens we shouldn’t be surprised. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process and are a golden opportunity to steer our children in the right direction in a loving manner. When our children make mistakes, we shouldn’t be caught off guard. By expecting mistakes, we can create a plan to lovingly and effectively address those mistakes.
- Stay calm and respond with gentle words. When our children repeatedly make math mistakes, especially careless ones, we can easily become frustrated. And if we’re not careful, this frustration can quickly turn to anger and show itself via harsh words we may use with our children. When we react in an abrasive and negative manner, our children will become anxious and may clam up on us, making it even harder to tackle future problems. Instead of becoming annoyed or angry, use kind words to let your child know you are happy to help her tackle the problem and to help her learn from the mistake.
- Let your child know the mistake is a common one. When a child makes a math mistake, he sometimes feels as if he’s the only one who has ever done so. We know this is not true so we must convey this to our children right away. They need to know children have made mistakes in regrouping for hundreds of years. They need to understand children have forgotten to use the correct order of operations frequently. When we show our children their mistake is a common one, they feel better because they know their mistake isn’t a personal problem linked to their limited understanding.
- Ask your child to explain the problem solving process used to solve. Sometimes just looking at a child’s work will not reveal the source of a problem. This is especially true if our child has written sloppily or has attempted to do a bit of mental math during the problem solving process. Asking our child to verbalize how she solved a problem forces the child to describe the step by step solving process she used. This makes it easier for us to spot where and how the mistake was made.
- Let your child know the mistake can be corrected. Sometimes our children are ready to give up when a mistake has been made. They make become so overwhelmed they incorrectly assume the problem can never be corrected and they fear the problem will haunt them forever. It is important to inform our children that math mistakes can be corrected and that we are ready, willing, and able to help them solve it. Our children need to know that a math mistake does not usher in an end to world!
- Tell your child you made math mistakes as well. Sometimes our children see us as flawless teachers who know everything and therefore they falsely believe we have never made a mistake. We can boost a child’s confidence and ease his frustration by letting him know we too have made math mistakes. We can go one step further by letting our child know we still sometimes make mistakes, but note how we’ve adopted problem solving strategies to correct our mistakes. Confessing our mistakes makes us more approachable and more genuine. The next time a child makes a mistake, smile and use a statement such as, “You are just like me! I used to do make that mistake until <insert corrective method here>.”
Responding to math mistakes takes a bit of planning, but can be done effectively. Since math mistakes are inevitable, it’s important we handle them in a way that will not discourage our children. The way we respond can often determine whether the day’s math lesson results in sadness or success. Most of the time, the choice is ours. We must choose wisely.
© 2015, Andrea Thorpe. All rights reserved.