The Common Core Math Dilemma: Finding the Balance Between Helping Too Much and Not Enough

Helping your child with math can be tough, but throw the Common Core way of doing things into the mix and the situation is ripe with frustration. Common Core is a new way of teaching students more critical thinking skills than the standard methods of teaching mathematics and language arts do. Students are expected to analyze problems and think critically instead of solving by rote memorization.

If you live in Virginia, you are in one of the three states that has not yet adopted Common Core; however, if you reside in Maryland or the District, your students will be exposed to Common Core standards in math and language arts, which means you have some learning to do too!

When it comes to math, here’s an example of a word problem we may have seen in elementary school ten years ago, before Common Core:

Math problem





And here’s what the Common Core version looks like:

Common Core math problem





Although it would be easy for a mom or dad to help a child with the first version, which relies on simple math, the Common Core version is a lot harder to tackle for two reasons. First, the language is more complicated, and secondly, it requires the use of algebra.

So, when your child asks for help with his or her math homework and you find that he or she is learning to solve math problems differently than how you were taught to problem solve, you have 3 options:

You can say…

  1. “Here’s how you do it, honey. Solve it like this…”
  1. “This is your homework not mine. I already went through the fifth grade!”
  1. Or you could say, “Is there an example in your book? Do you have similar problems in your notes?”

The third choice is always the best one and it works for just about any problem your child faces, including Common Core assignments.

Why Option 3 works best:

You want to empower your child to be independent when it comes to homework. If you say, “This is how you do it,” your child will inevitably say, “Well, that’s not how Ms. Brown says you’re supposed to do it.”

And if you say “This is your homework not mine,” your child may feel dejected and give up without persevering.

But if you encourage him to seek out examples, you’re fostering resilience so that he can help himself if he’s stuck in the future.

How Much to Help?

When children are young–first, second, and third grade–they will need more hand-holding because they don’t yet have the fortitude to start and finish homework without some adult guidance. However, by fourth grade or so, a good rule of thumb is to help your child get started, and to then walk away. Let him know that you’ll be in the other room if help is needed, but that you are not there to necessarily micromanage homework.

At the end of the day, encourage independence so that your son or daughter can find solutions when they’re stuck. But if you find that there are more bad days than good, seeking outside help early on is important. An objective person (not mom or dad) can break down problems that seem overwhelming and complicated into smaller chunks.

Intervening early on is key. Touch base with your child’s teacher when there’s trouble and if needed, get support in place before your child develops negative feelings about math, or any other subject for that matter. It is important for students to follow the steps they have learned in class, so when in doubt, use our tips to help minimize the stress on both sides!