Supporting Children as Learners

In How to Help Your Child with Homework, authors share how family members and caregivers can ask productive questions when children say, “I don’t get it!” or “I don’t have any homework.” Parents’ role is to ask questions and let children figure out how to do the math so THEY make sense of the mathematics. Children may solve problems in many different ways. Ask your child to explain what she/he did and show why the solution makes sense.

What if your child comes home with a math problem and says, “I don’t get it!”
Your job is to think of questions that will engage him or her in the problem:

  • What is the problem about? Tell me in your own words.
  • What did you do in class to get started?
  • Can you make a diagram or draw a sketch?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • How do you know you are solving the right problem?
  • Could there be any missing or extra information?
  • Can you solve a simpler version of the problem?

What if your child comes home with a problem partially done and is stuck, and doesn’t know what to do next?
Your job is to ask questions that will help him or her get unstuck:

  • What have you already tried? What steps did you take?
  • Can you tell me what you know so far?
  • What is the important information you need to solve the problem?
  • Did you check your arithmetic?
  • Can we break the problem down?
  • Do you notice a pattern?



What if your child comes home and says, “I don’t have any homework” or “I’ve already done all of my homework”?
Your job is to take a few minutes and go over the homework with your child:

  • Does your answer make sense?
  • Could there be more than one answer? How do you know?
  • How do you know your answers are correct?
  • Is there anything you might have overlooked?
  • Did you do all parts of the problem?
  • Did you check your arithmetic?
  • Did you label your answers?
  • Did you show all of your work?
  • What do you think you were supposed to learn from this homework?
  • What new questions or problems might you now pose and explore?

Reprinted with permission: Helping With Math at Home
(Heinemann Press, 2006).

Adapted from the book FAMILY MATH: The Middle School Years (ISBN # 0-912511-29-X)
Published by EQUALS, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, CA 94720, © 1998 Regents, University of California at Berkeley. For more information on FAMILY MATH, please see: