September 7, 1998
Make math, science part of daily life
By Karen Blaha, NW Regional Educational Laboratory
When it comes to kids and school work, most parents really want to help. Trouble is, so often we just don't know what to do. Especially with complex subjects such as science and math (where, ahem, not all of us applied ourselves as well as we should have) it's not hard to feel uneasy about how we could be helpful.
Taking a practical approach, the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory's Mathematics and Science Education Center offers parents and others some tips about how they can support kids as they take on challenging subjects.
In pulling together materials for teachers to help families bolster math and science learning, center director Kit Peixotto and research writer Jennifer Stepanek came up with some pointers for parents.
For example, they say it's important that students recognize and appreciate how math and science skills are used in the real world. Noting that parents don't always think about how they are using mathematics and science in everyday activities - such as cooking, paying bills, preparing budgets, shopping, reading maps, fixing appliances, keeping score during sports events - they urge parents to include their children in these activities. It's especially important that parents make sure the kids realize they're doing math and science when they participate in these types of tasks.
One way parents can show their interest and help their children to think is by asking questions that stimulate learning. Here are some questioning techniques gathered from the research literature:
- When your children ask a question, respond with, "That's a good question. What do you think?" or "How can we find out?"
- Show interest in and listen to your children's questions and activities.
- Discuss activities before, during and after doing them. Encourage your children to explain what they are doing and why as they go along.
- When you ask a question, give your child plenty of time to respond. Try not to ask questions with only yes or no answers.
- Encourage your children to make predictions, make comparisons and draw conclusions.
- Don't pretend that you know the answer, and don't feel badly about not knowing.
- Show your children how to go about finding an answer.
- Ask your children questions about their answers - even if they're not correct. Ask, "What made you think that?" or "How did you get that answer?" before you say that the answer is right or wrong.
To find other things you might do to help your kids with math and science, here are a few resources: "Helping Your Child Learn Science," by N. Paulu and M. Martin, suggests activities for children ages three through 10; and "Helping Your Child Learn Math," by N. Paulu, M. Martin and M. Scott, suggests activities for children ages five through 13.
Both are free and published by the U.S. Department of Education (toll free: 1-877-433-7827.)