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Helping your Child Learn Math

With activities for children aged 5 through 13

By Patsy F. Kanter



U.S. Department of Education




The Basics

Important Things To Know

Math in the Home

Mathland: The Grocery Store

Math on the Go


  • Parents and the Schools
  • What Should I Expect from a Math Program?
  • What We Can Do To Help Our Children Learn?
  • Resources



Education and Kids

Related Articles

Doing Mathematics With Your Child

Learning Partners


Most parents will agree that it is a wonderful experience to cuddle up with their child and a good book. Few people will say that about flash cards or pages of math problems. For that reason, we have prepared this booklet to offer some math activities that are meaningful as well as fun. You might want to try doing some of them to help your child explore relationships, solve problems, and see math in a positive light. These activities use materials that are easy to find. They have been planned so you and your child might see that math is not just work we do at school but, rather, a part of life.

It is important for-home and school to join hands. By fostering a positive attitude about math at home, we can help our children learn math at school.

It's Everywhere! It's Everywhere!

Math is everywhere and yet, we may not recognize it because it doesn't look like the math we did in school. Math in the world around us sometimes seems invisible. But math is present in our world all the time--in the workplace, in our homes, and in life in general.

You may be asking yourself, "How is math everywhere in my life? I'm not an engineer or an accountant or a computer expert!" Math is in your life from the time you wake until the time you go to sleep. You are using math each time you set your alarm, buy groceries, mix a baby's formula, keep score or time at an athletic event, wallpaper a room, decide what type of tennis shoe to buy, or wrap a present. Have you ever asked yourself, "Did I get the correct change?" or "Do I have enough gasoline to drive 20 miles?" or "Do I have enough juice to fill all my children's thermoses for lunch?" or "Do I have enough bread for the week?" Math is all this and much, much more.

How Do You Feel About Math?

How do you feel about math? Your feelings will have an impact on how your children think about math and themselves as mathematicians. Take a few minutes to answer these questions:

  • Did you like math in school?
  • Do you think anyone can learn math?
  • Do you think of math as useful in everyday life?
  • Do you believe that most jobs today require math skills?

If you answer "yes" to most of these questions, then you are probably encouraging your child to think mathematically. This book contains some ideas that will help reinforce these positive attitudes about math.

You Can Do It!

If you feel uncomfortable about math, here are some ideas to think about.

Math is a very important skill, one which we will all need for the future in our technological world. It is important for you to encourage your children to think of themselves as mathematicians who can reason and solve problems.

Math is a subject for all people. Math is not a subject that men can do better than women. Males and females have equally strong potential in math.

People in the fine arts also need math. They need math not only to survive in the world, but each of their areas of specialty requires an in-depth understanding of some math, from something as obvious as the size of a canvas, to the beats in music, to the number of seats in an audience, to computer-generated artwork.

Calculators and computers require us to be equally strong in math. Theft presence does not mean there is less need for knowing math. Calculators demand that people have strong mental math skills--that they can do math in their heads. A calculator is only as accurate as the person putting in the numbers. It can compute; it cannot think! Therefore, we must be the thinkers. We must know what answers are reasonable and what answers are outrageously large or small.

Positive attitudes about math are important for our country. The United States is the only advanced industrial nation where people are quick to admit that "I am not good in math." We need to change this attitude, because mathematicians are a key to our future.

The workplace is rapidly changing. No longer do people need only the computational skills they once needed in the 1940s. Now workers need to be able to estimate, to communicate mathematically, and to reason within a mathematical context. Because our world is so technologically oriented, employees need to have quick reasoning and problem-solving skills and the capability to solve problems together. The work force will need to be confident in math.

Build Your Self-Confidence!

To be mathematically confident means to realize the importance of mathematics and feel capable of learning to

  • Use mathematics with ease;
  • Solve problems and work with others to do so;

  • Demonstrate strong reasoning ability;

  • See more than one way to approach a problem;

  • Apply mathematical ideas to other situations; and

  • Use technology.

Back to the Table of Contents


Edited by Cynthia Hearn Dorfman
Illustrated by Jerry Guillot
with contributions from Brian A. Griffin

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Educational Research and Improvement

U.S. Department of Education
Lamar Alexander

Office of Educational Research and Improvement
Diane Ravitch
Assistant Secretary

Francie Alexander
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning

The contents of this book were prepared by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Listing of materials in this book by the U.S. Department of Education should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by the Department of any private organization or business named herein.

December 1992

The idea for this publication was suggested by Diane Ravitch when she presented her vision of OERI to the education community. This book was prepared under the direction of Francie Alexander; Cynthia Hearn Dorfman, Chief, Publications Branch; Liz Barnes, Program Analyst; and Theodor Rebarber, Special Assistant, Office of the Assistant Secretary; with help from John B. Lyons, Thelma Leenhouts, Gerard Devlin and Tim Burr. The book is based on the award-winning design by Margery Martin and Phil Carr.

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