Ask Dad: I Suck at Math! How Do I Help My Kid With Her Homework?

Andrew Dalton
Big Kid
9

School's in session, leaves are turning brown, and I'm betting y'all have a whole new set of circumstances giving you grief. Well thank your god it's Friday. Ask Dad is here to help with what ails you.

My kid sucks at math but I suck worse. I was a high school dropout. We can't afford a tutor. How do I help her?

Ask Dad did great in English classes (as you can tell from the gorgeous poetry I compose here), but I was always horrid at math like you. It was the one class where I sat in the back with the stoners. Maybe we knew each other.

Part of it was lack of ability, but mostly I thought I was an artist, who couldn't be troubled by that confining class with its "right" and "wrong" answers.

A lot of us carry this into adulthood. We romanticize our stupidity and love our narrow-mindedness about technical stuff. But I've learned something recently, and I feel like the young me will appear and kick my ass for saying it:

Math is really interesting!

It's freaking fascinating! It all works out, it has beauty and elegance and little trippy bits that you can share with friends over drinks. Those of us who shunned it were just dead wrong. I want to go back and apologize to all my math teachers. Well, not Mr. McDonald. He was just a prick. 

So first, you should pick up a book written for the general public. Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything has some great stuff for the layperson about math and science.

Danica McKellar (Winnie from The Wonder Years) has some good ones too. If their iCarly tone doesn't make you barf, you can read them secretly yourself before passing them on to your daughter.

These may not teach you specific things you need to help your kid, but at least it can boost your confidence and give you some enthusiasm, which can be infectious. 

But let's get more practical. My dad, a teacher, always said you just have to be one day ahead of the students. You don't have to be a mentor. Pick up her math book when she's asleep, or go back to one from the previous grades if that's what you need (ideally you could take an adult school class, but that's a lot to ask of a busy mom). You can scramble and maybe pass by your kid.

But you don't even need to pass her. You just need to get into the same ballpark as her. Sometimes all a student needs is a fresh set of eyes looking at frustrating work. Your dumb questions -- which will probably be met with eyerolls at first -- can get her talking and thinking and figuring things out. I've seen it happen a million times. (I used to be a teacher, often on topics I didn't know anything about.) 

This is why study groups work. And speaking of study groups, if your kid's school offers them, get her involved. If parents run it, offer to help. That may be better than any direct tutoring you can do. You can listen in and catch up. You might even use some of it.

How do you help your kids with homework on subjects you don't know much about?

 

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