I'm Too Stupid for My Second-Grader's Math Homework

The other day my 8-year-old son brought home his weekly envelope of class work for me to review, and among his spelling worksheets and carefully crawled mini-essays and crayoned drawings, I spotted a sheet of subtraction problems that looked slightly ... odd. He had two problems to solve, both fairly basic, but he also had three columns on the page in which he had been required to use different strategies to solve the problems. The first column looked perfectly familiar to me: one number was on top of the other, with a line drawn underneath both and his answer below. The second and third columns, however, made exactly ZERO sense to me no matter how long I peered mouthbreathingly at the "strategies."

I have long dreaded the day when I could no longer help my children with their homework because their knowledge had surpassed my own -- but I hadn't quite imagined it would happen in the SECOND GRADE.


To be honest, this isn't the first time his work has stumped me. I'm embarrassed to admit that the first time his spelling sheet said to circle the word with the long vowels, I had to slink away to my computer and quickly Google the difference between long and short vowels. I'm even more embarrassed to admit that I've performed that exact search more than once since then, because my brain apparently has a nano-sized trebuchet installed in the grammar sector.

But at least the long/short vowel thing can be sorted out fairly quickly, and there are handy songs for helping small children and forgetful adults remember certain rules ("When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking ..."). When it comes to my son's math work, however, I'm pretty much at a loss. I mean, does this all make sense to YOU?

The first strategy is comfortingly familiar, but I have no idea what's going on in the next two columns. What's with the blocks? What are all those lines? Is this really intended to make math easier? Is it normal that after staring at it for 10 minutes, I had to take two Motrin and lie down in a darkened room for a while?

I'll be the first to acknowledge that I am painfully, almost medically stupid when it comes to math, but I do have a grasp on the concepts of basic two-digit subtraction. At least I thought I did. This business of drawing what looks like a hopscotch board combined with a mystical (to me) diagram reminds me of that old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:

My own boneheadedness aside, I'm glad my son is being exposed to different ways to look at the same problem. I assume the end goal here is to increase the odds that one of the strategies will click, reducing the number of kids who struggle because the standard 'do it in your head' way doesn't work for them. It's just ... well, I feel bad I'm already so far out of my element. Lines and squares? Dude, I'm sorry, but until your teacher sends home a little parents-only worksheet for those of us who either never used manipulatives or forgot them because it's been haarrrrrrrrummmph years since we were in second grade (I'd draw some boxes to figure out just how long but suffice to say A LONG-ASS TIME), you're on your own.

The fact that I can't understand his assignments definitely doesn't bode well for the future, either. Soon enough he'll know that I can't do algebra, I've forgotten nearly every last word of Spanish except "Dos cervezas, por favor," and I couldn't draw an accurate map of the United States if you held a gun to my head.

Seriously, this is about what it would look like:

Oh, I can already picture the pitying look my child will give me when he realizes the spiraling, endless depth of my cluelessness. It'll be like the time I asked him if there was an actual point to Minecraft or not.

Have you been stumped by your (young) child's homework yet? What's with these newfangled math concepts?

Image via Linda Sharps

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