I’m sure you’ve all seen the memes about parent frustration with “the new way” of doing math. While these jokes can be funny, asking parents to take on the role of teacher has put a serious mental and emotional strain on many families.
I know in my family—with two parents working full time from home, a first grader, and a maniac of a three year old—it’s been a challenge, and every day is a little different.
But I recognize my own privilege in this situation. We have two incomes and a roof over our heads. Our internet service is reliable. We have devices enough for everyone, and plenty of food to eat. If even my family finds this time difficult, it’s heartbreaking to see and hear what immense challenges other families are facing.
We asked parents to tell us a bit more about how their families are learning from home—what’s been challenging and what has worked for them. Most of these tips are broadly applicable, but there are a few comments specific to ST Math.
Predictable, but flexible
The number one thing I heard was the importance of predictability and flexibility in equal measure.
“Without a school day to provide a backbone to the daily schedule, the kids seem to be much less independent workers than they usually are,” said Erica Parsons in Maryland. “I have to provide a lot of motivation that is usually unnecessary.”
It’s good to have a general schedule or plan for the day, but a strict schedule seems to frustrate more families than it helps. Writing out a quick checklist of their daily work, even just the subjects, can help them monitor their own learning and motivate them to check everything off for the day.
Older children may need time management help with larger projects. “While our son can do much of his schoolwork independently, without the need for us to "teach" him the concepts, he needs a lot of supervision in spacing out his work over the week,” said Fiona Yung in New York City.
The same idea of “predictable, but flexible” holds true for the workspace your child uses. If space allows, it can be helpful to set up a stocked workstation away from siblings and the TV. But it can also help—especially if your child is frustrated—to switch up their environment. For example, we did art assignments in the backyard last week and it was just the breath of fresh air that my son and I needed.
Follow their lead
“I think we’ve had the most success when we’ve followed each child’s interests. For the three year old, that’s anything to do with Frozen—reading, singing, dress up, arts and crafts, and even the occasional alphabet (“What letter does Anna start with?”),” said Divya Mani in Vermont. “For the six year old, we’ve discovered lots of awesome podcasts, found ways to do more challenging math, and given him lots of Lego time (including creating a “chore economy” so he can earn new sets).”
Me: Do you want to do @STMath or build something with your tiles?
Azella: why not both?
Me: (gets into long explanation of why you can’t multitask...)
In my house, my first grader is super interested in cooking. He wants to understand baking in particular, so I challenged him to make cookies with only the 1/4 cup measuring scoop. It was a fun opportunity to work in a math lesson while mom got cookies to stress eat after the kids went to bed.
While parents may feel harried and pulled in many different directions throughout the day, many reported feeling good about spending more one-on-one time with their children, whether that time was spent learning, playing, or just being together.
That personal attention also extends to teacher interactions, said Christine Ciampini in the Bahamas. “Both kids continue to feel very supported by their teachers. They actually get a little more one-on-one time [than in the classroom], which really motivates them,” she said.
In addition to that connection, feedback from teachers has been important to maintaining student motivation, explained Ms. Yung. “Our son’s second-grade teacher does not let remote learning get in the way of the level of work she knows our son can do, refuses to let him submit sub-par work, and gives immediate feedback on excellent work, which has motivated our son to work hard, even on subjects he does not like. Working on his first multi-week writing assignment was tough going, but he was really proud of what he submitted, especially as his teacher gave him true feedback every step of the way.”
Technology tips and challenges
A lot of schools are using learning management programs like Seesaw, Canvas, and Schoology. Some of the assignments on these platforms may be interactive or annotatable, but it can be hard for little fingers to be precise. The iPad doesn’t come with a stylus, but many of us have one in the house from other tech, and it makes a world of difference when writing or drawing on the screen.
Parents whose schools don’t rely on a central system have reported frustration with different platforms and links. “Signing in to so many classes has been a challenge. I wish there was a more consolidated way to sign in, one that didn’t require as many meeting IDs and passwords,” said Ms. Ciampini.
Sometimes, parents just need an easy way to share information or frustration—problem solving as a group is much easier than muddling through it alone. “The parents in my second grader’s class have put together a Slack channel and we use it a lot to confer on homework issues that we don’t understand,” said Ms. Parsons. “It’s been really helpful. Sometimes the problems are literally, ‘English isn’t my first language, what does this mean?’ And sometimes it’s more, ‘someone explain again the difference between perpendicular and intersecting sets of lines.’”
And with questions like that, you start to see the roots of one of the biggest emotional challenges that families face: math anxiety.
Math is very often taught in a way that focuses on calculations and rote memorization. As a result, many people have a poor relationship with math, as they have only experienced it in a very limited way. Parents often feel like they are not a math person, like they don’t get it, like math is just not their thing. Unfortunately, not only is this math anxiety hard to get past, it’s also very easy to transfer to the next generation.
If you’re confronted with your kid’s math homework and your first reaction is to say, “Uggghhh,” your child has picked up that math is yucky and dismissable.
One of the best ways to move past it is to acknowledge the challenge and reset your outlook on math with a fresh perspective. You are not alone in your frustration, and there is a way forward.
Sharing perspectives and stories
We have two communities on Facebook for ST Math users—one focused on school, and a new one launched in March that is focused on home. I’ve been so inspired by the comments shared by parents in the home community, which has grown to over 900 members in just a few weeks.
The community has parents who are new to homeschool, parents whose children have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), parents whose children have dyscalculia, parents who are seasoned homeschoolers, and everyone in between. I am so encouraged by the messages of positivity we read from these parents, who are seeing the difference that ST Math’s visual approach to developing deep conceptual understanding can make for their children. They are also relieved that ST Math does not require extensive hand-holding by the adult, and that students can progress at their pace and in a way that meets their individual needs.
But it was an email message from one parent, Nadia Ahlsten, that really made me and so many others on the MIND team proud. Ms. Ahlsten said, “I just want to thank you for providing ST Math during this crazy time! Two of my sons have IEPs with our school. All my sons and my daughter have been working on ST Math. I think it is really improving their number sense and understanding of math. One of my sons I think has dyscalculia. I’m diagnosing him myself but it is really amazing how he’s taken to doing ST Math. It’s working with him and is so neutral/positive in its response to his work. It’s a very healthy learning interaction.”
She continued, “I’m not sure I have the patience of your program and so seeing how he’s learning and not feeling defeated is really really encouraging to me. Math should be how it is with ST Math. You’ve found a way that really works for those kids that often feel like maybe math just isn’t for them.”
Math should be how it is with ST Math. You’ve found a way that really works for those kids that often feel like maybe math just isn’t for them.
Your tips, please!
At MIND Research Institute, we believe every student has the potential to deeply understand, and truly love math. This belief drives all of us—researchers, educators, mathematicians, game designers—to make ST Math the best program it can be.
In addition to the Facebook community, we have a parent resources page that provides more information for families on grappling with math anxiety, on how to use ST Math, and much more. We've also created a glossary for new math teachers - you can download it here:
Families, what did I miss? What tips do you have to share, and what resources can we provide to make things easier for you?
About the Author
Liz Neiman is Vice President of Engagement at MIND, leading the marketing team's plans and activities to promote MIND's initiatives and impact. Besides education and gaming, her interests include music of all kinds (from musical theater to heavy metal), cooking and baking, and fashion. Follow her on Twitter @lizneiman.