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Help Your Child With His Homework

Mar 15, 2008
One of the glorious attributes of the young is its ability to improve suddenly and almost mysteriously. The fact remains, however, that good habits of study, a sound foundation for future learning, and a pattern of maturity and responsibility are built with more permanency, and less drudgery in the building, during the years corresponding to the fourth grade through seventh than at any other time in the child's life.

These are the choice-and-all-too-few-years of life when interest is so consuming that it has to be curbed, and energy for learning and improvement so abundant as to need only direction into the proper channels.

Perhaps the subject of arithmetic, more than any other study in elementary school, introduces your child gradually and consistently to the habit of thinking. At the same time arithmetic is the subject which requires more individual attention than any other subject if a foundation of precision, thoroughness, and speed is to be built.

The beginning of precision, which will be of continued importance, can be emphasized in three simple areas. These require little more than suggestion and observation by the parent. They are: (1) writing numbers correctly, (2) copying problems correctly, and the correct problems (that is, the problems assigned), and (3) demanding exactness for the relative positions of numbers in problems. The correct form of the number in arithmetic is the beginning of neatness and a sense of exactness which all later mathematics will require.

Numbers should be closed, angles definite, and stems straight. Check against exaggerated slants, and artistic-railed endings. Accuracy in copying problems is an important exercise and can be checked at home. There is something rather fatal and futile about having to pass back failing papers to bright eighth and ninth graders who fail because they copy the wrong problems and work them correctly, or copy the right problems incorrectly.

Home practice in precision can also deal successfully in the (sometimes tragically overlooked) position of numbers in relationship to each other. Parents can build all kinds of exciting arithmetic problems around cows seen on Sunday afternoon drives.

There are seven cows in the field. Two are lying down. How many footprints do the others make as they move across the field?

There are nine cows. How many ears do they have?

There are eleven cows. If each gives three gallons of milk a day, how much milk does the farmer get?

There are nine cows and they all have single calves except two, and those two have twins. How many calves and cows are there in the field?

Here are the practices for reviewing the tables of multiplication, learning the simple facts, mechanizing operations with a view to accuracy and speed, and beginning an alertness for key words in verbal problems. If cows are scarce, there are plenty of light poles, trees in rows, houses to be sold or rented, and traffic lights which change twenty times in sixty minutes and in three colors. For practice in fundamentals the field is unlimited, and one parent has gone so far as to ask, "What did I do with my children before?"

Of the many recent investigations and studies in the whole field of elementary school mathematics, one seems particularly applicable for giving the child help at home. Out of thousands of arithmetic papers, from fourth to approximately tenth grade level, the most commonly made errors in addition and subtraction have been compiled. The investigation also revealed that these same operations generally take a longer pause on the part of the student. They might be profitably used as a source for review at home.

The most errors in addition seem to occur in the following operations:
9 + 7 6 + 8 8 + 7
6 + 9 8+5 9+5
5 + 9 6 + 7 5 + 6

In subtraction the following operations take the longest pauses for execution and present difficulty for the greatest number of students:
15-9 15-8 11-9
9-9 15-6 13-5
16-7 1-0 6-0

Home practice should help immeasurably with problems such as these.
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