© 2018 Carrie Cutler |  Materials Subject to Copyright 

Carrie Cutler

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You Have What It Takes

To Help Your Child Succeed in Math

Too many people believe that mathematics achievement is an exclusive club meant only for those lucky few born with genius genes. Everyone can be good at math with effort.


Think of something you do well. Were you good at it from infancy or did you become proficient through effort, practice, and desire? If your children or students idolize an athlete, musician, actor, or public figure, point to the level of effort that person puts into their craft. Hard things are worth the effort it takes to succeed.


Changing how you think about math will change how well you do math. Research shows that people learn best with a growth rather than a fixed mindset (Dweck 2006). In a fixed mindset, people believe that they can’t improve basic qualities like their intelligence or ability to do well in math beyond an inborn capacity. In a growth mindset, people believe that through work and effort, they can improve their abilities to learn and understand. With math, a fixed mindset leads to hopelessness. The growth mindset perspective on learning math is essential for mathematics achievement.

Our family has a motto: I can do hard things. “Hard things” might be completing math homework, lugging a full trash can to the curb, or folding a fitted sheet. Doing hard things is, well, hard. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. I even ordered pencils with the I can do hard things motto printed on them. We put those empowering pencils to use during homework time as a reminder that effort is more important than natural talent for learning math and for many other things in life.


So, replace the phrase, “I wasn’t born to be good at math” with “Math doesn’t always come easily to me, but I can work to understand it. And when I do understand it, I can feel good about my effort!”

From the game Look, Make, Fix in Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child's Mind without Losing Yours  

Tips and Suggestions for Learning Math at Home during COVID19

Schedules, expectations, and staying sane!

To Set Up a Math-Positive Homework Environment

Left to themselves, many children would do homework in front of a TV under no supervision with just a bag of chips for company. At school, children generally don’t do classwork on the playground or in the lunch room. Similarly, you need the right environment for home learning.


A dedicated homework spot limits kids’ distractions, helps them focus on completing work efficiently, and tells them that you believe homework is important. If children complete their homework at an after-school program, it is still good to have an area at home where any additional work can be done.


In our family, our younger children do homework in a spot where it is easy for me to be nearby and provide help. They usually sit at a corner of the kitchen table while I wash never-ending dishes or prepare dinner. As our children have gotten older, I’ve placed a desk in their bedrooms to encourage independence. I try to make sure I peek in periodically to help them stay focused and to offer encouragement.


Be sure to keep math tools such as a calculator and sharp pencils handy so that children do not have to spend time searching for them.

To Build a Math-Positive Team with

Your Children's Teachers

Some parents (and teachers) wait until a problem arises to engage with one another. However, I encourage you to begin now to cultivate a partnership with your child’s teacher so that when challenges arise, the two of you can spring into coordinated action.


Remember that teachers are real people. They strive to help your child succeed and are looking for your help. You and your child’s teacher are on the same side, working together to give your child a firm foundation in mathematics. Since you are in this together, it’s a good ideas to communicate often and positively.


• Send a quick note or email when things are going well.

• Offer appreciation for extra effort you see the teacher make on your child’s behalf.

• Gratitude does not have to be tied to gifts of any sort. A short email to the principal or school director praising your child’s teacher lasts much longer than a bottle of smelly lotion or candy bar. • Volunteer when possible to lighten the teacher’s load.