4th grade niece underperforming in math - want to find ways to help her remotely - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 13 Old 10-23-2011, 06:56 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Long and short of it - I love my sister to pieces, but her attitude is that the schools should teach the children and isn't the type to jump on a challenge with both feet.  Now, me - I am all over everything to do with my child, but I recognize that situations differ, financially, socially, etc. although we are both single parents.

 

I'm the kind of mother that pulls up to a red light and asks:  "what's that in Spanish" - "roja" - granted my 3 yo still admires me, so I get away with continual questions, etc. - she's the one who started counting the steps in Spanish at her school, now we do it daily as people laugh:  uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, .."

 

Her daughter is 9 - 4th grade, recently moved from mediocre school district to a very good one.  I think during parent-teacher conference when my sister was deeply hurt/bolthered learned that her daughter is in the lower level of math and not as advanced at reading as she assumed.  My attitude - fine, it is what it is - now what?  What's the game plan?  What can I do to help?

 

We have very different attitudes about homework - I think all children should have a small desk (or even part of kitchen table), and that the child has dedicated time and space to do what she needs and that will pre-empt any chores, eating, bathing ("as soon as you're done with your homework") and my sister sees homework as an intrusion to the evening when everything should have been learned at school.

 

I'll be visiting over the holidays - and want to use that time to help my niece raise her confidence, and re-engage her in the pursuit of learning.

 

Any ideas about math books for 4th graders?  How to remotely engage her without being too intrusive?  Maybe if I get her a couple of math workbooks that we start when I'm there, I'd  be happy to spend 15-30 minutes several times a week to encourage her.  She's at such a crucial age that I'd hate to see her lose her confidence.

 

Maybe a small desk/chair/lamp as a Christmas present so she has a learning area.

 

Any thoughts or suggestions appreciated.... I want to find a way to help my niece without being overbearing, know-it-all type.  I don't know the answers, but hate the thought of a beautiful bright little girl lose her confidence

 

Or maybe it's just back off, but I'd love to see all of our children be confident and do their best.

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#2 of 13 Old 10-23-2011, 07:38 PM
 
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If mom hasn't asked for help, then stay out of it. It's not your place and frankly, the "being all over everything to do with my child" can cause as many issues as a totally hands-off approach can. You are at the beginning of your parenting journey and while I can see you mean well, you aren't in the position to place judgement on your sister and her style. Every child is different and believe me, they don't tend to follow those lovely plans you make.

 

Neither of my kids (11 and 14) use desks. One sprawls out on the ground. The other sets up at a big comfy chair with a lap tray. My kids do homework right when they get home by their own choice because that is what works for them. Other kids really NEED to eat first, take a bath, go out and play, ect. Some kids want a parent sitting next to them. I rarely ever see homework as my kids prefer to do it totally independently. Believe me, there are times like today where I think homework is totally ridiculous (I haven't seen my 14-year-old... she's been in her room doing homework for 9 solid hours and yes, she HAS been doing homework all that time... she's not even done and this is a straight "A" kid.) It absolutely can be intrusive and unhelpful at times.

 

It's really hard to say if the child is that behind. If she just moved into this school it's not at all unexpected that there may be a transition period where any gaps can be filled and the child can get used to different expectations. Being in the low math group isn't a crime and it doesn't set the stage for her future. 4th grade math values certain skills (namely speedy recall and memorization.) My eldest thought she was "bad in math" until middle school where her logic and reasoning skills were more valued. Now she's 2 years advanced in math. 

 

If you want to help, be a supportive ear for mom. If you want to build this child's confidence, take interest in what SHE loves to do and is good at.... not in what she's struggling in. Spend time with her in ways that matter to her as opposed to trying to fix what you think is broken. 

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#3 of 13 Old 10-23-2011, 07:46 PM
 
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How about some fun math games online???

My DS (9) likes going to http://mathmastery.com/ and www.funbrain.com


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#4 of 13 Old 10-23-2011, 07:52 PM
 
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Originally Posted by whatsnextmom View Post

It's really hard to say if the child is that behind. If she just moved into this school it's not at all unexpected that there may be a transition period where any gaps can be filled and the child can get used to different expectations.


 

Agreed. We've moved a lot for DH's job and schools all vary so much. We value education, but neither of my kids have ever had a desk -- it just would have ended up piled high with stuff. They've never done homework right after school -- one desperately needs a break, and the other is really social and that's when it's still nice outside to play (rather than doing homework while it is still light and then having freedom after it is dark and all the children have to be in doors).   They've done their homework at the kitchen table after the dinner dishes are cleared. It's worked well for our family. Also, they both have needed a bit of help from time to time, so being right in the middle of the house has always made more sense to me than them being off in their rooms alone, where there isn't even a decent space for a parent to sit and help.

 

In short, I see a lot of judgment coming across in you posts about a phase of parenting that I ended up handling very differently than you currently plan on handling.

 

Homework actually can be a bit of a PITA and an intrusion, depending on how much of it there is, how much help the child needs with it, and how much they seem to getting back out of it.

 

My advice is a lot like the previous posters, though I would add in playing board games with her and including a good book, may be the first of a series, as part of her Christmas present. Or a magazine subscription. But kids who attend traditional school and get homework don't need more math workbooks. Using math in games or as part of a hobby is a good, more sheets of math problems is just tedious.


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#5 of 13 Old 10-23-2011, 09:49 PM
 
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Just because she's in the lowest math group doesn't mean she's 'underperforming'. It could be that the new school has got a lot of overachievers.

 

If you really want to help, do fun things with her that happen to involve math. Teach her to play cribbage (lots of good adding, and skip counting for that one). Play Monopoly, Life or Payday with her. Make her be the banker some of the time. Bake with her and double a recipe. Or cut it in half.

 

Talk to her. Treat her like she's a bit more of adult than she really is (it'll really boost her confidence). Show her you care about her and that you're interested in her. Knowing that one other loving adult cares about how she does might well get her through some tough times.

 

Anything more than that is overstepping your boundaries as a caring aunt. You don't know what she's 'behind' in, so it's hard to target specific things. If you're there on her winter break, she's going to treat the idea of extra worksheets/workbooks about as gleefully as you would a root canal. (Trust me, I've got a 5th grader who's supposed to be doing extra 'challenge' problems.)


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#6 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 12:28 AM - Thread Starter
 
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All, thank you for yanking me back a bit.  And, I do see how my original post could come across as judgmental, especially the way it was worded.  I think much of what bothered me was hearing this evening that "she's not good at math" (historically her poorest subject) and that "it's the teacher's responsibility", taking a defeatist perspective.

 

My sister felt a bit overwhelmed about helping her because she was not aware of how they were teaching math (hopefully she can ask the teacher what she can do to help, whether it be assisting with homework, getting a tutor, or games like some of the above suggestions), but if she's not comfortable with the subject matter, I am more than willing to help (but, my problem is distance).

 

Regarding homework (depending on the school), it's a fact of life and HOW or WHERE it's done should be up to the child's style, whether it be independent, at the kitchen table or sprawled on the floor, but I still think it should be given it's place in the day either early or late, where it's given top priority as the child's "job".  I had thought about the desk because she had complained about being distracted in school during independent time because other kids were talking (and some people need quiet time to concentrate).  I'll ask if she wants a desk/chair for her room, if so, happy to get her one, if not, no worries.  I think my intent here has been (and it's hard over the phone) is to reinforce that homework is important (even as a "necessary evil") and help figure out what can be done to promote the framework for the best learning environment.

 

Re:  Niece's interests - she loves art and I found her a wonderful scrapbooking kit and semi-professional art kit for upcoming XMas and birthday, so I am trying to focus on her strengths and interests in a positive way.  Last visit, we had a wonderful time decorating her room.

 

I promise - no root canal workbooks!  :) 

 

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#7 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 05:57 AM
 
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Great posts from all the previous posters.  Wanted to add that I help my nephew with math in a fun way by cooking together (because he loves cooking) and when I double or triple the recipes, I ask him to "help" me.  Like the board games, it's a fun math builder, without the icky extra school work factor. There are lots of ways to build math skills with what people enjoy, whether it's money (I can get my youngest to try any type of math if it's about money) or art/design (think scaling a design up or down or figuring out knitting gage).

 

I think it's great you are giving her encouragement and a fun outlet to use her strengths with her art. Kids need lots of recognition like this, especially if they are having struggles after a move.

 

Try to be really careful in how you think of your sister with her differences.  Your thoughts may unconsciously influence the tone of how you speak of her, and I can tell you are a very caring aunt who wouldn't want to make your niece uncomfortable.  Instead of seeing your sister as "defeatist", maybe you can frame it to yourself as "stressed".  After all, she just moved, too.  Also, she has different strengths, and helping with math may not be her forte.  I find that even working in the school system, the terminology for math has changed so much that I'm always correcting myself ("regrouping" not "borrowing", "array" not "2D rendering").  Give her a little slack in your mind so that you can also do so in your voice when you speak about her!


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#8 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 07:16 AM
 
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I agree with pp's sound advice to tread very carefully. 

 

If you want to support your sister by suggesting some good resources for her child, I'd look for a combination of math help sites like khanacademy.org and books that might interest your niece, like 

The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, which is a fun read.

 

Your niece may be interested in geometry, fractals, patterns, tangrams, etc. - math that appears frequently in art. A quick search also turned up MathArt Projects and Activities , an activity book that integrates math and art. I haven't seen it, but the reviews are promising. If it isn't any good (i.e tends to taint her fun hobby/interests with horrible drudgery), I'm sure there are other resources that combine math and art if you search.  I'd be very careful to avoid turning a favourite pasttime (art) into a homework drudge (math), but if handled right, it may provide some inspiration for her. Instructables.com is a site with lots of projects that tend to combine science and technology (and thus, some math) and art/craft. It isn't a site for children, but perhaps you could find a project or 2 that she'd like to do with you over the holidays. 

 

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#9 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 09:06 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbarr_NY View Post

I think much of what bothered me was hearing this evening that "she's not good at math" (historically her poorest subject) and that "it's the teacher's responsibility", taking a defeatist perspective.

 

My sister felt a bit overwhelmed about helping her because she was not aware of how they were teaching math

 


In your sister's defense a lot of parents, even college graduates who see it as their job to help their child be successful, feel exactly the same way. It is the teacher's responsibility, and while some parents CAN fill in the gaps or hire tutors to do so, our education system relying on parents to teach their children core subjects mean that the children most at risk to start with WILL fail. Some parents don't have the basic skills or even the language, and some families are so in crises that the parent really isn't available to teach their child. Homework *should* be independent practice to reenforce what was taught at school. When ever it is more than that, you can count on a segment of children not having a chance to learn those skills. Even if it isn't OUR kids (or nieces) in that group, it's something that can justifiable p*ss us all off a bit.

 

And even parents who are fine with math in general are sometimes completely baffled trying to figure out what the teacher wants on a specific math worksheet. It's frustrating. I once listened to an RN who is married to an engineer go off for 40 minutes about how ridiculous is that their kids have "sustained silent reading" every day at school, but routinely bring home math home work that they don't know how to do. They felt that the school would be far better off spending time actually teaching children to do math than having them sit around reading what ever they wanted to. 

 

I think a lot of parents end up venting about homework from time to time, even if in the abstract they agree with you that it is important. It's far easier to feel positive about homework if you've never attempted to get a tired child through pages of work that neither you nor they understand.

 

I know more than one parent who ended up homeschooling over this exact issue. At least that they way they started with a fresh child and a math program that made sense to at least the parent.


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#10 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 09:54 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Linda on the move View Post

In your sister's defense a lot of parents, even college graduates who see it as their job to help their child be successful, feel exactly the same way. It is the teacher's responsibility, and while some parents CAN fill in the gaps or hire tutors to do so, our education system relying on parents to teach their children core subjects mean that the children most at risk to start with WILL fail. Some parents don't have the basic skills or even the language, and some families are so in crises that the parent really isn't available to teach their child. Homework *should* be independent practice to reenforce what was taught at school. When ever it is more than that, you can count on a segment of children not having a chance to learn those skills. Even if it isn't OUR kids (or nieces) in that group, it's something that can justifiable p*ss us all off a bit.

 

And even parents who are fine with math in general are sometimes completely baffled trying to figure out what the teacher wants on a specific math worksheet. It's frustrating.

Agree completely. There is a reason teachers need a master's degree- it is not necessarily because the subject they are teaching is difficult, but because TEACHING is difficult!  I am a very academic person- I do very well in school. But I am NOT a good teacher unless we are doing something hands on. I have not the slightest clue how I would go about teaching algebra to a kid. 
 

 


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#11 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 09:55 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbarr_NY View Post

All, thank you for yanking me back a bit.  And, I do see how my original post could come across as judgmental, especially the way it was worded.  I think much of what bothered me was hearing this evening that "she's not good at math" (historically her poorest subject) and that "it's the teacher's responsibility", taking a defeatist perspective.

 

My sister felt a bit overwhelmed about helping her because she was not aware of how they were teaching math (hopefully she can ask the teacher what she can do to help, whether it be assisting with homework, getting a tutor, or games like some of the above suggestions), but if she's not comfortable with the subject matter, I am more than willing to help (but, my problem is distance).

 

Regarding homework (depending on the school), it's a fact of life and HOW or WHERE it's done should be up to the child's style, whether it be independent, at the kitchen table or sprawled on the floor, but I still think it should be given it's place in the day either early or late, where it's given top priority as the child's "job".  I had thought about the desk because she had complained about being distracted in school during independent time because other kids were talking (and some people need quiet time to concentrate).  I'll ask if she wants a desk/chair for her room, if so, happy to get her one, if not, no worries.  I think my intent here has been (and it's hard over the phone) is to reinforce that homework is important (even as a "necessary evil") and help figure out what can be done to promote the framework for the best learning environment.

 

Re:  Niece's interests - she loves art and I found her a wonderful scrapbooking kit and semi-professional art kit for upcoming XMas and birthday, so I am trying to focus on her strengths and interests in a positive way.  Last visit, we had a wonderful time decorating her room.

 

I promise - no root canal workbooks!  :) 

 

 

We all have our weak moments and venting to your sister is only natural. I can see your sister's frustration. She's a single mom who likely works full-time. She sends her kid off to school 6 to 7 hours a day.... possibly more if childcare is needed. When she comes home, she wants to enjoy her child but instead, she's got to nag her into doing stuff she hates. Math is taught differently and much of the language has changed. 4th grade is all about fractions, decimals, square roots, angles, degrees, X and Y coordinates, negative numbers, use of parenthesis in sentence problems, solving for "X", setting up and solving word problems, and much more. Some kids aren't developmentally ready for that at 9 which makes everyone's job that much harder. There are math games out there but most are meant to reinforce basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills. It can be overwhelming to the child and certainly overwhelming to the parent who can likely "do" this stuff but doesn't know how to "teach" this stuff. You can start to wonder what the heck they do in school if your kid has to spend another hour or 2 and home trying to figure it out. 

 

If she's artsy and likes to use her hands, she might like math wraps. I know people who have made their own but I purchased them. They offer them through decimals and fractions. My kids liked them... so did I actually... sort of soothing.  http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Wrapup-K103-Multiplication-Wrap/dp/B0007P95JA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319474622&sr=8-1

 


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#12 of 13 Old 10-24-2011, 05:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Everyone - thank you for insightful, direct and compassionate posts.  My main takeaway is tread lightly.  I completely agree, thus my opening post an hour or so after our long phone conversation to solicit thoughts, think through the situation, before considering what to do (or what not to do).  Homeschooling, expensive tutors, etc. aren't part of the picture, so I"m trying to figure out what might work - whether it be creative solutions, support, games, challenges, etc.  Maybe I can lend support and leverage some of my strengths.

 

farmerbeth - absolutely do not want niece to feel uncomfortable and yes, helping with math is not my sister's forte (she hated it as a kid).  She readily admits it.  Unfortunately, as many others have suggested, at risk students face the double whammy of less  assistance, so rather than dismiss my niece as being at risk or being angry with the system, I hope there are ways to help and there have been quite a few links and ideas.  Maybe there isn't anything I can actively do - and no, we won't be doing root canal drill sheets *ha*, maybe just a caring perspective but there still is part of me that wants to help my niece as best as possible - especially with the gender imbalance with math and the fact that she's already struggling.  I was completely supportive when we talked, I just wished there was something I could do, especially when my niece talks about dreams of becoming vet.  Trust me, I've been the one running to my sister with a child's fever or asking about certain developmental milestones.  There are many ways that I look up to her for perspective and expertise.

 

ollyoxenfree - thanks for the sites.  In the interim, and during the holidays, maybe these are things we can explore together.  Maybe to get some interest or at least a common platform for open discussion with her.

 

whatsnextmom - I think you described the situation to a T, especially when a locale's method doesn't match what we learned as kids.  We're both single moms.  Her daughter is in school full-time and my 3 year old is in school/aftercare 10 hours a day so yes, we have long days.  I'm extremely grateful for my daughter's Montessori program, but I have to tell you, when I went through an introductory math session at each of the levels, by UE (Upper Elementary - equiv of 4-6 grade, I was almost lost by the style) as the expectations for kids now are far above what we were expected to learn.  I can see the day, even though I've been through multiple levels of calculus in college, that I'll throw up my hands in exasperation before my daughter shaves her legs and beg for someone to help!  :)  Teaching styles and expectations are very different and can be intimidating.  I like the math wraps - they're tactile as well as mental.  I don't know, maybe I was hoping I could learn with my niece to be better able to help my daughter - but, Montessori is so different than most styles that I suspect my little one will leave me in the dust on my butt!

 

Again, thanks everyone for my questions  - there probably isn't any right answer that fits every situation, but you have given me many perspectives and ideas and resources.

 

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#13 of 13 Old 10-25-2011, 07:15 AM
 
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I have this video/book but we haven't watched it through yet http://www.patternplaymath.com/about.htm; however, ds was looking through the book this weekend and was very interested in it. I think he only "hates" math because it is difficult for him at present--he is actually fascinated by math beyond addition/subtraction. Ds is a literal person and has difficulty thinking abstractly so I'm trying to find ways to make math more concrete for him. I'm also thinking of getting the products below--one of the reviews for the Base Ten set said her children used dice and made a math game of it.

 

Unifix Cubes

 

Plastic Base Ten Number Concepts Set

 


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