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5 Ways Educators Can Partner With Families to Teach Math

Key tips and strategies to support families and students, strengthen math skills, and build confidence

Graphic with quote from book that reads: A large majority of parents of elementary-aged children are left feeling unable to help their children in math or are inadvertently passing on their own math anxieties to their children.
Promotional material from "Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders" by Drs. Hilary Kreisberg and Matthew Beyranvand. (Corwin Press)

At the elementary school level, many families admit that they struggle to understand how math is taught. Math instruction today looks vastly different from how parents learned it when they were kids.

As a result, many families feel intimidated, frustrated and confused with the “new math,” according to Dr. Hilary Kreisberg, director of the Center for Mathematics Achievement at Lesley University. Take a look at common phrases Dr. Kreisberg’s team hears from families and what they think they really mean, which Dr. Kreisberg and her writing partner, Dr. Matthew Beyranevand, have termed as “the Four Core Wants” of families:

What Families Say...

What Families Mean...

“I am intimidated because I can’t help.”

“I want to be able to help my own child.”

“I am frustrated because I can’t even do my kid’s elementary school homework.”

“I want to feel intelligent, especially in front of my kid.”

“I am worried because if my kids fail, it’s my fault.”

“I want to feel confident that my child will succeed.”

“I am confused because none of the math looks familiar and it feels like I am speaking a different language with my kid.”

“I want to be able to talk with my child about the math they are learning.”

As an educator, how do you make impact and help families? Here is some advice from experts in math instruction on the key questions to ask yourself.

1. Is what I am saying or sharing providing families useful resources so they can feel helpful at home?

Give them ideas about how they can help their child with math at home, such as specific questions to ask their children during a unit, or let them know that you will accept incomplete homework with an attached note, written by the child (not the parent) about what they’re struggling with.

2. Is what I am saying about what I am teaching the child helping the parent understand the methods their children will us?

Urge the school to offer a “math night” where families can engage in the math and learn about why the instruction looks different today than it did in the past. Also, send home a unit overview before starting a new unit, showcasing some of the methods students will learn.

3. Is what I am sharing giving families the opportunity to feel confident that their child will succeed?

Communicate the progress their child is making and speak from a strengths-based perspective, rather than focusing on what their child can’t or isn’t doing mathematically.

4. Am I helping families make connections and associations with what they are already familiar?

In the unit overview, show the math that students will learn and connect it to the way parents learned it so they can see something familiar. Include real-life connections so families can see the value in the math we are teaching.

5. Is what I am saying building from the direct needs of the families with whom I work?

Survey the students’ families and get to know the community enough to determine their needs. Meeting your community where they are is a critical component of partnering with families.

Photo of hilary kreisberg and her new book: "Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math,” which has an illustrated cover
Dr. Hilary Kreisberg, director of our Center for Mathematics Achievement, co-authored two books that help teachers and parents stay on the same page to teach kids math.

Math teaching resources

Want to learn more about how to partner with families and receive access to editable letters, templates, surveys, and more? Check out the most recent book by Drs. Kreisberg and Beyranevand, “Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders.” Also consider providing your community members with resources, such as their “Adding Parents to the Equation: Understanding Your Child’s Elementary School Math.”

Citations:

Kreisberg, H. & Beyranvand, M. L. (2019). Adding Parents to the Equation: Understanding Your Child’s Elementary School Math. Rowman & Littlefield; Lanham, MD.

Kreisberg, H. & Beyranvand, M. L. (2021) Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA.