Easy Common Core Math Tips to Bring Parents Out of Hiding

Common Core math. Those three words can cause heart palpitations for parents. Math has changed since you were in school. Kids solve problems differently than you did. Even math terms have changed. Students no longer “borrow” and “carry” numbers in addition and subtraction problems.

Have no fear, however. You can navigate your way through challenging Common Core math lessons, help your child succeed in the classroom, and maybe learn a new way of looking at an old subject in the process.

father helping his grade school son with a Common Core math lessons

What is Common Core Math?

Bill McCallum, a professor of mathematics at the University of Arizona, explains Common Core math in a PBS.org article.

“To put it simply,” he says, “the standards expect students to understand what they are doing so they are able to use and apply mathematics when they leave the classroom.”

While you learned that 100 plus 30 equals 130, today’s students are learning not just the answer, but also why it’s the answer, he says.

“Through the standards, your child will be able to explain the math, not just ‘do the math,’” he says. “For example, through the standards, students will now understand how our number system is based on ten, with the digits in a two-digit number telling you the number of tens and the number of ones. This goes well beyond being able to simply read and say the number out loud, or to point to the ‘tens digit.’ It means being able to break the number up in ways that are fruitful for addition or for other operations. You can also expect your child to be able to explain how she knows what she knows, show how she thought about an answer, and choose different strategies for different problems.”

At Ease with Key Concepts

KP Possler, Continental’s senior math editor, says parents can help children succeed in challenging Common Core math lessons by helping them develop number sense.

“Number sense is understanding what a number is, how it relates to other numbers,” she explains. “For example, how many ways to name 8? Well, there’s the numeral, but you can also name 8 as a sum: 2 + 6 or 3 + 5, or a difference: 10 – 2, and so on.”

Number sense also focuses on the magnitude of numbers, she says. For instance, students should understand that 1,000 is 10 times bigger than 100 and 100 times bigger than 10.

“This understanding underlies fractions and operations. For example, if you divide 5 by a number that is larger than 1, then the quotient will be less than 5,” she explains. “If you divide 5 by a number that is less than 1, the quotient is larger than 5 (for example, 5 divided by ½ equals 10).”

Along with helping your child develop number sense, Possler says parents should not be afraid of math.

Certain elements of math cause anxiety for parents, she says, including fractions.

“Fractions are always a challenge, whether Common Core or any other standard,” she says. “At the lower levels (grades 3 and 4), it’s largely conceptual and the idea of representing parts of things—number of parts altogether and number of parts talked about.”

At higher grade levels, fractions begin to relate to ratios and proportions, Possler says.

“This understanding is supremely important because it underlies everything they do with numbers from this point on,” she says.

Steps Parents Can Take

When you’re working with your child on Common Core math lessons, there are several steps you can take to ensure math success.

Make math real

Parents can support their students by reinforcing at home what’s being covered in the classroom. “Real-life applications of fractions will help kids—even something like translating the directions on a package of cereal into ratios you can use,” she says. “For example, if it calls for 1 cup water to 1/3 cup cereal, then that’s a 3 to 1 ratio—any amount is 3 parts water and 1 part cereal.”


If you’re stressed out, chances are, your child will be stressed out, too. Try your best not to get frustrated as you’re helping your child with homework.

Be ready for a change

Avoid showing your child how you did this type of problem or saying, “When I was a kid, we learned it this way.” Your child is learning math according to his teacher’s method, and you’ll just confuse the situation by adding your own suggestions.

Use virtual resources

You can find help for specific types of problems online, and many schools use online versions of math textbooks or math programs, specifically for home use. Ask your child or your child’s teacher what online resources she recommends. Here’s a quick video that explains some Common Core math concepts.

Encourage questions

If your child doesn’t understand a problem, encourage her to ask the teacher for help. Teachers want to know if students aren’t grasping a concept. Remind your child that it’s OK to go to the teacher the next day and say, “I need help with this homework problem.” And then encourage your child to come home and tell you how he solved it.

How do you handle Common Core math challenges at home? Let us know!

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