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Grade-by-Grade Homework Help

Fourth Grade Think Big

If “A” was for Apple in first grade, “A” is for Algebra—or at least the start of it—now. “There's less emphasis on rote memorization and more on understanding the underlying concepts of mathematics, like what a fraction is and how one fraction can equal another, such as one-half and four-eighths,” says Joan Rooney, a former teacher and vice president of Tutor.com. So you'll be seeing math questions coming home like “12 ? x = 3,” along with ones involving decimals and fractions, too. Formal spelling lists may be phased out at this point, but kids will still learn lots of new words in the course of studying subjects like social studies, history, science, and foreign languages. Reading expands to include textbook pages, and your child may be asked to write book reports. Expect homework to broaden in scope to include a mix of two to three subjects per night—or even more.

Your Roles:

Long-Distance Operator: Back off, and give your kid some space as he tackles his assignments—as much as you both can stand. He needs to begin doing most of his work independently. Will he be thrilled that you're no longer leaping to his assistance at every minor glitch? No. Should you budge? Depends: “Do you want to be doing his homework for him when he's in grad school?” asks Tobias. Didn't think so!

Lord of the Files: Provide some behind-the-scenes support, starting with getting him organized. “He may be overwhelmed by the amount of paper he's getting, from social-studies handouts to Spanish word-finds. Put a system in place to make sense of it all,” advises Rooney. Hang a dry-erase calendar on a wall (or the fridge), and plot out each assignment's due date, then talk about setting blocks of time within his baked-in homework hour to tackle multi-night (or multi-week) projects. Now's a good time to invest in subject binders, too. They'll help keep the semester's worth of science handouts from scattering all around your house.

Medium: When your child gets frustrated about how best to approach an essay or work through a problem, Tobias suggests asking him, “What would your teacher say if you told her about this problem? How do you think she'd tell you to do it?” It may jog his memory, and it will get him into the routine of trying to deliver the kinds of answers she wants. If he's truly stumped, there's no harm in your stepping in to see if you can help him over a hump. He can also call or e-mail a friend to try to get a few pointers. And it's not the end of the world to return to school without an answer.

•A TYPICAL NIGHT'S HOMEWORK: ABOUT 40 MINUTES

•BIG-PICTURE GOALS: DEVELOPING TIME-MANAGEMENT SKILLS AND AN ABILITY TO SWITCH GEARS; ENCOURAGING PROBLEM-SOLVING

•SECRET-WEAPON WEBSITE: EDUCATION.COM. THERE'S PLENTY HERE FOR BOTH YOU AND YOUR KID—AGE-APPROPRIATE WORD LISTS TO BOLSTER HIS VOCAB, WORKSHEETS AND MINI-TESTS ON AMERICAN HISTORY AND OTHER RELEVANT TOPICS, HEADS-UP FOR PARENTS ON HOW CORE SUBJECTS LIKE ENGLISH AND MATH ARE TAUGHT IN THIS GRADE, AND MORE.

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