Math Homework 101: Using a Number Line

Okay parents, it’s time to chat. I’ve heard from so many people both online and in real life and they are all frustrated with their kids’ math homework. How are we supposed to help them if we have no idea how to help?
Like it or not, our kids are learning math differently from the way we did. Contrary to a lot of Facebook memes and viral posts, it’s not an inferior way. It’s not. You’re just going to have to trust me on this for awhile. In fact, I’ll be honest with you, I believe the way I was taught is inferior. My kids will have the advantage when it comes to math.
I’ve taken the time to figure out these new methods of math, and I’m here to help. I’ve read all the worksheets, asked questions, and did my own homework. I’ve learned to really like this stuff! I hear your frustrations, though, and I want to help. You want to be able to help your child with their homework and I’m going to help you do that.
Disclaimer: If you’re a long time reader, you already know this. But, if you’re new here, I want to make sure you know that I’m not a teacher. But, I have done my homework (pardon the pun). I’m talking to you as parent to parent. I want to help you help your kids!
Let’s start with the number line. I know you’ve seen this, especially in the early years of elementary school. You may also be shaking your head right now and saying: I know what a number line is. I know you do. But, we’re chatting about it because I’ve seen the worry. “My child will never learn how to do math in their head if they become dependent on a number line!” “You can’t do algebra (or any kind of higher math) if you have to use a number line!” That’s just not true.
Think of the number line the same way you think of training wheels on a bicycle. Your child will eventually learn to ride on just two wheels and never put those training wheels on again. Just because your child learns to add and subtract using a number line does not mean they will always use one. I promise.


So, how are they using it? The number line is a visual tool. It helps kids see the relationship between the numbers. They can see the operation they are doing. Addition moves forward on the number line and subtraction moves backwards. In preschool, it’s a simple tool to show number order.
If your kid is just learning addition or if they are struggling with the facts, don’t be afraid to let them use a number line. If you’re adding 5 plus 3, start at the number 5. Take 3 hops and you’re at your answer. Very simple, I know. But remember, these simple things didn’t become simple until we’ve learned them well. By using a number line, your child is going to see how addition changes a number. The number will always get bigger because they are going forward on the number line.
You can also illustrate the basics of subtraction on the number line. For the problem, 10 minus 6, start at 10. Count 6 hops back and you’ve got your answer. Your child can now see that subtraction is moving backward on a number line. They see that their number will always get smaller.


Your child’s teacher may have already provided you with number line. But, if not, I’ve created one for you. Click the link below to download and print. There are two number lines per sheet. If you want to reuse it, laminate it. Your child can then use a dry erase marker with the number line. You can also put it between 2 sheets of clear contact paper and still use a dry erase marker. If you don’t have a laminator (and how many of us actually do), use a small item like a coin or a LEGO minifig to bounce around on the number line instead of drawing on it. Do whatever works best for you.


For more practice, check out these posts:
Number Line Secret Codes
Play and Learn with Number Lines
And stay tuned for more Math Homework 101 posts. We’re going to tackle all those things that frustrate you about your kid’s homework! Find all the Math Homework 101 Posts you’ve missed here.

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Terri is a writer and mom of two elementary-aged girls. She has a passion for learning and is always looking for ways to make learning fun. You can find her at Better Than Homework where she shares fun learning activities or Creative Family Fun where she shares art, craft, and family fun ideas.

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