Buddy Math: My Favorite Way To Do Homework

[Photo by OakleyOriginals.]

Kitten strongly dislikes math when forced to do it on her own, so I am trying to get back into the habit of doing “Buddy Math” with her. We take turns working the problems in her workbook: mine, hers, mine, hers, and so on down the page. We work each problem out loud, explaining how we got the answer and checking each other as we go.

In a way, it is like Charlotte Mason-style narration applied to math, since my daughter has to process her thoughts in order to explain how she worked the problem, which fixes the math concepts more deeply in her mind.

Helpful Hints for Buddy Math

  • I let her choose whether to go first or second, or whether to skip around. This allows her to avoid the problems that might otherwise bring her to tears.
  • We have been doing our scratch work in the margins of our paper, but the next section covers long division. Long calculations call for a white board and plenty of colorful markers.
  • When it’s my turn, I work slo-o-owly. I pause frequently, hoping to give her mind time to skip ahead of me and predict my next move. Sometimes, she will even jump in and finish a problem for me.
  • As we work, I explain how I do many of the calculations mentally. Kitten has never been as fast at mental math as her brother Chickenfoot, but I’ve noticed her picking up the tricks as we work together.
  • Patience! Kitten is easily distracted. Today she insisted on weaving the math problems into an ongoing story, and I was not allowed to go to the next problem until she had properly introduced it into the narrative.
  • We set a timer, so I’m not tempted to push math too long. Thinking through math problems is a hard mental workout! I usually allow no more than ten minutes per grade level — which means that in fourth grade, Kitten would do 40 minutes. But she gets emotional when she’s tired, so we’ve been stopping at 30 min, or less if we finish a problem and notice there’s not time to do the next one.
  • Buddy Math is not just for elementary students. I’ve used it with my older kids in algebra, whenever they hit a wall. We used to do a similar thing in my geometry class, going around the table and taking turns with the proofs.

Is Buddy Math a “Crutch”?

Some parents worry that sharing math lessons will make their children dependent or keep them from learning to work on their own. I find that my students have a natural desire to be independent, and they do learn to work by themselves, especially on their own interests. But life is easier for all of us if they get a little help on the things they don’t enjoy.

This is true for everyone, isn’t it? I, too, find it easier to do an unpleasant task (like exercising or cleaning house) when I work with a partner.

Have you ever tried Buddy Math or something similar? Did your kids enjoy it?

Story time is precious, a time when they have our undivided attention. Even if just for a few minutes, you, they, and the book are all that matters.

But with math, it’s a whole different story. Maybe we start out early with lots of interaction, counting yellow duckies and the like, but pretty soon it is: ‘Take these exercises, go off into solitary confinement and do them. Then come back, and I’ll tell you what you did wrong.’

Full-Contact math involves you, the parent, being involved in each and every little bit of math you expect your kids to do, which is a fundamental shift in the way most of us think about teaching our kids math.

— Robin Padron
How to Homeschool Math – Even If You Hate Fractions!

Click for details about Let's Play Math bookThis post is an excerpt from my book Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It, now available at your favorite online book dealer.

9 thoughts on “Buddy Math: My Favorite Way To Do Homework

  1. I have heard of BuddyMath but never tried it myself. It seems like a very interesting approach. It’s literally sounds like working with children at their pace. When it does work, it’s almost guaranteed to have complete involvement of the child and will make them feel comfortable doing math, which is very rare unless you are working with a professional tutor.

  2. Buddy Math is new for me. It sounds interesting, not only enriching for the children but also quality time spent with them. My questions are, how soon will you see improvement? and I guess you do this in a workbook, not for homework? Do you suggest an age or level that the child should be at before attempting the method?

  3. We do Buddy Math from the very beginning. Check out my post Pre-algebra Problem Solving: Preschool and Early Elementary to see how it works with very young students.

    As the kids get older (and I let myself get busier), we gravitate toward a workbooky curriculum. It’s easier, and they usually enjoy their independence. But when things get tough, having a buddy go through it with them keeps it from being impossible.

    How soon do I see improvement? That depends on how “bad” it gets before I come to my senses. Kitten responds to any attention, and her attitude toward math improves dramatically as soon as I sit down with her. Chickenfoot, on the other hand, sulks through his algebra lessons with me (but at least he gets them done!) because he’d rather be playing his guitar.

  4. Thanks, good to know that there is still hope. I just worry that they will become too dependent on me sitting with them, and will only do work when I am there. I guess there are other tactics that would come into play to prevent that from happening….

  5. How old are your students? I find that my kids have a natural desire to be independent, so that hasn’t been a problem for us. None of my five wanted to do Buddy Math past geometry in high school, except for occasional tough topics.

    Check out the section I just updated above: Is Buddy Math a “Crutch”?

  6. Thanks for responding, Denise.

    I never thought about it like that. I have to remind myself that they are just like us, just a bit smaller. I have two sets of students that I am working with, 9 to 11 and 2 to 5. I can see the Buddy Math going well with the older ones, as far as independence and requiring more time and help with the challenging problems. Seems like we “Buddy everything” with the younger ones….

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