Homework is a tricky subject in our house. One family member is an elementary teacher, one family member is in kindergarten and one family member has chaperoned a field trip, helped on the weekends and attended elementary school many, many years ago. You can imagine that a certain someone – ok, it’s the dad in our house – tends to get told what to do all to often when trying to help out with homework.

This week, as I was fixing dinner, Adam sat down to help out with the weekly math homework. Things are pretty simple at this stage of the game. We’ve seen lots of tracing numbers 1 through 5 and some matching numerals with dots or cubes. This week’s homework asked the kids to extend a bug pattern. Lots of cutting and pasting – right up kindergarten alley. Since patterning didn’t seem to require too much nuanced discussion, I happily let Adam take over.

After assembling all of the materials and lots of cutting, they set about figuring out what bug came next in the pattern. Then, the magic happened. I heard Adam say, “Check it to make sure it sounds right.” Ah, be-still my heart. Without even knowing it, he was instilling in our barely 5 year old daughter, an overarching habit of mind – oh so important to mathematical proficiency.

Outlined in the Common Core State Standards of Mathematics are content standards (what the kids should know) and the practice standards (how kids should “behave” with math). The content standards are what many think about and, unfortunately, the practice standards are often brushed aside. This might be be due, in part, to their location in the standards document but it is also because the wording tends to be a bit complex. Many teachers have been working on trying to understand the eight math practice standards and apply them at the level they teach. While the ideas are big, and extremely important, at the earliest grades, these practice standards can look quite simple.

Math Practice 6, Attend to precision, emphasizes precise use of math language and vocabulary as well as accuracy. This obviously looks different at different levels but with kindergarten, “Checking your work” can elicit this standard. Every time you ask your child to check his/her work or praise him/her for doing it independently, you are reinforcing the idea that review supports precision. If you think about it, you can apply this thinking to a variety of subject areas. How many times did your teacher ask you to reread your writing looking for errors and opportunities to improve?

Just like everything you do with your very young children, establishing routines early can lead to habit. Maybe I’ll let the novice take over more of the responsibilities with math homework!

You can learn more about the standards for mathematical practice from Dreambox. If you want more in depth information you can get it from Think Math and Illustrative Mathematics.