Should I Allow My Child to Use a Calculator for Math Homework?

Math Fluency & Support

There’s no doubt about it; math has changed. In the years since you sat hunched over with paper and pencil, math itself has remained the same, of course. But the methods and technology used to support students have proliferated and helped bring more equitable education to math learners of varying ability.

When math is taught well and at a pace that matches a child’s level of understanding, math is no more difficult to learn than any other system or academic subject. However, large class sizes and administrative challenges can mean less one-on-one support for children who need a bit of extra instruction on a particular concept.

Enter the calculator. Or should it?

Even if your child’s teacher or school has approved the calculator as a support tool, you might wonder if you should limit its use to ensure your child develops mental arithmetic skills.

Does Calculator Use Prevent Children from Learning Math Skills?

While there are times a calculator is not appropriate, for skills practice beyond the level of basic arithmetic functions, the calculator actually may benefit math learning.

It’s important in elementary grades that the use of calculators does not supplant mental and pencil-and-paper calculation as these math methods are vital to daily life. Efficient and accurate mental and paper arithmetic will form the base for more complex mathematical functions in later years. Basic math skills also transfer to other subjects, like science and georgraphy.

While calculators shouldn’t replace pencil-and-paper methods entirely, their use is not shown to hinder math learning. A 2003  review of 54 studies on calculator use found that students’ operational skills and problem-solving skills actually improved when calculators were an integral part of testing and instruction.

Calculator Use May Lower Math Anxiety

Students using calculators had better attitudes toward mathematics than their non-calculator counterparts: that was the second major finding of the 2003 review. If your child is one of the 50% of learners who may experience math anxiety, allowing calculator use during homework may help defuse tension and improve their attitudes toward math.

It’s crucial that you take a calm approach to your child’s math endeavours and to assisting them at home. Research shows children with math anxiety use less of the problem-solving part of their brains because brain resources are being used in areas that produce anxiety. If you can help reduce their anxiety, you can improve their math success.

Math Teachers Encourage Calculator Use

Your child’s teacher may be challenged with a large class and varying levels of ability. This very situation makes a calculator all the more important; with a calculator, every child can keep up with basic math while the teacher focuses on higher level concepts in their lesson. Yes, even in the elementary grades.

The National Council of Teachers in Mathematics, an American organization, released an official statement defending calculator use at home and school:

“Calculators in the elementary grades serve as aids in advancing student understanding without replacing the need for other calculation methods. Calculator use can promote the higher-order thinking and reasoning needed for problem solving in our information- and technology-based society. Their use can also assist teachers and students in increasing student understanding of and fluency with arithmetic operations, algorithms, and numerical relationships and enhancing student motivation. Strategic calculator use can aid students in recognizing and extending numeric, algebraic, and geometric patterns and relationships.”

Should My Child Use a Calculator for Basic Math?

Perhaps you’re concerned your child’s math skills and number sense are lagging behind generally. You may recall performing math with pencil-and-paper in your youth and wonder why they’re relying so heavily on a calculator for basic arithmetic. 

Math practice, like reading practice, takes months and years to accumulate. If your child struggles consistently with basic concepts like quantity (more vs. less), number order, number sense, and arithmetic there are multi-sensory approaches that can help your child explore math in a way which makes more sense to them.

Some children may be suffering with dyscalculia and require personalized support for math at home and at school. People with dyscalculia struggle with math concepts generally, and research suggests the condition is brain-based, inherited and related to the condition of dyslexia. Many children with dyslexia also have dyscalculia, and it’s believed to be just as common, though less researched and understood at this time. Understand the signs of dyscalculia and speak with your child’s doctor and/or school if you believe they require testing and/or further help. 


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Does your child use a calculator for math homework? Have you discovered any resources or routines that help your child manage math anxiety or excel in math? 

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