Top down and bottom up processing: How it helps and hinders children’s homework

I have two daughters, one is 8 years old and the other is 5 years old. Ever since my 8-year-old started school, I have had a really hard time helping her with her homework. There are two reasons I have difficulty helping her. The first reason is top down processing and the second reason is bottom up processing. She has homework everyday, and everyday we struggle with the concepts I know, and the concepts I don’t.

Top down processing is processing that involves a person’s knowledge or expectations. I rely on my knowledge to assist my daughter in doing her homework, I know how to do it because I have done it, and learned it. It’s top down processing that allows me to help her. My daughter doesn’t know it yet, and I struggle with having patience in our differences. I find myself thinking, “come on you should know this”, when in reality, she doesn’t because she hasn’t learned it yet. I don’t remember learning it; I just know that I know how to do it. My daughter is still learning, and learning new stuff everyday. She doesn’t have the knowledge of the concepts yet.

Then there are the times when we are both experiencing bottom up processing. North Carolina is a state that teaches common core in the classroom. Until two years ago, I had no idea what common core was. Now I struggle with helping her with her math homework because I have no knowledge of common core math, we are learning it together. I have to “Google” how to do third grade homework. I have to email teachers for assistance, or attach notes to the homework as I send it back in. I even asked her teacher to hold classes for us parents, because common core is a whole new way of learning. Together she and I are both learning, and this is bottom up processing.

Example of Common Core math:



Learning about top down and bottom up processing has really helped me understand what is going on when I help my daughter. I can look at it from a different point of view. I can work to find solutions that make it easier for both of us. Once you know better, you do better. This lesson will assist me in being more patient with my daughter when helping her with the stuff she doesn’t know yet. It will also help me seek out fun ways for us both to learn the new stuff together. She won’t be little forever, and soon she won’t need my help.

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