I could smell the grass being cut outside the thin glass windows of my college Calculus II class that day. The room was silent and my exam book was closed. I had finished it. Every problem was completed. As I sat there smelling the grass and watching as students turned in their books and left for the summer, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion.
You see, this one class had cost me more tears than anything else I had done up until that point. The teacher was terrible and math was by far my weakest link. But it went deeper than that. Years of math struggles were dancing in my head, particularly that one day in 5th grade when the whole class laughed because I couldn’t think of the answer to 6×6.
Yep, right there in my college level Calculus class I cried. I don’t know if it was the release of a very difficult class being finished or the fear that I might not get the score I wanted on the final exam sitting before me. Or perhaps it was just the accomplishment of finishing FOREVER a subject that had proven to be the most difficult for me.
Whatever it was, I felt thankful, accomplished, and I left that day knowing that something great had happened.
You might read this story and feel as though you can relate to my utter hatred for math. Or perhaps you can just relate to the feeling of triumph over having accomplished something. But if you are like most, you’ll look at the word Calculus and say, “Yeah right. People who get that far never really struggled with math.” But that is exactly what I want to point out to you today.
It’s a lie. Yes, I took and passed (with straight A’s) two college level Calculus courses. But it wasn’t because math was EVER ever easy for me. Think back to that 5th grade girl who still didn’t know the answer to 6×6. Yeah, it was that bad. Math had been a daily struggle for me for as long as I could remember.
So why am I telling you this? It’s simple. Because we need to understand that even the hardest things in life- those things we struggle with the most- can become something very good.
My struggle with math grew me academically and taught me to persevere. And I want that for your child, too. So what if he/she is struggling with math right now. This isn’t forever and together we can beat it. Try to remember that it’s our struggles in life that push us to a level many never achieve. So, let’s get down to the business of helping our kids excel in math. You ready?
What to do when your child struggles with math
1. Master the basics
This is the area where most of our schools are failing. And many homeschool math programs are following similar trends. If we are going to be successful in math, we must learn the basics. There is no way around it and there is no success without it. Don’t worry about geometry, critical thinking, algebra, word problems, and other math concepts. First, we have to get our math facts straight.
If you have a child who is struggling in math, this needs to be your focus right now. Stop everything else. Until it’s strong here, it won’t be strong. In my home, we use a program called Xtramath. It’s totally free and web-based. The student goes in daily and completes an assigned number of math facts. It starts with addition and moves all the way through division. Your child gets a unique login to track his progress.
I’ve used many fun programs and apps in the past (like Math Bingo), but this program far surpasses its rivals in that it’s tailored to the specific facts that your child needs to work on. It’s like personal flash cards with a built in accountability system to go along with it.
Don’t use a math program or curriculum until you’ve got this problem fixed. Yes, the other stuff will wait and your child will be fine if you aren’t teaching those things yet. Building the right foundation (or going back to rebuild) will change everything.
2. Let the computer do the teaching
Often children struggle with math because they can’t read the lessons or instructions. In the public school setting, many children have individualized learning plans that allow the teacher to read instructions and problems to the student even during standardized testing. The purpose for this is to allow the test to actually show math skills and not reading skills.
Your child may be struggling with this same problem. One easy solution is to go with a computer-based program that reads problems to the child and teaches the lesson. It’s more visual and most children find a much higher level of success with it. Not to mention, most homeschool families have multiple children making it difficult for mom to read every word to her child.
We use Teaching Textbooks for this purpose and love it! My kids went from daily tears over math to actually enjoying the subject.
3. Make math about reading
It’s funny how we all struggle with different things. Some kids struggle with math because they struggle with reading. And other kids struggle with math, but don’t struggle with reading. My oldest and I are like this. Both voracious readers, math doesn’t make a lot of sense in our heads. For me, even though I’ve passed college level Calculus, math STILL doesn’t make a lot of sense in my head. I have just worked around that. But it’s not the best way (and it involves countless tears and struggles).
One thing I found to help my daughter is to make math about reading. There is a great series called Life of Fred that does just that. Instead of focusing on the technical procedures, each math concept is turned into story form. My oldest read the first 4 books the day we got them because she was so excited.
4. Make simple tweaks
One more thing to consider if your child is struggling with math is to make simple tweaks in your agenda. Have her do 15 minutes of math and then take a break. Make sure you do math first or early in the day when her mind is fresh and not as tired. Allow your child to stand, lie on the floor, or whatever method she wishes in order to stay focused on completion.
In case this wasn’t already really obvious, let me say it again. Math can be conquered. We don’t have to give up or give in. We can accomplish our academic goals and not be consumed by this one subject. So, let’s start today. Comment and tell me one thing you are going to change tomorrow to help your children conquer math.