“There is NO WAY I can do all those problems!”
“This is too hard!”
Have you ever heard your children say things like this when you break out the math books?
My daughter, Monkey, has been in a math funk for most of the third grade. She is struggling with third grade math and is having trouble “getting it.”
It is heartbreaking to see a child struggling in math and not know what to do to fix it.
As parents and educators, it is our job to help our children get past these struggles in a way that both encourages them to continue learning without overwhelming them.
6 Effective Ways to Teach Math to a Struggling Student
While struggles in math are likely to be an ongoing issue for us, I’ve learned a few things this year about how to teach math to a struggling student.
Take a Step Back
Sometimes a student struggles because she has been pushed too far ahead. This happened to Monkey at the end of the second grade. We rushed through the lessons and by the end of the summer; she had forgotten most of the last half of second grade math.
Identifying WHY a child is struggling is the first key to figuring out how to teach math to a struggling student.
Our rush to complete the lessons last year created much of our current problem.
Find What Isn’t Working and Change It
Monkey and I were not happy with our previous math curriculum. It rushed through concepts and did not give us enough time to go over them together.
Consequently, Monkey is now scared when a new concept is introduced. When she sees something new, she tends to shut down and not even try to figure it out.
Because of this, we have found that a mastery-focused curriculum is best for us. We now use Singapore Math, which while not entirely trouble-free, allows us to focus on a single concept until she understands it with ease.
It is delightful to hear her brag about a math concept when she understands it. Her confidence spikes and she is more willing to tackle the next concept without fear.
Go Back and Start Over
In our case, Monkey is missing out on some important math concepts because her previous math curriculum (and our teaching style at the time), rushed her through the program.
Her ADHD also makes it harder for her to memorize math facts, which is problematic now that she is expected to use multiplication and division with ease.
We were contacted a few months ago by Verbal Math asking if we would like to have a sample of their curriculum to review on Schooling a Monkey just at the moment when I was looking for something to use to solve our two biggest math issues. Of course I said I would be delighted to review their program!
Verbal Math is completely innovative because it uses nothing but words. There are no workbooks, worksheets, or writing of any kind (aside from the one small paperback-sized textbook). It is perfect for a child like Monkey who gets easily distracted by pencils, paper, and anything else nearby.
Verbal Math currently has three levels covering K-1st, 2-3rd, and 4-5th grades. The goal of the program is to get the child to be able to answer each question in the book within four seconds. The lessons are short (but can be made longer), which makes them an ideal way to teach math to a struggling student.
We started Monkey off in the very first kindergarten levels to boost her confidence. We quickly worked our way through most of the first book and then we slowed down when she needed more time.
I am quite impressed at the creative approach that Verbal Math uses. In fact, I even learned a thing or two about how to make math easier for myself (yes, in the first grade book)!
We are about to start the second book and I have been quite impressed with how much her base memory and mental calculation skills have improved since we started using Verbal Math.
If you need to teach math to a struggling student, I highly recommend Verbal Math!
We also try to make learning fun and easy, when possible.
Stock Up in Patience
When I teach math to a struggling student, I tend to get frustrated (it is one of my biggest flaws). When a child struggles, my mental process often goes like this: “the concept seems so simple. We’ve gone over the explanation 100 times. How do you still not get it?”
But I remember being a child who struggled with math, too. I didn’t have much trouble until the upper grades, but I do remember working a problem many, many times without it making any sense.
Although a lack of progress on the part of the child is frustrating, when I respond with frustration, it only makes the problem worse.
The best thing I can do to teach math to a struggling student is to swallow my frustration and explain the problem again in a different way.
We live in a house with a lot of distractions. Bo runs around with her toddler demands, I have clients calling for work or sending urgent e-mails, and sometimes outdoors is too pleasant to allow focus inside!
As a child with ADHD, Monkey can loose concentration easily, which makes learning new math concepts even harder. The second-best thing I can do for her (after providing endless patience) is to eliminate as many distractions as possible. We often try to do math when Bo is asleep and both focus just on math until the lesson is complete.
When children are frustrated, saying they are dumb, and offering nothing but complaints and drama; I want to give in.
I want to say, “Fine! You don’t have to do math then! Ever!” (sometimes Mom is dramatic, too)
But of course, I can’t do that.
As homeschooling parents, we have to teach to our children even when they hate it and us for making them do it. I know when we go over a math concept enough times, Monkey will get it. It will not always be a struggle to do math.
One concept at a time, our children will learn to understand, and perhaps even love, math.
It may be unpleasant sometimes, and it may be difficult right now, but the best thing to do is push through.
Teach Math to a Struggling Student: Take it One Day at a Time
When your child struggles in math, it is both frustrating and worrisome. I know exactly how it feels to experience what seems like every emotion when school is not easy for your children. We want things to be easy for our kids, and when they are not, we suffer, too.
For us, evaluating where the problem came from, finding a new solution, focusing on content gaps, and pushing through with math lessons even when it is hard is getting us through our time of struggle.
And happily enough, Monkey does not struggle as much as she did a few months ago. There are now a higher number of struggle-free days than struggling days.
If you are in the same boat with us, know that you are not alone, not a failure, and not doomed. 🙂
Do you have any struggling students? What tips can you share with other homeschooling parents for how to teach math to a struggling student?
P.S. If you’re curious about Verbal Math, you can read more about it on the Verbal Math website, or you can buy Verbal Math on Amazon! I recommend it to every homeschooling family! Even if you don’t homeschool, you can use it as an extremely beneficial supplement to schoolwork. The other amazing thing about this curriculum is that you get nearly 5 years’s worth of study for under $30!
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