Stop Math Struggles in Their Tracks with These 10 Tips

As a middle and high school math teacher with a Masters in Teaching, now homeschooling my own children, I am passionate about creating enjoyable and authentic learning experiences to help students understand math in a thorough way.

In this post I want to share with you 10 tips for helping students of all ages enjoy learning math while seeing the practical applications of this core subject and taking ownership and pride in the learning process.

Thanks to Sandra of R.E.A.L.-World Learners for this article in the Ready, set, homeschool! blog party.

1. Teach math concepts to mastery (NOT to a deadline)

Don’t move through a curriculum according to a pre-set timetable. Work through it at the pace that matches your child’s comprehension. You are free to set the pace that works for your family – and if you can ensure that your child understands each concept thoroughly before moving on to the next concept, you will be giving them the best chance to succeed in their academic career. In math, nearly every concept builds on the ones before it; help them build a solid foundation in a core subject that will benefit them for the rest of their lives (or at least, their school years) by not rushing through lessons. (See also: tip #10.)

2. Use real-world math activities and examples

If a math skill can be practiced without a worksheet, do it. ๐Ÿ™‚

I do realize that’s a bit of an ambitious goal. But…as often as possible, try to focus on math in the real world or at least use printables or a curriculum with hands-on activities to instill a sense of how math can be practical and fun.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Constitutional Literacy by Michael Farris

  • Games
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Lapbooks
  • Printables with activities (cut-and-paste, use spinners or clip cards, match terms with diagrams, etc.)
Math activity lapbook

You can also practice math skills using natural items found in your backyard or nearby park.

3. Keep homeschool math sessions short

Monitor their attention span and work with it, not against it ;). When their eyes glaze over, don’t keep cramming information in; take a break to eat or play then revisit the work later.

4. Use math manipulatives

Provide hands-on math materials (often referred to as manipulatives) to help your students develop a solid, conceptual understanding of why things work the way they do. Almost every concept can be taught with a physical representation, or at least a hands-on activity.

If it’s too much of a stretch to do this for All The Math, at least try to incorporate manipulatives when you introduce new ideas or when you notice your child struggling to understand something. Here are some suggestions of common manipulatives:

  • Abacus (seriously! These are amazing learning tools that help kids learn SO. MANY. math concepts!)
  • Geoboards
  • Algebra Tiles
  • Balance scale
  • Ten Frames
Example of a geoboard

You can use this link to get a free chapter from my ebook on teaching math with ten frames; the link takes you to my store page – at the top right you will see the FREE DOWNLOAD box to get your own sample copy.

If the cost of buying these manipulative tools is an issue, you can DIY most of these!

5. Make math transparent

As you use skills in your own daily life, talk through the process. You don’t need to turn everything into a lesson, but your kids will benefit from seeing you make use of math in real life. Here are a few suggestions of ways that you probably already make use of math or see it in the world around you without even realizing it:

  • Grocery shopping
    • Estimate the total cost of your shopping cart.
    • Compare prices of similar items using unit rates.
  • Travel
    • Talk about how time and distance relate as you point out speed limits.
    • How much will you pay in gas on a given road trip?
  • Nature
    • Fractals: Point out how an evergreen tree or a fern grows in a fractal pattern.
    • Symmetry: Look for symmetrical designs in buildings and artwork. Create a mandala on paper or using sticks/stones/leaves/sand.

6. Ask their stuffed animals to help

This works well with younger kids. If you notice your children losing focus or enthusiasm about answering math questions, try asking a nearby toy or doll. Often kids will quickly pick up the idea and answer the question on behalf of their toys. If this works, run with it! ๐Ÿ˜‰

7. Constantly review

Revisit skills often to keep things fresh in their minds. Most math skills naturally build on each other, but sometimes you’ll need to go a bit out of your way to build in review practice. Don’t belabor the point though — just use a quick question to check up on their understanding.

As a teacher, I would often accomplish this through “exit ticket” questions – one or two questions related to the main point of the lesson (or previous lesson) that the students would answer on an index card and hand to me on their way out of class. In a homeschool setting, you can implement this in any number of ways, as long as you remember to go back often and review previous math skills that are not naturally covered in their daily work.

8. Make them teacher for a day

Build in regular opportunities for your kids to re-teach math concepts to friends, siblings, pets, stuffed animals, etc. The better they can teach/explain something, the better they’ll understand it themselves.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘The better they can teach/explain something, the better theyโ€™ll understand it themselves.’ – Sandra of R.E.A.L.-World Learners @RWLearners #readysethomeschool #allthehomeschoolthings #homeschooling” quote=”The better they can teach/explain something, the better theyโ€™ll understand it themselves.”]

Bonus: Have them create an assessment (worksheet, activity, quiz, etc.) with an answer key for their “students.”

9. Display samples of their work

Display “masterpieces” such as creative activities, lapbooks, graphic organizers, anchor charts, etc. as a reminder of key math concepts and to help your kids develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work.

A fun way to display their projects

Don’t display things that you’ve written grades on; display projects that showcase hard work and attention to detail. This helps kids focus on the value of the learning process rather than an objective grade.

10. Consider it an investment

One-on-one time spent learning math with your children is one of the best investments you could make in them and in the success of your homeschooling experience. It will alleviate pressure that could build up from frustration and math anxiety. Often, the more “hands-off” a particular math program is for parents, the more agony it will cause down the road for the whole family. If kids are left to struggle through lessons on their own, they may misunderstand things or miss concepts entirely. This could lead them to build a weak and shaky foundation in this core subject and to learn to hate or fear math.

Choose a homeschool math curriculum that provides plenty of hands-on activities, focuses on building a solid foundation in mathematical reasoning, and provides guided teaching instructions for the parents. You don’t have to re-create math from scratch for your kids; there are plenty of great materials available in the homeschool market!

Learn alongside your kids and monitor their understanding — the deeper, the better! ๐Ÿ™‚ Work with them to help them understand, apply, and even enjoy learning math! This will serve them well throughout their academic career and life (possibly the best investment you could make in your homeschooling journey! But I may be biased ๐Ÿ˜‰ .)

An ebook to help you help your kids enjoy learning math

This ebook (in .pdf form) is a series of hands-on activities, lessons with journal pages and guided teaching notes, and diagrams and photographs to clearly demonstrate each process or activity, with a bonus section on mathematical properties.

I designed this ebook to help students develop strong Algebraic reasoning skills; the scaffolded nature of the material makes it useful for all ages, starting from Kindergarten and progressing up through middle school. It’s perfect for anyone interested in trying some hands-on, engaging math activities with their children.

Sandra, formerly a high-school math teacher (M.A.), now homeschools her two boys and shares her interactive, authentic learning activities, homeschooling stories, and passion for learning and teaching at R.E.A.L.-World Learners. You can view her products (including several freebies!) in her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the other posts in this series!

5 replies to Stop Math Struggles in Their Tracks with These 10 Tips

  1. After homeschooling my own three children I have the privilege of helping other parents and students. I was surprised to find that I can teach math! Your ideas are spot on and I plan to share this blog with other homeschool parents who are struggling with their student in math.

  2. When I asked our 2nd grader to teach his preschool sister some addition and subtraction, it just clicked for him and now he is so excited to do math.

  3. This so deep and informative. Thank you for the great advice.

    I am so happy you advocate for teaching to mastery. I do, too. My oldest (11) has never been given a math test. It has been hard because sometimes, it felt like he must be behind when it took him longer than I planned with certain skills. But my patience has paid off! Not only is he a year ahead, he also tells me he misses math when we take breaks!

  4. I see the author has floor knowledge it the subject as well as
    some practical experience. Such kind of information is more favorable than copypasted blog articles ideas.

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