If you’re reading this post, you’re likely in the same place I was a few years ago. My son was a young student struggling with math. And my husband and I were struggling to find a way to help him.
For a long time, he just wasn’t getting it.
Now let me skip ahead to the happy ending. That child is a straight-“A” student in math.
I hope that’s an encouragement to other parents who are in the same situation. It is possible for a child to overcome difficulties with math. That child can eventually become an excellent math student.
There’s no quick fix for how to help a child with math. It may not be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.
The tips below are the strategies that helped us get from the struggle to the happy ending. I’m not an education expert, but these are the things that worked for us.
7 tips for how to help a child with math
1. Believe. Start with the belief that the child will get it. When a child is struggling with something, it is so easy for him or her to feel incapable and hopeless about it. That can lead to just giving up. It’s important for both of you to stay positive and believe that it’s possible to improve.
As President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
And Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
These leaders knew that the right attitude has an important effect on success. Believe in your child. And make sure children who are struggling believe in themselves.
2. Encourage. Regularly communicate your confidence in your child. When they bring home another bad grade, say something uplifting about doing better next time. Let them know it’s OK, that it’s not the end of the world, but you have confidence that they can do better. When they improve even slightly, make sure they know you’re happy with their efforts.
I’ll never forget my son’s excitement when he got his first “A” in math on his report card. He was elated, and he said, “Mom, I never was really sure it was possible, but you and dad always kept believing in me and encouraging me so I made sure I was trying to do my best. And now look, I got an ‘A’!”
Encouragement – in the good times and the bad – helps a child keep striving for success.
3. Be involved. Nothing speaks more clearly about your commitment to your child’s learning than investing time with your child. It’s not just talk. It’s action.
Be available to provide help as much as possible. Sit down and talk through homework together. If you feel like someone else can help better, get a tutor, but remain involved by asking about the math lessons and seek to personally help as much as possible.
When my husband and I were working with my son, there were times we all got frustrated. Sometimes my husband and I alternated on helping him to try a different perspective for going over a concept. There were times we had to take a deep breath and take a break – for an evening or even for a week. But then we started working on it again. We went over homework together. We did extra worksheets together. We went through flashcards together. He knew he wasn’t in it alone.
Make sure your child knows you’re in this with him or her and you’re there to help.
4. Communicate with the teacher. Be sure to contact the teacher and ask for his or her professional advice on how to help your child. The teacher may notice particular issues and may be able to provide some extra worksheets or direct you to specific resources that may help.
Teachers have classrooms full of students, and they don’t always have the time to give individual attention to students. But I’ve learned over the years that when I keep in contact with the teacher to work on my child’s problem areas (without being pushy or demanding), she’ll usually make an effort to communicate proactively with me about issues and look for ways to help. It’s been a blessing to rejoice together with teachers to see my child improve.
5. Practice, practice, practice. It’s been said that repetition is the key to success and that practice makes perfect. In school, math homework is assigned to give students practice performing the math facts and operations they have learned. But is the class time and homework enough repetition and practice?
For my oldest son, he heard the math lesson in class, did the homework, and he had it down. For my younger son who struggled, he needed a lot more repetition and practice. So we worked on it. A lot.
We came to realize that it just took more time for him, but he would get it eventually.
It was like he struggled in the dark for a while with a new math fact or concept, and then a light switch finally flipped on and he could see it correctly. The struggle was so worth it to see the light of understanding in my son’s eyes when he finally got it!
6. Make it fun and practical. Help math come alive by showing students real-world application of math concepts. Use a bag of snack-sized candy bars or marshmallows and group them to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Show how you use math to divvy them up. Talk about fractions when cutting a pizza into slices. Set up a pretend store and let children use money to buy and sell things with you.
Be creative and make math as fun as possible in as many ways as possible. Because people learn in different ways, you never know which strategy you may use that will spark a better understanding about how numbers work.
Hands-on learning is especially powerful for many children, so being able to physically touch and manipulate numbers of objects can really help solidify numbers concepts for them. My son seemed to grasp multiplication better when we had him physically group objects together with his hands and then tied that back to a math problem on a piece of paper.
7. Find resources. Thankfully, math resources abound if you look for them. You can find a wide variety of free and paid resources to help with math skills. (Look for another blog post on this topic coming soon.)
8. Pray about it. I put this last because I realize that not everyone who reads this post will share my Christian faith. But as a Christian, I really believe this goes first. The Bible tells us to pray regularly, and Hebrews 4:16 says we will find help through prayer. It says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
My husband, son and I prayed regularly about his understanding of math. We prayed together before working on it at home, and I advised him to pray about it before his tests at school. When he eventually “got it” and started doing well in math, we attributed it not only to his hard work, but also to answered prayer.
Overcoming the obstacles – my son’s math success story
My son, who struggled with math early in school, is now in high school. After all his work in elementary school, building the foundation for upper-level math, he no longer has problems with his math classes.
In elementary school, he had the most difficulty in the early grades. Up through third grade, he put in a lot of extra work just to get to a “C” in math on his report cards. By his upper elementary years, he had worked up to “B” grades in math.
He earned his first “A” in math in seventh grade. He has never received a lower math grade on his report card since then. (I should mention that he has always attended a traditional, private school so he was not learning the Common Core math curriculum.)
The bonus is that his hard work has paid off for other subjects, too. He’s now getting “A” grades across all of his classes. His early struggles with math have taught him diligence, perseverance, and good study skills that apply to all of his schoolwork.
I’m proud of my son, but I’m including his academic success story not to brag, but to encourage other parents whose children are struggling in a particular area. It really can turn around!
I would love to hear from you. Do you have other tips for how to help a child with math?