Fun Ways to Help your Child with Math
Math can be a very scary subject for kids. Not all children are born natural mathematicians. They need a little more time to pick up the math basics, and they get overwhelmed when their friends seem to just whiz through Math class. Teachers have a lot of pressure on them to get the students ready for those big tests, so they have to move all of their students through the core curriculum at a pretty good pace. As much as they would like to make sure every student is right where he/she needs to be, the school day (and year) is only so long. That means it is important for moms and dads to step in with their math challenged sweethearts and help them grasp those basic concepts outside of school time. For exhausted parents and children who have been apart all day and still need to squeeze a little family time into the already crazy routine of dinner, baths, and homework, extra math just doesn't make anybody very happy.
As a homeschool mom with a few math challenged kids of my own, I learned that the best way to teach math basics is to put down the pencil and paper and have a little fun. The kids don't have to know they are practicing their math skills. Honestly, if they think they are just having fun with their parents the stress is removed and real results can be achieved quickly.
Help for the Younger Child
Kindergartners and first graders often struggle with identifying and sequencing numbers. If the weather is pretty, they might enjoy Math Dot-to-Dot on their bicycles. Set up is simple. Write the numbers 1-10 (or whatever sequence you need to work on) on individual pieces of paper and put them in a fairly straight row on the driveway. Make sure there is some space in between each number and put your little biker just beyond the number 1. Encourage her to ride her bike through the sequence. Cheer her on as she travels from 1 to 2 and 3 to 4. Brag on her for riding through the entire sequence without missing any numbers. When she has played the game a few times, make it a little more difficult. Zig zag the numbers so that she has to think about which direction to go to stay in sequence. Keep the game play time fairly short and make sure she knows what a great job she did even if she had a little trouble remembering which number came next. Play it often and you will see number recognition and sequencing improve. She won't know she is learning. She'll think she's showing you how well she rides her bike.
If the weather isn't pretty, you can play a matching game with an ordinary deck of playing cards. Choose pairs of each number and put them face down. Take turns flipping cards over looking for matches. Make sure you say the number on each card as you flip it over and encourage your child to do the same. If he is a little nervous about saying the number, say it for him. He may need to see and hear the number many, many times before he is comfortable saying it himself. As he gets more advanced, have him add the numbers on the cards he flips over. Use math language as you play. Tell him what a great job he did finding the sum of those two cards or mention that adding 8 + 8 is doubling the number or multiplying the number times 2. He may not understand the concept of multiplication yet, but you are building an association in his mind that he will pick up on later. Regular board games can help build math skills, and they are a lot of fun, too. He will be so proud when he beats you to the finish line that he won't realize how many times he had to recognize the number or count the spaces. You'll know though and it will be evident that he is playing with numbers when he starts bringing home better grades.
If you, like most parents, just don't have time to do much math play on weeknights then pick up a few character math workbooks. Your child might think doing math with Spiderman, Barbie, or Dora is way more fun than the math book at school, and you will have that time to fix dinner or help a sibling with homework or bath time. He will be sure he has helped Spiderman with his latest caper, and she'll be sure Dora would never have found the prince's ball without her. Nobody will realize how much time was spent on math.
Help for the Older Child
The older child is a bit more of a challenge. Many older children are embarrassed by their math struggle, so be sure to share any struggles you might have had in school along with how you overcame them. They need to realize that they can learn math. Thankfully, there are several great tools to help the struggling older math student. The internet is full of websites that offer extra practice on the basics, and there are several math computer games that have fun story lines.
Division is a pretty simple concept to help your child understand. Have her help you fix divide a snack evenly among family members. 20 divided by 4 is kind of confusing to a kid who has just figured out multiplication (hopefully), but the concept of everyone getting their fair share isn't such a tough concept. She will be more than happy to make sure everyone gets 5 a piece. Afterwards, take a minute and show her that she just divided and it will be a lesson she won't quickly forget because it had a real world application.
You can use the concept for multiplication, too. Just reverse the process. Give each family member an equal number of treats and show him the individual groups of 5. Remind him that there are 4 groups of 5 cookies, and help him figure out the total number. When he begins to see some practical uses for learning the math facts, he'll be more likely to take the time to memorize those multiplication tables.
If you don't mind spending a little extra money, Brainetics is a great math confidence builder for children 9 and up. It focuses more on math tricks than traditional math, but it teaches kids to look for the patterns and follow rather long sets of directions. It takes a few months of consistent work to see results, but this program really helped my kids.
Older children benefit from playing cards and board games with parents, too. Age appropriate games that trigger their interest will keep them from realizing they are working on math skills. Another fun activity to do together is cooking. Recipes are full of fractions and measurements and step-by-step directions. The more they learn to follow directions, the better they get at multi-step math problems. Having older kids help with the grocery shopping can be another hidden math exercise. Teach them how to look at the different prices and different sizes to find the best deals. They need to know those skills to survive in the real world any way, and they will probably enjoy figuring out that the extra value pack mom has been buying for years isn't as good of a deal as she thought. Use real money as often as possible, too, so your child can learn to count out money.
Just Have Fun with It
Helping your struggling math student doesn't have to add more stress to your busy home life. If you make it fun and keep things light, it can even provide an opportunity for more family time. Plus, your child will remember the time you spent together long after he's finished his last math class.