I wonder if you can help us, our son is finding math really difficult. He takes a really long time to understand the question and seems to have forgotten how to solve a problem shortly after his lessons. He is in third grade. How can we help him?
Many people say they find math difficult, including many adults, so it is important to recognise when a child is struggling to understand new concepts and try to find methods that work for them.
The first thing to do is to try to identify what might be causing the underlying problem. Is it a basic lack of understanding of number and values? Is it a short term memory weakness? Is it fear of failure? It may be that he has slow processing speed and needs more time. There are several things you can do to help identify the problem. Some of this may sound basic but it is meant to be.
Firstly — understanding number and value: Ask him to count, can he count reliably to 40? Can he count starting at 34 to 50? Ask which number is bigger 65 or 38? What number comes next — then ask a random selection of numbers. What comes after 100? If any of these answers show a misunderstanding then it is important to go back to basics and make sure he masters these skills.
Secondly — short term memory: This is very common in children with dyslexia and makes learning methods to solve math problems difficult. Ask your child to do three tasks in a sequence. Ex. “Go into the kitchen and collect three spoons and a cereal bowl.” Does he succeed without further question. Repeat a couple of times.
Write three single digits on three cards. Ex. 7,9,5. Show him the cards one at a time and then hide them from sight. Ask him to write down the numbers. Do the same again but this time you say the numbers instead of writing them but he must write them. Now repeat these two tasks but ask him to reverse the order so if you say 5,8,3 he must write 3,5,8. If he can do this with three digits can he do it with four or five? Do not rush him, allow time for him to think and process the information.
Thirdly — is he lacking confidence or self esteem? How does he feel about his work? You may need to talk to his class teacher to see what he or she is aware of. Also be conscious of how you or his siblings talk to him about his work.
Other things to check too are his comprehension skills for math. Has he a good understanding of the symbols used and vocabulary used. There is a lot of vocabulary — addition, sum, minus, less and more, greater and fewer, total, factor, multiply, divide, division, decimal point etc
Once you have completed these checks you can go back to basics and try to identify at which point he is struggling. Remember it is like building a wall of bricks and if some of the bricks are weak the progression is weak too.
Always make any learning tasks fun. Use number games to strengthen basic skills. A pack of cards can be very useful to encourage mental addition and multiplication. A pair of dice can be the basis for lots of games. Remember too that encouragement is powerful and try to engage with him when he is completing a task he is finding hard. You should also allow him to see how you solve a problem, ex. if you are using a deck of cards for addition – you lay down a seven and a six which you need to add together — you may say out loud “I will start with seven because that is the bigger number then count on six using my fingers.” You roll two dice and get two fives — you may say “Two fives! I know five plus five makes 10.” Model behaviour is a great way to engage and teach.
Good luck and please do contact me if you would like more advice.
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Anne Revell is a special education, behaviour and parenting consultant who is a part-time Revelstoke resident.