From families whose newly adopted children have little math experience to those who have tried all the traditional math approaches to no avail, there are many reasons for a child to need help getting up to speed in math.
One of the first questions we usually ask is why do you think the child is behind? Usually that breaks down into one of seven categories:
- They Started Math Late
- In Over His Head
- Bad Experiences
- Doesn't "Get" Math
- Slow at Calculating
- Special Needs
1) Starting Late
This is classically the older child adopted internationally or the family that has faced health crisis to the point that traditional schoolwork hasn't been done for years. Catching this child up is usually fairly straightforward.
-If the child is operating below an 8th grade level, we suggest Math-U-See as the best remedial math program available. Start at the lowest level your child might be at, and just work through the program in order as he progresses.
-Above 8th grade? Have him take the appropriate Teaching Textbooks Placement test (the appropriate link is at the end of each grade's description) and begin work at that grade.
2) In Over His Head
This child may have skipped a grade or gone from one math program to another, leaving them trying to perform calculations they've never learned how to do. No wonder they are frustrated and overwhelmed! There are several good approaches to this.
-If your child would benefit from a comprehensive review, then consider using Math-U-See to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
-Debating between two grades? Go with the lower level. Your child will gain confidence as he works through easy problems and you'll make sure that there are no holes in his comprehension.
-Another approach is to put the child into Teaching Textbooks - they have excellent free placement tests as well as an extensive review at the beginning of each grade.
3) Bad Experiences
Sadly we all know of children pushed too hard too fast, but how do you bring such a child back up to speed? Slowly and gently.
-Our favorite tip is to integrate math games such as Inchimals and Mobi Math into your day.
-Mathematical Reasoning books (imagine colorful thinking skills problems involving math) can also be a big help, and they do cover all the appropriate grade-level topics.
-Make doubly sure that you start with an easy level for this child. They don't want baby work but definitely need to build confidence and speed.
4) Doesn't "Get" Math
Some children just struggle to grasp math. It simply doesn't make sense to them. Sometimes this is made harder by having siblings/parents who thrive on mathematical concepts!
-Add in manipulatives as often as you can. Inchimals are great for K-2nd grade. Cuisenaire Rods are especially helpful for elementary grades, but can be used for many concepts.
-Look at mastery approaches rather than spiral, especially in the early grades. Math-U-See is the best mastery approach we've seen for grades 1-8. Usually after completing that a child is ready to move into Teaching Textbooks, but always make sure you use the free placement test to make it easy to select the most appropriate grade.
If you had to spend an hour a day practicing what you already know wouldn't you be bored too? A child gifted at math who says he hates it is almost always doing too much repetition.
-If you are in the middle of a textbook try having them do only odd-numbered problems. Does their grade drop? If not, try having them do every 3rd problem. You want them to do enough to master the skills but not so much they are bored.
-Mathematical Reasoning is another approach for the early grades, you'll want to consider adding a separate drill program to keep their calculation skills sharp.
-You’ve seen us recommend this over and over, but there is a reason Teaching Textbooks are so highly regarded! The placement tests allow you to easily put your child into the level that will keep them neither bored nor overwhelmed. The multi-media approach is helpful for those students bored by traditional methods.
6) Slow at Calculating
If your child understands math concepts but is frustrated by how long it takes him to get his answers on paper, memorization will probably be the key to helping him make progress.
-A hands-on child usually loves Wrap-Ups, and the self-checking, independent drill technique is just as beloved by parents!
7) Special Needs
From the child who struggles to write his answers to the ones who have autism or Down Syndrome, there are a few general concepts that will help.
-If handwriting is an issue, consider allowing your child to dictate his answers, type them, or even demonstrate with Cuisenaire Rods. Yes, he'll probably need to address handwriting, but why not separate that out?
-Children with autism are each incredibly unique, but even those gifted at math usually struggle with word problems. In light of that, we highly recommend Mathematical Reasoning books to specifically address that. Don't be afraid to start with the very beginning books either, so that you can work through the thinking skills portion using math skills he already knows. Math-U-See is unbeatable for teaching the concepts.
-Children with Aspergers have been very successful with Teaching Textbooks, perhaps in part because it is so computer based.
-Children with Down Syndrome have been known to do really well with Inchimals as an introduction to basic numbers, addition and subtraction. We'd also recommend Math-U-See and as many manipulatives as possible.
Final Tips for Helping a Homeschooled Child Catch Up His Math Skills
-Don't overwhelm your student. Be ready to give him the time it takes to master the concepts and build speed. If he's 4 years behind, you can't expect to pick that all up this year, but you can set a double-time pace and start closing the gap.
-Don't bore him either. A bored child is trouble, so try to hit the fine line between overwhelmed and bored! Sometimes this means doing more than one year's work in a school year. Why hold them back if they are ready to move on?
-Do warn him it will be hard. This is especially true if you're working with an older child who needs to cover a lot of ground to catch up. They need to know that they can do it, you will figure out the best approach together and quitting isn't an option. But they also need to hear that realistically, catching up will be tough. Once they come to grips with that you'll both be on the same team and that will make a world of difference!