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    Year One Math Troubleshooting

    September 22, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    A-Age-Six, who has always shown a natural interest in numbers, became discouraged with her math in Week Four of the school year. It all started when she misunderstood a concept, and then did a whole section on her page incorrectly before I caught it. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but the damage was done.

    The next day she sighed and said she “hated math.” When I asked her why, and reminded her that it seemed to be easy for her so far, she said that she just realized that it got “harder every day.”

    Like her brother before her, she has the added disadvantage of struggling in her writing. She began to despair when I asked her to write the “greater than” and “less than” figures.

    I did some thinking on all of this while I was gone {did you know I was away? he he}. I was concerned that continuing to do the same thing I’ve been doing would lead to failure.

    Troubleshooting Using Principles and Goals
    In home education, there is a lot of freedom, but I think there is also a lot of room to err. On the one hand, we can fail to recognize our freedom and follow in the footsteps of the classroom, and end up with the same problems that result from those methods and philosophies. On the other hand, we can end up with no direction or form to guide us, and our education will be haphazard and discontinuous.

    What to do?

    I think I have finally learned that any time I come across trouble {and I don’t mean a bad day, I mean a sign of actual problems forming}, I have to go back to our principles and goals. In this case, what do we {my husband and I} believe about education and, more specifically, math? What are our goals for math over the long term? Over the short term?

    The answers to these questions are also the reason why no two homeschools will look exactly alike. We will all have different priorities and goals.

    As I thought about Daughter A., I remembered that I have three primary goals in regard to math before age ten: I don’t want them to hate it {kind regard would be good, loving it would be great}, I don’t want them to think they “can’t” do it, and I want them to memorize all of their basic facts. In addition to this, I believe that man was created to know, that math is something that man can enjoy mastering, something that doesn’t have to be unpleasant.

    I also think that, with math, the student is where he is, if that makes sense. I can’t make him any more ready for a concept, and I can’t race him through a curriculum he’s not ready for. I take a mastery approach, so we’re not coming back to old things as a general rule. If I’m looking for mastery, I’m going to go as quick–or as slow–as is necessary for my student.

    We are in the first month of school, so fact memorization doesn’t apply yet. She is beginning to dislike math and think it difficult, so I’m failing at my other two goals already.

    My Solution {for Now}
    I decided on a two-prong approach. The first is to once again be present during all of her math work. She had wanted to work independently, but the reason I didn’t catch her mistake was because…she was working independently. I can sit quietly by and keep an eye on her work, and that will keep her from practicing doing problems incorrectly.

    In addition to this, I decided to cut her down to only half a worksheet per day for a few weeks. I am not a stickler on speed. I don’t care if my Year Four student is still finishing up third grade math {and he is}. And I don’t care if my Year One students won’t be on track for finishing the grade in a year. I also assume that, like her brother before her, she will have times that she feels like racing through math–because she just totally gets it all of a sudden–and she’ll catch up in that time. In the meantime, if half a worksheet per day can help her gain confidence, keep her slowly progressing, while wooing her back into an affection for math, I’d say we’re doing just fine.

    I’d like to add in some numbers games as well {though keeping score in board games is generally helpful enough}. Anyone have any suggestions?

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  • Reply Kristine September 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    What concept did your daughter have trouble with? We use RightStart, and it has lots of games to help cement concepts. Perhaps a game of “Go to the Dump” for knowing all the facts that equal 10 would help. (Like “Go Fish” but making pairs that = 10 like 6 & 4, 7 & 3) That was a helpful game for year 1. If there is a particular math concept, let me know and maybe I could suggest a game to help teach it.
    Great attitude about where they are in math. It’s true, some concepts take longer to hold and other times, they fly through lessons. One more beauty of homeschooling.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I just wanted to thank all of you for the wonderful ideas! I look forward to incorporating many of them into our days as this week goes by. 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous September 25, 2011 at 11:54 am

    For her age: any kind of manipulatives- Rubix cubes are great.

    Also anything in real life that you can apply to math. So the concepts of more than, less than are basically just counting right? Talk about who has more crackers (carrot sticks, whatever) at snack time. Then use your arms as an alligator to ‘eat’ the child that has more. His mouth is ‘closed’ to the child that has less, bc alligators want MORE. So its ‘less than’ when the alligator won’t eat it, and ‘more than’ where he does want to eat it. Make sense?

    For math facts, I can’t remember what they’re called, but there is a board w/ all of them on buttons. You push the button down after you think you’ve got the answer, and it shows through under neath.

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 24, 2011 at 3:05 am

    I remember something similar to this last year. Cutting back to half a worksheet was very helpful for us, too. In our case, First Son knew how to do it all and was bored and annoyed he had to (basically) do everything twice. So, one side only. We’re continuing that this year as well.

    We just moved the computer to the living room so we may add some fun math sites in. For First Son, bright colors and moving objects are a big plus in any subject.

    The best change we’ve had this year is timing his fact sheets. He loves seeing how many problems he can do in a minute and working to beat his best score.

  • Reply Heather September 23, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    How timely for me to read this as my son starts to make signs of disliking his math although he does quite well. I made an extra effort to find the math games that will boost his confidence in his weak areas and also encourage him in his strong areas. I use RightStart and the games are a natural part of the curriculum. But I still cringed when I heard him complaining and saying it was his least favorite and I wondered how you handle attitudes about learning.

  • Reply Mystie September 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Good diagnosing and plan. Steve Demme, author of Math-U-See, seems to send out something once or twice a year on this topic, and I always find it encouraging: There is no such thing as being behind in math. Math needs to be tutored, he says. You figure out where they are, you meet them there, and you take them down the path at the speed they are currently able to maintain. I think that’s the right mentality, whichever program one uses.

    I have to be careful with my 6yo, too, right now, because he has zipped through lessons up until this point and now he’s hit a wall. On top of that, he is highly competitive, and his older brother is now rocketing through lessons (a grade “behind”, while my 6yo is about 1/2 year “ahead”), so he is comparing speed of passing lessons and getting jealous and upset.

    Changing up how doing his math facts practice seems to help, so it doesn’t seem like he’s doing the same page every day (which he basically is — working the same problems over and over). Flashcards, drill sheet from online, page from the book, building them with blocks, drill online (I just discovered and my boys like it). I’m not so good about doing math games, but that would probably be another good option. 🙂 We also do drill twice a week on facts that are easy for them, just to reinforce them and work on speed, and that helps give them the positive reinforcement that they *are* good at math, even if they’re having a hard time with the concept they are currently learning.

  • Reply Daisy September 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    You are probably already aware of this site but I used a lot of the game ideas and book suggestions when the kids were younger.

    We also liked Family Math.
    Our library system has it.

  • Reply Sarah September 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Brandy, you might try something like the DHM’s game Cup of Twenty for learning/reinforcing number bonds. If you do a search on her blog, you’ll find a post which explains that game.

    I’ve used most of her math game ideas with my own children and now that I think about it, there are a few I should re-visit with my youngest child. 🙂


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