If your son or daughter has fallen behind in math class, then you’re in the right place. Here you’ll find four initial steps you can take to help your child improve his/her math skills.
Assure your child that you’ll work together to find a solution. Determine what kind of learning problem this is. Value your child’s teacher’s advice. Find out if the teacher or the school offers tutoring.
These ideas may sound simple, but they’re not necessarily easy. Let’s look at them more closely.
Assure your child that you’ll work together to find a solution.
Struggling in a class at school can be more stressful for kids than we may realize.
I’ve always held my kids to high standards, sometimes too high. So I’m not one to sympathize and just let kids scoot by with less than their best.
But that’s the point here.
We are talking about kids who are trying their best and are really struggling to learn.
This is a time when you, as a parent, have to trust your own judgement to a great extent.
Have a heart-to-heart talk with your child.
If your child is truly struggling in math (and many kids do), then I encourage you to emphasize effort over the final grade.
You know your child. Don’t doubt yourself.
If they seem to be slacking, then jump in with some consequences.
If not, then keep on keeping on.
Once you’ve established that this is a real struggle for your child, assure him or her that you’re going to work together toward a solution.
You might even set a reminder on your calendar to reassure your child periodically throughout this process.
Kids need repetition, and this is no exception.
Kids sometimes do the following when they’re worried:
- expect the worst
- feel hopeless
- shut down
These are all kind of intertwined.
Your child needs reassurance that this struggle is not worse than it really is.
Some kids just naturally feel that their whole world is falling down around them when they’re stressed.
One of our main jobs as parents is to help our kids handle stress.
Emphasize the positive things going on in a child’s life.
Together, make a list of things you’re thankful for.
Read through this list at night before bed.
A second reason they may feel like this “math problem” is ruining their whole life is that it’s taking up so much of it!
When I taught school, I’d hear parents and students tell me they spent three hours working on their math homework the night before.
I love math, but this sounds awful!
Set aside a certain amount of time, depending on the age of the child, and when that’s over, move on to a different activity.
For instance, if you work on math facts with your 9 year old child for 15 minutes, then you might take a 15 minute play break before continuing.
Here’s where the good-parent-radar comes in again.
This idea may be great for some kids and terrible for others.
Pay attention to cues from your child that he’s growing weary of the task.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Back off. Cool down. Try again.
Another thing you can do, is to take care not to discuss the problem too often when your child is around.
I don’t believe in hiding things from kids, generally; but on the other hand, you can make too big a deal out of it inadverdently.
Kids are very perceptive.
Let yours perceive that you’re proud of the progress she’s making.
Determine what kind of learning problem this is.
When I taught 10th grade Geometry, I often had students, needing after school tutoring, who would tell me that they had never needed tutoring before.
It took them completely off guard.
These were students who genuinely needed some extra help to grasp the constructions or proofs or whatever unit we were doing.
But they didn’t have a learning problem.
This was a skill-specific problem.
At a younger age, this might show up when new concepts such as long division are taught.
Or learning basic math facts, like addition, subtraction, and multiplication.
The good thing about this “problem” is that it’s usually easier to solve.
And the season for it is relatively short.
Meaning, in six months or a year from now, you’re likely to be past this hurdle in learning.
Keeping that perspective can be really helpful when you’re in the middle of the issue.
So, how do you figure out which type of learning struggle this is?
Ask yourself these questions:
|What is her math grade compared to her other academic class grades?|
If your child’s math grade is the same or higher than her other academics, then consider that your child may be challenged by the current math content…and she’s rising to the challenge!
Sometimes kids recognize that a class is harder than it’s been in the past and they think that means they don’t understand.
Help your kids recognize that some classes in school are simply more difficult for each person than others.
I struggled with Geometry in high school (ironic, right?) but loved all things Algebra.
I’ve found that most people preferred one or the other.
It makes sense because our brains are all wired differently, and some things are just going to come to us easier than others.
If your kids are maintaining their grades, I personally would encourage them to keep striving and succeeding, explain that a challenging class is a good thing, and then move on with life!
If their math grade is significantly lower (a letter grade at least), keep reading….
|How long has your child been struggling with math?|
Were they just breezing right along until they started studying a new unit or section? Look again at their grades…how were the previous quizzes and tests?
If you see that things have taken a sharp turn, that indicates your child is probably just struggling with the newest concept.
|What time of day is the class? Has your child struggled in the past with classes at the same time of day?|
Here’s where your analysis gets serious. Many students struggle when math is near the end of the school day.
In elementary school, consider whether the math class comes just after a “Specials” class, such as art, music, or PE. Sometimes kids have a hard time transitioning from a really fun activity to a less fun one.
If they’re struggling in math, they probably don’t think math is fun. 😀
|What does the teacher think?|
Think for a minute about your child’s teacher.
She has spent years of college studying how kids your child’s age learn.
She spends her entire work day surrounded by kids the same age as your child.
Multiply this by years of teaching experience, and you have an expert in what is typical for a seven year old learning how to subtract.
Or a fifteen year old learning how to graph linear equations.
She knows whether it’s typical for a student to struggle with the particular concept initially, what specific areas to target if there’s a misunderstanding, and how concerned you should be.
So, if you suspect that your child is falling behind in math, ask the expert!
Occasionally, the issue is an overall learning problem.
Rarely, it’s a true math disability.
If it is, your child’s teacher is likely to recognize your child’s learning differences and will have a tremendous number of resources for you.
Value your child’s teacher’s advice.
Valuing the advice involves a couple of things.
Hearing a critique of your child’s learning, effort, and behavior can be difficult.
Recognize that and go in with an open mind.
Defensiveness will close the door to communication.
If your child’s lack of focus during instruction stands out to the teacher, then it probably is an issue.
Once you get an assessment of what’s going on, ask for the following:
- specific things you can do to help at home
- suggestions for homework
- what specific topic your child is learning now
- what topic is next
- how to find out when the next quiz or test is (teachers often send a weekly newsletter, lesson plans, or remind messages)
- what the process is for in-class test review
- what the best way to stay in contact will be if you think of questions later
Find out if the teacher or the school offers tutoring.
Before you leave the meeting, find this out.
In my teaching years, I frequently found out from parents that they were paying (a lot of money) for a private tutor, not even realizing that I offered free tutoring several days a week to my students.
This free, before and after school tutoring was common place at the high schools where I taught.
Some schools offer tutoring during lunch or free periods.
Others have honors high school or college students do tutoring on a weekly basis.
It never hurts to ask.
The fact that it’s free is just one benefit.
An even bigger benefit is that if your child is tutored by his own teacher, then less time is wasted.
Let’s say your child is struggling with factoring.
There are several methods for factoring that are widely taught.
Your child doesn’t necessarily know the name of the method (and doesn’t need to know), but he could end up more confused if his teacher shows him one method and the tutor teaches another.
Another benefit of having the teacher as the tutor is the insight it gives the teacher into your child’s particular struggle.
Many times, I saw that a student was getting one step confused and it was throwing off the whole process.
Finding that one mistake was a simple fix that made a big difference.
Or, students were doing the work correctly but were so unsure of themselves. They just needed a little encouragement that yes, they’re on the right track!
I hope that this article has encouraged you and armed with a plan of attack on the learning issues your child may be having.
Having a skill-specific problem in a math class is very common.
Solving it can give your child a boost as well as your relationship with each other.
You’ve got this!