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9 Things to Do When Math Brings Tears

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I’m guessing most homeschool parents have dealt with tears during math at some point. Unfortunately, some deal with it more often. I’ve been there. Here are nine ideas to help when math lessons turn sour.

  1. Isolate the problem — Sometimes children are overwhelmed or distracted by the sheer number of problems on a page. I’ve found it helpful to write one problem on a square of paper or note card.
  2. Play games — Turn Jenga into math facts review! Use a Sharpie marker to write a math fact on each side of a block. You can even mix up addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. If you want to use your Jenga for review in another subject, write the problem on a label first, then stick it on. You can also turn the card game War into math facts review by flipping two cards. Then choose your operation. Person with highest answer wins the round. Finally, Uno Flip is another favorite around here. Make operation symbols (+, x, – , /) cards. Put two Uno cards on either side. Child then says or writes down the problem. For example, 2+3, 5×4, etc. I found all three of those ideas on Pinterest and Instagram. You can, too.
  3. Get physical — Kids need movement. Some kids can’t learn without movement. Find ways to get them moving while working. Try letting them use a large exercise ball instead of a chair. Put math facts on a wall and have them tap or punch the answer (use boxing gloves). Let kids recite facts while doing jumping jacks. Pull in some action figures and have them do the problem.
  4. Incorporate other learning styles — I’m not the greatest at determining learning styles. However, you don’t have to be an expert to try other methods! If your child is crying over a worksheet, use objects to work out the problem. Try singing math facts. Perhaps work math on the bathtub wall with bath crayons or a window with dry erase markers. Look up videos on YouTube to see if they could help. You get the idea–mix it up. Earning money and shopping for toys incorporates lots of math skills.
  5. Get cooking — The kitchen is a great place to use math. Take a break from the regular math page and practice math skills while cooking.
  6. Picture books — Never underestimate library loan! Search Pinterest for math picture book ideas, then request a hold. One of my favorite series is Math Start by Stuart J. Murphy. He has written three different levels and they are all cute and fun. Many people also enjoy the Sir Circumference series. (If you have a math picture book you love, I’d love you to leave a comment!)
  7. Go outside — Take your math problems outside. Jump on answers. Write in chalk. Work in the dirt. Use objects you find outside to illustrate and work out the problem.
  8. Eliminate writing — For some children, writing is the bigger problem than math. For whatever reason, they hate it. Let them use an app or type their problem on the computer. One mom in a special needs Facebook group said she lets her son use number stamps to work his problems. If you’re convinced they know their math facts, you could consider a calculator. If they don’t know the process, they’re not going to get the right answer anyway.
  9. Take a break — I’ve had to do this. Multiple digit multiplication is a bear for my Aspie. I tried some different things, including reducing the number of problems we did in a day. Whatever I tried, it was still a big struggle. I decided to skip ahead (gasp!) to the next book since he was already learning division facts on his own. We’ll go back to multiple digit multiplication later and hopefully he’ll at least be a little more mature about handling challenges.

If you want more ideas, I recommend checking out Carol Barnier’s The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles.

If you’ve tried a bunch of these and you’re still having problems, take heart. You may need to try a different curriculum. You may also need to see if there’s something visually or neurologically going on. Or, you may just need to take a complete break from math (You can sneak in some board games that require scorekeeping!) for a while.

Do you have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!


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Jenny Herman

Jenny Herman wants to live in a world where dark chocolate dispensers reside on every corner.

As a homeschooling special needs mom, she’s been featured in Autism Parenting Magazine, Wit and Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids: Mostly True Stories of Life on the Spectrum, and various blogs.

If she survives the onslaught of testosterone in her home, she may take a moment to blog, read a book, try a new recipe, or loom knit a gift.

You can find Jenny’s book The Power of One: Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “9 Things to Do When Math Brings Tears

  1. We use a notecard to cover up the other lines on math worksheets….then it’s like doing only a line of problems at a time….we also use that notecard for reading pages with lots of words.?

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