Math: Tackling Troublesome Topics, by Cheryl

Kids learn at different rates. Some pick up reading quickly, some more slowly. The same is true for learning math. The pace of an individual child can vary, as well. A child may learn basic math concepts very quickly, but eventually hit a wall and need to slow down. What do you do then? How do you help your child or student scale that wall and take off running again?

Math has always been an easy subject for my eldest. His mind can handle numbers in ways that I cannot understand. When he hit a wall with long division, I was shocked! The joy he had felt during our daily math lessons was replaced by tears. We worked with manipulatives, and we practiced problems together over and over and over for days. I assigned 10+ problems each day for practice. “Drill and Kill!” That is how you master math, right? His frustration just increased. We needed a new plan.

First, I put away the math book. We had been struggling for a couple of weeks, we needed a break. It was almost Christmas vacation, so we took an extra week off from math.

Next, I found a series of videos on division from Khan Academy. One concern I had was that we might have failed to master concepts that allow understanding of long division. A good review of the topic was needed. I assigned my son math videos to watch for fifteen minutes per day.

After Christmas we came back to our book, and instead of drilling long division until we finished a page every day, we only worked on two problems per day. He talked me through one on the board, and I did all the writing as we talked through the steps. Then he did one on his own. After a couple of days we increased to four problems per day – two together and two on his own. After about a week of just a few problems a day he was able to go through all the steps without assistance.

Once the skill was truly mastered, with an understanding of how and why the standard algorithm worked, we flew through the next few lessons and easily caught up to were we would have been without the break. Slowing down for a few weeks eventually helped us to speed up because of the deeper understanding of the topic.

Sometimes we get stuck in the rut of believing that “more drill” is the best way to be sure that a skill is mastered, when what a child really needs is to slow down for a week or two. Sometimes a break from a topic allows the child to absorb what he has been learning, and he can then come back with a different mindset and grasp the next concept more readily.

The freedom to change course has been one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling. I can slow my kids down or take a break when needed. It can be hard to change the pace with a class full of students, but this kind of specialization in education can be the difference between a child’s loving or loathing math.

If your child or student is struggling with a topic in math:

1. Stop.

2. Take a break.

3. Go back to the basics.

4. Tackle just a few problems per day.

These are methods I have learned to use that foster success instead of allowing us to stagnate in frustration.


cherylby Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

5 thoughts on “Math: Tackling Troublesome Topics, by Cheryl”

  1. Cheryl, this is such an important point. Flexability is a benefit of homeschooling, but sometimes we don’t even know how to go about being flexable. Thank you for breaking it down into easy steps. I will be sharing this, and referring to it again for my own homeschool.


  2. Such true words. We have been there a couple times with our eldest. One thing I realized is that I needed to be okay if he didn’t hit calculus in 12th grade (my husband the math teacher was okay with it far before I was). Without that burden, we now slow down and review as needed knowing in the long run he will be much better off for it.


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