Helping Your Kids Through the Mazes of Math

Math can be hard. Monday through Friday we sit at the table next to our children and do math problems. It takes forever to do just one page. Sometimes it feels like it is the only subject we get to. It becomes a monster... a math monster. We wonder if we should change math books or go back to the beginning of the one we're already in. Maybe speed drills will help or paying more attention to word problems. Math wasn't hard for us when we were in school. How come our kids can't get it?

Math is important too. It determines whether our son will be able to understand high school and college science subjects. Fifty percent of the SAT score is Math. And every child needs to know how to balance his or her checkbook and figure the interest costs of money he or she will borrow as adults. Yes, math is a very important part of modern life. It can be hard to determine what we really want our children to know math wise. Here are a few suggestions:

Teach your child to add, subtract, multiply (by fifth grade, he should know his multiplication tables very well) and divide. This is a lot to learn and it usually takes until sixth grade to be proficient at basic math computations. After all, that's why they call it long division, because it takes so long to learn how to do it! Don't worry now about Algebra; worry about whether your son can do long division by himself. After this, concentrate on fractions and decimals. Go over and over them until he really knows them. This will take longer than you expected.

Next, concentrate on word problems. If your child has trouble with word problems follow these steps: First, work the problems out physically. This means use real cups, quarts and gallons and actually measure and pour the water. Even if it is a word problem about two cars driving toward each other, you can use small matchbox cars for a physical demonstration. Keep working with the real physical objects until the problem is mastered. Second, move on to drawing pictures. Draw pictures of the cups, quarts and gallons. Third, use numbers to represent the real objects and work the problems. Don't rush the steps, make sure he has mastered the word problems in this order: physical, then pictures, then numbers representations.

During your homeschool years, read at least one good Math History book with your child. Two very good examples are:

  • How Math Works, published by Readers Digest
  • Fractals, Googols and other Mathematical Tales by Theoni Pappas

After your child is proficient in decimal and fraction problems, I highly recommend he begin to use a calculator to do all his math problems. He should learn to use a scientific graphing calculator. Using a scientific graphing calculator is a subject in itself and takes a lot of practice. His college classes and exams will require it. And there are so many complicated math problems that can not be efficiently worked without a scientific calculator. Believe me, even with the use of this calculator his problems will be tough to work. Today, math is so much more than doing calculations by hand and he will need time to master this advanced work.

If you are becoming overwhelmed reading this and are thinking that you will never be able to teach upper level mathematics, don't worry. There are many fine homeschool math classes to be found. When your child gets to advanced math, you can either learn along with him or send him to an outside math class. Or you can use a math tutor or math instruction videos.

This new century's math world will be a lot different than the last century. It will be filled with the huge numbers in outer space or the tiniest numbers of the microscopic and cellular world. Your child's ability to understand and work in this world will be tightly intertwined with his math ability. So set your child's math sights high and prepare him well for the future.

Randi St. Denis is an educator, popular homeschool speaker, and a seasoned homeschooling mom. Randi works as a consultant to public, private, and homeschool families; providing teaching expertise and assistance for all types of children. You can visit her website at

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2 Responses to “Helping Your Kids Through the Mazes of Math”

  1. avatar Lorie says:

    Anther way to to make math interesting is using wonderful websites that help children learn math concepts. Their content varies from practicing skills by playing games to information about the math concepts.

  2. avatar Sue J. says:

    Amen, especially to “this will take longer than expected.” Overlearning is horribly underrated. You don’t have to make it drudgery — and it’s less drudgerious if you actually know what you’re doing.

    (Returning now to reading _Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project_)