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My son is struggling with math, help!

Dear Obsessive Mother's Guide to Parenting,

           I'm at a loss for how to help my son.  He used to love math and was making A's in math this fall but recently his grade has been slipping.  He failed the last math test and now says it's his least favorite subject.  Do I get him a tutor?  Take his video games away?  I'm not sure how to help him with this.  What do you suggest?


Matthew's Mom


Dear Matthew's Mom,

              Let's talk about education for a minute and then we'll get specifically to your problem.  When any new topic is introduced in class, each child will fall into one of three categories: those that get it right away, those that get it after a little practice, and those that struggle to get it The ones that get it right away feel their confidence build on a daily basis.  The ones that struggle become more and more frustrated with academia. 

              Being frustrated with something, with anything actually, makes you want to be less engaged with it.  The first thing we will address with Matthew is this:  "You CAN figure this out."  Let him know you have faith in him and that you will not stop helping him until he gets it.  When belief in himself is low, bolster it with your faith in him.

              Now on to mathematics… There are three levels of mathematics: concrete, semi-concrete and abstract.  Concrete means actually counting the coins.  Semi-concrete means counting pictures of coins.  Abstract means just the numbers, 2 + 2.  Take the topic your son is struggling with back from abstract to concrete.  Ex: Geometry – where the students are expected to name the number of sides, vertices, faces, etc.  Open a new package of Play-Doe and have him build a rectangular prism.  Using different color Sharpies, let him color the sides, vertices, etc.  Connect a physical memory to the mathematical concept. 

              Tip #2…. Teach him to "ground*" himself with an example.  (*copyrighted phrase / concept).  When he struggles with a large problem, like 1423 X 866, have him do a smaller problem to the side such as 250 X 12.  The smaller problem he can do with confidence.  Then he makes the connection between the two of them,  What step did he do first?  Then what?  What step was next?  He mimics the mathematical process from the easier problem to the harder one. 

              To prevent any future slip in math class: Never, and I mean NEVER, take a break from mathematics.  No summer holiday from practicing his times tables.  Check out curriculum such as Teaching Textbooks or Beast Academy to keep in engaged in mathematics all year long.  Set up a reward system based on his preferences, ex: he earns 20 minutes of video game time when he completes his math lesson for the day. 

              A tutor or tutoring service like Learning RX or Oxford Learning can be a great help too.  Preserving your loving parental relationship with him as opposed to a teacher / student struggle should be a priority in your lives.  You can also find some great academic summer camps there too.

              Keep in mind: he's not "not getting it" on purpose.  Children will always choose success if it's up to them.  Your faith in him and relentless drive to help him succeed will make all the difference. 

              Great question Matthew's Mom.  Keep us posted on his progress and let us know if we can help you with any more Obsessive Parenting tips!


The Obsessive Mother's Guide to Parenting

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