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Parents: Your Young Child is Struggling with Math – What to Do?

Guest blogger: Kate Fulling-O’Donnell, M.Ed.

posted by Kate O’Donnell

Struggling: As a parent, there is nothing worse than watching your child struggle. The awful truth is that every child, including my own, struggles. So, what do we as parents when our child is having a difficult time comprehending Math?

Some thoughts: The help is at home. It will take some time, patience and consistency, but it is doable!

  1. Find a nice, quiet spot with space for math manipulatives and materials.
  2. Try to work on math at a similar time every day. I know how incredibly harried days can be. There are lots of extra-curricular activities and distractions, but it will really alleviate stress if you prioritize this difficult subject and give it some tender loving care.
  3. Build in mental health breaks. Don’t try to work through a concept or homework assignment without allowing time for a fun snack, or a 2-minute stretch break.
  4. Celebrate the small successes and expect some frustrating moments. Be ready for both and tell your child to expect ups and downs when working on something difficult.
  5. Don’t be afraid to have your child write notes to the teacher. And don’t you be afraid to write notes to the teacher as well. Communication is KEY! I am a big proponent on letting the teacher know what was tricky or letting him/her know that your child needs a bit of reinforcement on a specific concept the next day. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about the amount of work coming home. If it is taking an inordinate amount of time, there should be no reason that your child cannot be assigned odd-numbered problems or half of the page so long as all concepts are being covered (Often homework assignments have many repeated problems and doing some of them can cover the concept).
  6. Be flexible. If one way of explaining does not do the trick, try another. Some children need a visual explanation, others need to have their hands on blocks or unifix cubes, still others need to hear the information. No one way is right, because every child is unique!
  7. Try to be ok with allowing another person to do the explaining. This has happened to me! While I was in the middle of working through a concept with one of my own children, an older sibling wandered in and explained it so simply I nearly cried. My child looked to the older sibling, had him repeat himself, and show her on the page and she got it. It is ok if to look to others when your words and thoughts aren’t working.


*Have a 100 chart nearby. The visual placement of numbers is useful.

*Keep manipulatives such as unifix cubes or place value blocks nearby.

*Store graph paper, blank paper, lined paper, pencils and a straight edge. Get the graph paper with the larger sized blocks for younger children. There is graph paper that has larger squares on one side and slightly smaller squares on the other side.

*Most importantly, don’t be afraid to conference with friends who have children of similar age, peers who have slightly older children and have already gone through similar concepts with their children or the teacher.

*Remember, no one way of explaining always works. When one way is not computing for your child, be flexible and try another.

****Don’t be afraid to use the computer to look up a strategy or method. I have been doing this for years and do it all the time. *****

Kate Fulling-O'Donnell, M.Ed.

Kate Fulling-O’Donnell, M.Ed. is the founder of Learning with Vision, Inc., a Chicago- based tutoring company. Since 2003, she has worked individually with students between the ages of six and twelve to help them overcome a wide range of academic challenges; collaborated with parents, teachers and diagnosticians to develop learning strategies to address these challenges; and provided remedial math tutoring and literacy support. Fulling-O’Donnell—who holds a bachelor of arts degree in early childhood education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master of arts degree in curriculum and instruction from North Central College in Naperville—began her teaching career in 1994 as a kindergarten and first-grade instructor in the western suburbs. In 1998, she relocated to Chicago and spent the next decade as a first-grade teacher and reading specialist at the Francis W. Parker School. During her tenure at Francis Parker, Fulling-O’Donnell also served as a member of the board of Cabrini Green Tutoring (since renamed Tutoring Chicago), a nonprofit with a mission to help economically disadvantaged children grow academically and personally by providing free one-to-one tutoring and mentoring. In 2008—five years after founding Learning with Vision, Inc. as a part-time business—Fulling-O’Donnell left Francis Parker to devote herself full-time to the growing learning resource company. She currently lives in Roscoe Village with her husband, four children and two dogs.

Read more posts by Kate Fulling-O'Donnell, M.Ed.

3 Replies to “Parents: Your Young Child is Struggling with Math – What to Do?”

  1. Good idea to let another person try to explain or demonstrate as children may respond better to another person and not become as easily “bored.”

  2. setting a specific schedule should help children what to anticipate and perhaps not be as anxious. Breaks are important in learning.

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