Does Your Child Show any of the 4 Warning Signs of Imminent Math Struggles?
Nov 8, 2015
Learn the warning signs of a possible problem in your child’s understanding of math before they feel overwhelmed. Think of these indicators like the light on your dashboard showing low gasoline. Ignoring the warning signs for very long will end up more expensive and more of a hassle than taking steps immediately.
By the time parents realize their child is struggling to master key math concepts, the child may have already suffered feelings of frustration, lowered self-esteem, and hopelessness. At Mathnasium of Littleton we like to help children before the child expresses, “I am just not good at math.” Parents who are aware at the first signs of struggle can take action. With appropriate intervention the child might soon be saying with pride, “My teacher had me help Julia with her math today.”
Early Warning Signs of Struggle
A shallow understanding of number concepts will show itself in several ways. Next time your child does math homework watch for any of these 4 warning signs.
1 Your child cannot explain how they got their answer or how they know it is correct (or incorrect).
Explaining the steps in the process is not enough. Not being able to explain the process will significantly reduce his ability to apply the proper steps in complex word problems. He will also not see shortcuts or creative problem solving, because he will be locked into following a certain sequence to solve a problem. Children who can get right answers in the lower grades, but don’t understand the underlying concepts, often experience difficulties in higher grades.
2 Your child doesn’t notice when she gets incorrect or illogical answers.
For example if your child is asked to find 12.5% of 326 and they answer 407. A person with a solid understanding of percentages would immediately notice that answer simply doesn’t make sense. Everybody makes errors. If your child occasionally gets the wrong answer but continues, as if everything fine, she may be following steps accurately most of the time, but not understanding the concept. Not understanding the concept makes finding and correcting errors very difficult. It also leads to huge issues as she progresses to more abstract math.
3 Your child uses his fingers to count or looks down or up at a white board in their head while doing math.
Counting fingers or objects is perfectly acceptable through first grade because children still need a concrete example of numbers and the quantities they represent. By the beginning of second grade, children should be able to do adding and subtracting without their fingers. Some children become aware that finger counting is no longer acceptable and they count their fingers mentally. They often look down (or up) as they do this. If you see your child looks down or up and to the side while adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing, ask him what he is visualizing. Counting concrete objects, even mentally, takes much longer and is less accurate than using other strategies.
4 Your child says “I hate math” or resists doing math homework.
It’s no secret that people like to do what they feel confident doing. If your child expresses frustration or dislike for math, it often indicates she doesn’t feel confident in her abilities. She may notice that it takes her longer or more steps than her classmates to get the right answers. She may complain that the teacher doesn’t help her or that math is just “dumb.” Perhaps she is starting to feel overwhelmed and doesn’t want to admit it. She may be waiting for you to step in and help.
What to Do Next?
If your child exhibits one or more warning signs, you need more information to diagnose the cause of the problem. Start by talking to your child. This list of questions will get you started.
- Do you use “manipulatives” in class and do you have access to them whenever you need them? Manipulatives are the tools math teachers use to show a math concept at the concrete level. Common manipulatives include cubes, rods, beads, base 10 blocks, fraction strips, counters, coins and adjustable clocks. Even older children move from a concrete level to an abstract level in math. Manipulatives facilitate growing their concrete understanding of complex math concepts. This aids their ability for higher-order thinking skills.
- Does your teacher go slow enough and repeat things enough for you to understand? Not every child processes language the same way. It’s easy for a teacher to keep going ahead without realizing the quiet child in the back did not hear or understand.
- Does your teacher show you how to do the math? Some children learn by watching. They need to get the instruction to match their individual learning style.
- Do you get time in class to practice new math skills? Even the best math brains need time to wrestle with the skills independently. Like learning to swim, even the best explanation doesn’t actually help much until you are in the water trying it.
- Does your teacher let you know right away if you get an answer correct when you are just learning something? There is nothing more frustrating than getting a whole worksheet of math problems wrong because you practiced a new skill incorrectly.
- Do you ask questions in math class? Some students don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a group. They would rather remain confused than to speak up and ask a question. Also, if they are already feeling inadequate in math, they are unlikely to ask a question and risk feeling even more stupid.
- Do you feel smart in math? Self-doubt affects how persistent a child will be when they face a challenge in math. Studies show persistence or grit is one of the biggest determining factors toward succeeding in any subject.
How Mathnasium is Different than School
At Mathnasium of Littleton we instruct each child at their individual pace. It’s one-on-one instruction in a group setting. We probe the child to think aloud and keep practicing until they feel confident in the skill. We instruct using a variety of methods to play to each child’s individual strength. 98% of parents report that their children’s skills and understanding improve in math after attending our center. It’s not uncommon for children to grumble at first and then ask to come back when they see how it helps them succeed. Teachers love us too, because their struggling math students transform into math leaders.
Call Mathnasium of Littleton today and schedule a no risk assessment for your child. Find out what is frustrating them in math and what is holding them back.
Ask for Suzie.
All sessions are 60 minutes, masks are currently required for all guests at our center
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