My son can’t stand long division or fractions. We had a lesson on geometry, and he enjoyed that — especially the 3-D shapes. If we can just get past the basics, then we’ll have time for the things he finds interesting. But one workbook page takes so long, and I’m sick of the drama. Should we keep pushing through?
Those upper-elementary arithmetic topics are important. Foundational concepts. Your son needs to master them.
But the daily slog through page after page of workbook arithmetic can wear anyone down.
Many children find it easier to focus on math when it’s built into a game.
Or sometimes a story helps, like my Cookie Factory Guide to Long Division.
Math Textbook Tips
Games are great for practicing math your child has already learned. But for introducing new concepts, you’ll probably want to follow your textbook.
Still, even with textbook math, there are ways to make the journey less tedious:
- Most children do not need to do every problem on a workbook page, or every page in a section. There is a lot of extra review built into any math program.
- You don’t have to finish a section before you work whatever comes after it. Use sticky bookmarks to keep track of your position in two or three chapters at a time. Do a little bit of the mundane arithmetic practice, and then balance that with some of the more interesting topics your son enjoys.
- As much as possible, do math out loud with a whiteboard for scratch work. Somehow, working with colorful markers makes arithmetic more bearable.
- Set a timer for math, and make the time short enough that he feels the end is in sight. I suggest no more than thirty minutes a day for now. And whenever the timer rings, stop immediately — even if you are in the middle of a problem.
The Timer Can Be a Life-Saver
Doing math in short sessions helped us avoid the emotional melt-downs my daughter used to have.
Thinking is hard work, and if I asked for too much, she would crash.
Because I sat with her and worked together every problem, I knew what she understood and when we could skip a problem. Or sometimes even jump several pages. Which meant that, even with short lessons, we still got through our book on time.
Arithmetic Is Like Vegetables
But as I said before, textbooks include a whole lot of repetition.
Too much repetition deadens the brain.
So we also took long breaks from our textbook program. Entire school-year-long breaks, just playing with math. Letting “enrichment” activities be our whole curriculum.
As healthy as vegetables are, you would never limit your son to eating just lima beans and corn.
Similarly, be sure to feed him a varied math diet.
For example, you can follow his interest in geometry beyond the standard school topics.
Building Lego scenes is a practical application of 3-D geometry. He might even want to try stop motion animation.
Talk about how math works in real life. Ponder the choices on John Stevens’s “Would You Rather?” blog or try some of the challenges at Andrew Stadel’s Estimation 180 website. Many of these require three-dimensional reasoning.
This post is an excerpt from my book Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It, as are many of the articles in my Let’s Play Math FAQ series.