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Coaching Your Child        < Previous        Next >

Tutoring Your Child in Math: Yes, You Can!


Q. What can I do to help my son with math? He does very well in other subjects, and occasionally does fine in math. But his test scores are inconsistent, even with simple math facts he should have mastered years ago.


Fluency with math facts is important. But you can't get it without drill and practice. If schools are anti-drill and pro-calculator, you may have to tutor your child yourself, or pay an outside tutor such as Kumon.


Rule out a reading problem first. You'd be surprised how many school difficulties that appear to be subject-centered, such as math, are actually a symptom of an underlying problem with reading comprehension. You don't say how old he is, but if he is in fourth grade or later, that might be the initial suspect.


Under No Child Left Behind, your school should provide free tutoring in subjects in which your child needs help, and that's a good option. So is mentoring or tutoring by an older student. But especially for "tweens," who may be sensitive about needing help, that can be a tough call. In that case, you're wise to go it alone, and tutor your child yourself. Even if you didn't "get" algebra very well yourself, there are self-help books and websites to help you; see the list in Homework, below.


Here are some tips:


         To tutor, you can use a textbook, flashcards, downloadable practice sheets, and a dry erase board or chalkboard. Ten minutes a day is fine.


         Start with four easy math facts. Write them so the child sees them while you both say them out loud. Next have him say the fact statements alone.


         Then erase the answers and have him say the same four facts, problems and answers. If the child has difficulty with this step, stop here and practice until it's easy.


         Next, erase the entire problem and have the student say the four problems without any visual aid. Again, if he has trouble, stop and practice 'til it comes easily.


         Next, write the four problems (no answers), switching their order, and have the child say the problems. Don't move on until the child can say the answers with ease.


         When the child is fluent, and it may take several days, introduce 4 more facts and repeat the process. After child can say the four new math facts when they are mixed up, add another step and reorder all eight problems, first orally, then on a worksheet.


         Keep going, adding four new facts, then mixing them with the mastered ones.


         Offer a potent reinforcer: perhaps your son can earn points for each session in which he works cooperatively and tries his hardest, and earn a trip to the skating rink, arcade, movies or whatever "adds up" to a treat.


Homework: If you want to use a textbook, which systematically presents the math skills, find out what your school is using, and choose a different product line so that you don't duplicate and create boredom and "school sour." Some people consider the Cadillac of math instruction to be Singapore Math; there are products listed there for homeschoolers that might address your child's needs.


Also check Saxon Math, which is highly effective and popular.


You don't have to be an education major to be able to understand and use the excellent textbook, Direct Instruction Mathematics, by Jerry Silbert, Douglas Carnine and Marcy Stein (Prentice Hall, 1990, 508 pp.).


A good math-at-home workbook for children ages 2 through 8 is Dr. Wright's Kitchen Table Math.


Also explore these websites:



By Susan Darst Williams Coaching Your Child 09 2008


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