Making math make sense to children

Becky & Bob Barnes

ROCKWALL, HEATH (March 20, 2014) By the time parents seek math help for their child, they have usually run into difficulties explaining the math concepts that their child is encountering in school or topics they are trying to teach them in a home school environment. The majority of their efforts have been met with frustration, failure and even tears, and they are at their wit’s end and desperate for a solution, especially a quick one.  

Mathematics, like everything else that has to be learned, takes time and practice. The solutions aren’t always quick ones. While there are no pat solutions, there are some strategies and tips that will help develop understanding of math skills and concepts.

From confusion to clarity

Like everything else, if understanding and subsequently mastery is to be obtained, math has to make sense. Helping a child make connections between what they are learning in their math program and how it applies to the real world, can move a child from confusion to clarity. Taking the time to talk math with your child and using real world examples whenever possible helps engage them in learning. An engaged mind retains information better than a disengaged mind.

While practice and repetition is a necessary part of any learning process, it’s easy to overkill the subject with endless math drills until you feel your child has “mastered” a skill. Cycling through topics gives the repetition that is necessary for learning, but also provides variety in your child’s math program. Each time your child cycles through a topic it gives you the opportunity of covering the material on a deeper level, while allowing your child’s mind the opportunity to relax and absorb the material before covering it again in a few weeks’ time.

Basic operations

Children need to have the ability to fluidly perform basic operations with single digits, most specifically addition and subtraction, before more difficult skills are attempted. Without good calculation skills, problems will develop in their upper level math concepts, e.g., fractions and algebra.

In elementary school, weaknesses in basic skills will manifest itself on standardized tests because of the time required to count on fingers or draw “sticks” to do computation. This can be worrisome for an elementary school student, but becomes extremely distressing for a middle school or high school student. Giving students tools to deal with this problem helps build their confidence as well as accuracy, freeing them to focus on new concepts instead of computation.

Basic skills can be mastered with a focus on doubles facts, including doubles plus 1 and doubles minus 1; addition of single digits that make 10; 10 plus a number; skip counting (count by); addition using “counting on”; and “how far apart” in subtraction. With the use of these strategies, children develop “number sense,” an understanding of how numbers relate to each other.

By Blue Ribbon News special contributors Bob and Becky Barnes with Mathnasium Learning Center in Rockwall. Contact them at or visit Visit their guest column at for more articles like this; next up they will be discussing place value and the Law of Sameness. 

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