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Not adding-up?:

It's not unusual for children to struggle with maths, but what can you do about it?
By Sue Evans
Date: November 20 2014
Tags: maths,
Editor Rating:

Does your child have a hard time with maths?

It’s not unusual, and there can be a reason. If she has trouble counting or remembering basic math facts, it could be due to a learning issue called dyscalculia, or it could be other issues that also make it hard for your child to work with numbers. The signs of your child having an issue with maths can vary depending on what’s causing it and how old your child is. If dyscalculia is to blame, the symptoms may change over time as the use of maths changes. Here are a few pointers.

In pre-school

  • Finds it hard to learn to count by 10s, up to 100
  • Has trouble pointing to and counting each object in a group
  • Has trouble understanding that a number can be used to describe any group with that amount in it - for example, knowing that 5 can be used for a group of 5 fingers, 5 bananas and 5 cats
  • Has difficulty recognising and writing numbers up to 20
  • Skips numbers when counting, long after other kids the same age are able to count in order (children typically can count to 100 by 1s and 10s at end of pre-school)
  • Doesn’t tend to recognize patterns and may not be able to sort items by size, shape or colour

Up to end of Year

  • Difficulty counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s
  • Unable to mentally calculate basic addition and subtraction problem
  • Difficulty recognising basic mathematical signs such as plus or minus
  • Difficulty recognising numbers, confusing 381 for 38 and 1 or 3, 8, 1

Primary school

  • Doesn’t understand the concept of “more than” or “less than”
  • Struggles to learn and remember basic math facts, such as 5 + 5 = 10
  • Doesn’t make the connection between related math facts or “fact families,” such as 5 + 5 = 10, so 10 ‒ 5 = 5
  • Has trouble recognising written numbers (also known as numerals)
  • Still uses fingers to count instead of doing the calculation in her head
  • Struggles to line numerals up neatly in columns when solving math problems
  • Doesn’t know left from right
  • Avoids games that involve strategy like checkers or Sudoku
  • Has a hard time telling time

Secondary school

  • Has difficulty using maths in real life, including things like budgeting or doubling a recipe to make it for more people
  • Has trouble understanding maps and charts
  • Hesitates to participate in activities that require a good sense of speed and distance, such as running track or learning to drive

What causes this?

A number of skills need to come together to do maths. These include language and memory skills, and the ability to picture things. If your child is doing fine in other subject areas and mainly seems to be struggling with maths, then dyscalculia is the most likely cause.

  • This brain-based condition makes it hard to work with numbers and number concepts. It may not be as well known dyslexia, but it isn’t uncommon. Research suggests that anywhere from 7-15% of people have it. The first thing to realise is that it isn’t a sign of low intelligence. It often means a child will do very well in other areas.
  • The other common cause is dyslexia which most parents think is only associated with reading, spelling and writing. But it can also cause problems with maths, and may well be the cause if your child is having trouble learning to count and doing word problems. It is possible to have dyslexia and dyscalculia also.
  • Many children suffer from general maths anxiety combined with one or both of the above, and perform particularly poorly in tests.
  • And, finally, some children who fail to recognise patterns or cannot read maps or charts may have a visual processing order.

What you can do to help

You may not know exactly what’s causing your child’s trouble with maths. But even before you find out, there are steps you can take now to make things a little easier for your child. Here are a few options to consider:

Make maths a game

Practicing maths skills doesn’t have to feel like homework. Doing it in a less pressured way may improve your child’s understanding of numbers and reduce maths anxiety. Ask your child to help you sort the laundry and pair up the socks. Or have her measure out ingredients to cook with or weigh things at the grocery store. Learn more about how games can help kids who struggle with maths.

Check out apps and technology

Kids who have trouble with maths facts and concepts can benefit from apps that boost maths skills. Using things like calculators may feel like ‘cheating’ but if it’s what your child needs to be able to manage the work, it’s simply another learning aid. I am no expert on maths apps but here are some that I have seen, or my former colleagues, have seen and say are worth looking at (some are American – hence the use of ‘math’):

  • Math Training for Kids
  • Einstein Math Academy
  • Elmo Loves 123s (good for Sesame Street fans)
  • Intro to Math, by Montessorium
  • Let’s Do Mental Maths
  • Marble Math Junior
  • Math Bingo (older kids)
  • Numbers League
  • Twelve a Dozen

Boost your child’s confidence

Struggling with maths can affect your child’s overall self-esteem and social life. Help your child recognise her strengths and build on them. Reminding her of what she does well can help improve her self-esteem and resilience.

Take notes and talk to an expert

The first step to finding help for your child is to observe her behaviour and take notes on when she has difficulties. This can help you pick up on patterns and specific issues that you can begin to work on. This will also help when you talk to your child’s teacher, doctor or educational psychologist.

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