Make Learning Math Fun


Our 6-year-old daughter is struggling with basic addition and subtraction. Although the special education teacher has been working with her (mostly using repetition), and we’ve been reviewing nightly, she just isn’t getting the concepts. Most sessions end in tears, and all she’s learning is how much she hates math. Beyond repetition what can be done to help her?

PC, Albany, NY

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Lisa Rappaport, Ph.D

Lisa Rappaport is a neuropsychologist, specializing in the treatment of children with LD, ADHD, and developmental disorders. She is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

If a child is struggling to conceptualize addition and subtraction, the use of manipulatives and flash cards often goes a long way to making the fundamentals easier and more fun to learn.

Start by making individual flash cards, such as 1+2 and 2+1 with the answers on the back. Each fact should be on its own card, and if you can use different colored index cards that will make them even more engaging.

Next, pull together a group of manipulatives—anything that will make it more fun, such as buttons, Cheerios, M&Ms, etc. Using these concrete items, have your child make piles to demonstrate the problem. For example, 7 Cheerios in one pile; if we add three more Cheerios, how many do we have? Now have her look at the flashcard to check her answer. After she can add numbers 1 through 10, apply the same process to subtraction.

As her understanding of the concepts develops, continue to reinforce them by playing “store.” Give her ten pennies to buy things at the “store” that cost a few cents, then she can count her change. Next, she can be the cashier and you can buy things from her.

Using concrete items often helps children who are tactile or visual learners with abstract math concepts. In addition, making a game of it should help with the tears.

If she continues to struggle with math and you feel she should be evaluated, I suggest holding off until she is 7 years old, since many of the neuropsychological tests are not normed for younger children.

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