Does your child hate school? Mine does. Part of the reason for this is that he has a rough time with the writing process. He also has had an extremely difficult time learning his math facts, and spelling is a nightmare. We have tried so many things! Some have worked, some haven’t. Based on my own experience, however, there are at least 10 ways I have found that encourage math and writing. Hopefully, at least one of these ideas will be new to you and will be helpful in your kids’ educational journey. (Post contains affiliate links).
Going Back to Pre-School
Before I knew my son would continue to have issues with the mechanics of writing things down with a pencil, I tried to give him a head start by teaching him how to write. Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far. I can still remember telling his kindergarten teacher before school started for the year that I had been trying to teach him, unsuccessfully, how to write his name. The problem was, HE WAS NOT WILLING. This is often the case with children who struggle with autism. Of course, I didn’t know he had autism at this point. (We didn’t get a diagnosis until last summer).
So by the time Nathan got into 1st grade, I was still fighting to get him to write his name. By the end of 1st grade, he had a diagnosis of ADHD, sensory processing disorder (SPD), developmental coordination disorder (DCD), and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). (The ODD was dropped after he went on non-stimulant medication for his ADHD).
Despite the diagnoses, I still knew VERY LITTLE about how to deal with these issues.
Not only could I not get Nathan to write his name, I couldn’t get him to write down more than a couple of words at a time. As a result, it would often take hours for him to finish his homework. (We were still in public school until the end of 3rd grade, and spelling homework was required every night, from 1st grade on).
As a result of his unwillingness to cooperate with my “suggestions,” I had to start getting creative. Like I said a minute ago, I had no real clue how to deal with Nathan’s sensory and coordination issues. He had occupational therapy. However, I still found it difficult to get him to do the things the OT suggested. Oftentimes it seemed like a behavioral issue. And I did do my best to “follow the directions.” But it was so hard at times!
Behavior issue or not, when we got down to the nitty-gritty, ALL THAT MATTERED was helping him to be successful in school and in learning. This I felt completely inadequate in achieving at times. I read books, I went shopping at learning centers and other places where they sell teaching materials.
I’ve always had a thing for educational materials, even before I had a child. I’ve decided it must have been destiny. Because this love of seeking out new ways of doing things has helped me come up with some great ideas.
One of the first things I tried in 1st grade was letter stickers. For example, instead of making Nathan write down the words, I would have him use the stickers to practice his spelling words. This worked quite well, for while.
Using Stickers for Spelling Worked Well.
Except that we had to keep buying more stickers. We’d run out of some of the more frequently used letters, such as “a” and “e,” A LOT! This can get expensive if you don’t have a Dollar Tree around.
By the way, you can also use stickers for numbers, though I don’t think I was desperate enough to need numbers at that point. (Issues with math came later)!
We were somewhat successful with the strategy of stickers. But we later found magnetic letters and numbers and a magnetic white board to be more cost effective (most white boards work). You still have to purchase extra copies for the frequently used letters, but in the long run, magnetic letters are less expensive. Especially if you have several kids. You can re-use magnetic letters for all of your kids if needed.
We continued to use magnetic letters through 4th grade.
In fact, once we started doing school at home, I used this method for helping with bible verses. See pic at right for Bible verse Nathan made the very first week of 4th grade.
The main reason we stopped using the magnetic letters is because the words kept getting bigger and the sentences longer. It wasn’t really time-efficient by the time he reached 5th grade. However, everyone is different.
Plus, when Nathan started online public school, which is what we did for 4th, 5th and 6th grade, he used the computer more often, and became more tech-savvy. This created a new avenue in which to help with writing and math.
One of the most interesting things I have used to teach Nathan math is called, “Times Tales.” That worked–sort of. He learned some of his math facts this way, but I had to resort to other methods (think “calculator”), 🙁 because unfortunately, for him, the facts just don’t stick.
I still think it’s a great program, especially for kids who are “right-brained” or picture oriented. I also think it will work well for many kids with learning disabilities. You can find it and download a sample lesson here.
Using a Calculator
By 4th grade, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Nathan’s inability to remember his math facts was interfering with his ability to move on to higher level math. I could clearly see he had an aptitude for math. He just couldn’t get past those darn multiplication and addition numbers (and division and subtraction). I tried everything until finally I decided that he could use a calculator if the math he was learning was not actually the math facts, but other things such as geometry.
Like I said before, we were still in the public school, just the online version. Nathan had (and still has) an IEP (Individual Education Plan), so we had special education teachers available. His resource specialist agreed that using a calculator was fine when he wasn’t actually learning multiplication and division, etc. So, they added it to his IEP.
Fast forward to today, he can give me math facts–but OH SO slowly!!
Today, for example, we were working on multiplication and division of exponents. He’s been using Khan Academy since January, and sometimes he gets stuck. So I was going over the work with him. He was following along when I tried to explain the steps to him (at least when he didn’t get up and walk around). Anyway, we weren’t using a calculator, so he had to give me the answers to things such as 10 squared, 6 divided by 3, 9 x -2, etc. He takes a long time to give me an answer, but he is able. So calculators definitely help speed things up when necessary. By high school and college, he’ll be using a calculator, so I don’t see it being a problem.
I feel bad for the kids in the public schools who get stuck on multiplication, etc.,
And the school keeps them there and never moves them forward. Everyone has different strengths. And Nathan grasps geometry WAY easier (and tables, bar graphs, etc) than basic math facts. It’s important to me that he gets exposed to higher level math. So I don’t want his inability to completely master basic math facts to interfere with him learning High School Algebra and Geometry.
Online Math Games
This is a more obvious one if you have a kid who likes to play computer games. My son doesn’t (can you believe it)? So, he just thinks it’s more work when I try to assign math “games.”
Still, here are a few of my favorites. They are all free:
We’ve started using Khan Academy for math since after Christmas. It’s free and it has blackboard teaching videos that are really easy to follow. You can skip around, pick what your child needs to practice, or use it as a full curriculum. There are other subjects as well, though it is secular, so if you’re a Christian, you probably won’t appreciate the history and science as much.
Escape Room Puzzles
This is another way to break up the monotony of the same math homework every day. It can get costly, however. We used 3 different Escape Room Puzzles in December to review ratios, exponents and fractions. They had a Christmas theme which made them seem a little more fun. My son learned other skills doing these puzzles as well. He had go into Google, for example. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with Google because we are Office people. It was good for both of us to use Google, since a lot of people are using it as well.
In December, I assigned Nathan several projects that required him to build. For example, I had him create a geometric snowman from a free pattern offered at http://www.minieco.co.uk/. He also created a Sierpinski Fractal Christmas tree (math art). Nathan did an awesome job on both the snowman and the tree and didn’t even complain.
The pattern for the tree was provided on the project website (did I mention it was free)? He had to cut out and put together each triangle, and then glue them together. I helped with a few of the triangles because it was a bit tedious. Here is a picture of his completed tree on Instagram. There is a principle behind these triangles:
A Sierpinski Triangle
“A Sierpinski Triangle is a mathematically generated pattern in which self-similar shapes are repeated across different scales in a never-ending feedback loop.” Look it up and you and your kids will all learn something!
Many kids don’t understand why they are learning math because it is so abstract and seemingly other worldly. Using manipulatives with younger kids is expected. But with older kids, it is helpful as well. For example, building things, such as what I just mentioned, and having students complete other interesting projects such as building taco trucks and zoos (I have seen stuff like this on Teachers Pay Teachers-and plan to get one eventually for my son to use). Click here to see an example.
Hands-on Manipulatives are a great way to teach practical math skills. In addition, manipulatives encourage hands-on learning, reinforce previously learned math facts, and allow for creative (think ART) expression.
Whiteboards and Ipad, or Other Tablets
That have blank sheets to write on are great for writing out math problems and for spelling tests, especially if you have a child who hates using a pencil. Plus, you save paper this way. I talk about other strategies I have used here.