Elementary math can be one of the toughest parts of school. ‘Getting’ these skills are also crucial for student success. One reputable study showed that children who struggle with math early on rarely catch up. The research results showed that children who are behind in math in the fourth and eighth grades only have a 33% chance of being ready for college math years later.
Although discouraging, these findings should encourage parents and teachers. If your child or student is struggling with elementary math, don’t fret. There are some proven ways to boost math skills in a short period of time.
Focus on One Elementary Math Concept at a Time
Mathematics is a subject that builds. Much like a house, it has a foundation. One way to boost math skills is to stop trying to learn it all at once and focus on individual skills. A lot of times, this requires going ‘back to the basics.’
Here’s an example:
Zoey, a fifth grader, is struggling with elementary math, particularly fractions. Common Core Standards introduce fractions in the fourth grade; however, Zoey never mastered them. Why is that? For one, she never learned her multiplication facts in 3rd grade. If you don’t know basic multiplication facts, solving fraction-based problems is exceptionally challenging.
Zoey’s mom helped her ease her frustration and boost her math skills by building basic fact abilities instead. She signed her up for an interactive program (program link here) that allowed her to work on each individual concept. Practicing math daily was key to her success. Once she was able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide basic numbers in her head, Zoey was able to conquer fractions once and for all.
Introduce Math Manipulatives
One thing that stops super smart kids from being able to boost their math skills is that most math teachers fail to embrace multisensory learning.
Some kids can learn by looking at a board or listening to a lecture. However, many kids need hands-on experiences to understand elementary math concepts truly. One way parents and teachers can facilitate this process is by using math manipulatives.
Math manipulatives are hands-on objects that kids can use while solving math problems. Simple math manipulatives include:• Counters (i.e., bugs, beans, bears)
• Color tiles
• Sorting trays
• Centimeter cubes and dice
• Fraction circles
• Attribute and base ten blocks
• Algebra tiles
Like training wheels, once your child’s math skills improve, he or she won’t need to use manipulatives. Until then, having hands-on objects to help can boost math skills significantly.
Work on Math Vocabulary and Penmanship
When you hear the terms ‘vocabulary’ and ‘penmanship,’ your mind probably goes to English Language Arts. This is understandable but misguided. Building math vocabulary is essential, as is making sure your child’s handwriting is neat.
For one, many students struggle with math not because they cannot do the calculations, but because they do not understand what the questions are asking. Words such as odds, area, combination, factors, and average are just a few examples of elementary math vocabulary words that confuse K-8 students.
By having your child practice a few math vocabulary terms a day, they can improve their overall mathematics skills set.
Just remember to look for interesting vocabulary practice alternatives. Using basic flash cards can be boring to kids and make them despise math even more. Instead, consider doing the following:
• Have your child draw pictures of what the word means
• Make a word wall and add each word and practice them again and again
• Have your child go on a ‘word hunt’ and find examples of the word in real life
• Use the Frayer Model and other research-based methods.
Help them with Homework
For years, educational experts have debated if homework helps or hurts students. As parents, we have little control over what homework is assigned. What we can do is make sure that our child has support and tools when completing elementary math work at home. For more ideas on how to accomplish this, see our blog on homework help.
Also, consider signing up for our K-8 math program. Not only will your child improve math skills, but they will also build math confidence needed to take with them as they move up academically.