How to Help a Kid Who Hates Math

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Ken, a Sonlight dad whose kids are now in graduate programs, shared this great article about success in math. If you hate math, learning how to fail at math can help you move forward. It relieves pressure and allows you focus on working hard to understand. Do that, and you'll succeed.


This brought up so many key ideas to helping kids alleviate their hatred of math.

  1. Stop with the grading! Grades do not help students. In a subject like math where your answer is either right or wrong, constantly reinforcing the idea that you did it incorrectly gives students the "I'm bad at math/I hate math" complex. Stop it. Focus on getting it right. Take the time you need. Homeschooling lets us do this. We can learn to "fail," as Matt Waite calls it, by continuing to work toward success. I think fewer kids would fear math if they were allowed to learn it instead of tested on it.
  2. Relax about being behind. This is interrelated with #1. In fact, I already mentioned it. Growing up, I struggled with reading. The fact that my parents let me take the time to learn how to read made it possible for me not hate reading. I believe that "math anxiety" is not from math itself, but from a pressure to perform at a pace. This is true for any subject. Relax. Your kids will then be able to focus on learning instead of performance.
  3. Don't compare. (Connected to #2.) Students compare themselves to those around them. If they are "behind" another student in this or that area, they assume they are "bad at" that subject. This is one reason why homeschooling or going to a small school is so much better than going to a big, prestigious school.* So don't compare Johnny to Susie. Johnny could be good at writing; Susie could be good at math; both will be more likely to give up on the opposite subject if you compare them to each other. Some students resonated with words, others with numbers, others with colors and shapes, some students connect with music, and a few seem great at everything. Focus on each student's strengths and help them work hard in the areas that require a little more effort.
  4. Find new tools/try a new program. What math program is right for your child? I don't know. There are many different options that appeal to different students. If your student is struggling with his or her math program, try something new. You may also benefit from something like MathTacular which helps teach math concepts in a way that makes sense.
  5. Focus on what really matters... learning. I've said this in other ways in the past. Your student does not need to know this or that math fact. Your child does not need to know how to do this or that math operation. Too many of my friends who "hate math," do so because they were forced to perform or fail. What mattered to the school was test scores. Results! Far better to remind your student that learning is a life-long process. There is no need to rush or cut corners. We're homeschooling to learn. And we plan to keep learning long after formal schooling has ended.

That's all I've got time for today. What have you found helps a student who hates math?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

*See Gladwell's David and Goliath for more on this. Example: A brilliant student who is behind his peers at an Ivy League school is more likely to drop out of a tough subject than a typical student at a small college who is ahead of his peers.

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