Wondering how to teach math to your child with dyslexia in your homeschool? Use multi-sensory techniques and help your dyslexic child learn math. I’m sharing exactly how we teach math in our homeschool.
Thank you for joining me for day 2 of a 5-day series on Homeschooling With Dyslexia by the Subject. To start at the beginning, click here. Yesterday we learned about how we teach language arts to our houseful of dyslexic learners. Today we’re looking at methods for teaching math that really work.
Math and Dyslexia
Although the term ‘dyslexia’ refers to an inability to read, it affects other areas of study as well.
Math requires conceptual, logical and spatial reasoning – all areas in which many dyslexic thinkers excel. Math also requires neatness, exactness and efficient computation skills – areas in which the dyslexic thinkers often struggle!
One of the hallmark signs of dyslexia is having average to above-average intelligence with an accompanying (and perplexing) struggle to learn certain subjects. Rote memorization of math facts is one of these areas. I have good news!
Just as with mastering reading, our kids can master their math facts by tapping into their highly visual brains and using some creative methods geared for their unique style of learning.
They can also learn how to organize their thinking and their written work so that longer computations don’t become half-day marathon of tears and frustration.
Teaching Math Concepts to Kids With Dyslexia
Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions, and decimals. These mathematical concepts require a certain amount of mature reasoning to understand. When teaching a kindergartener to understand the concept of numbers, we start by linking the concept to something real. As he begins to learn to count by touching and manipulating objects, the concept of numbers, their symbols, and their meaning become clear, or concrete.
The same process is valuable for the older child; getting their hands on objects so that they can understand math concepts is critical for building understanding.
One of the best curricula for teaching math to a dyslexic, visual learner is Math-U-See. From adding and subtracting, to fractions and decimals, the program comes with manipulatives that illustrate the concept being learned.
By building the problem with the manipulatives, saying the equation, and then writing the problem, the student is using three modes of learning; kinesthetic, auditory and visual. The strategy in our home has always been that the child builds the problem with the manipulatives every time until the concept becomes clear and they are no longer needed. This takes longer for some kids than for others. No big deal – it is how they learn.
Teaching Math Facts to Kids With Dyslexia
This leads me to the question you all have been waiting for… how to get those math facts to stick?!
Remember those timed math fact tests with a sheet of tiny math problems that we were to solve them as fast as we could? Torture for a dyslexic learner.
Why? Because the dyslexic brain struggles with low working memory. If you have taught a dyslexic child for any length of time, you know what I am talking about. You teach the concept one day. They seem to have a pretty good handle on it. You revisit the same concept the next day and it is as if you are teaching it for the first time! What? How can you not remember? We have been over this – insert some exaggeratedly large number here – times! Rote memorization is not a strength of the dyslexic mind.
So how do we help them master their math facts?
Tap into visual strengths
Use manipulatives, even everyday items or a packaged curriculum like Math U See and get your kids touching and experiencing math. Let your kids see the patterns of skip counting by 2s, 5s, 10s by building with math blocks or shading a 100s chart. Let them touch and experience math concepts. Once they understand the why, the rest will fall into place.
A quick online search will yield lots of hands-on math ideas or check out this post with a ton of math materials that are especially good with dyslexic learners.
Another visual strategy is using images for remembering math facts. Citycreek created the Times Alive app that has highly visual method for teaching addition and multiplication that teaches the math facts using pictures, stories and songs. Perfect for the highly visual learner. Read my review of Times Alive here.
Use music or songs
All of my junior high and high school students have developed compensation skills for being able to access math facts during longer computations. One of the most used methods they used was one that they learned in 1st and 2nd grades. Skip counting.
They initially learned these by listening to a very cute skip counting CD put out by Math U See. Though they have mastered most of their facts by 8th-grade (long division will force them!) they can always access that auditory memory of skip counting to find an answer. On a side note: we have learned many facts from other subjects through song. Geography, science, grammar and history are just a few examples.
More Math Strategies
Talk through word problems
Teach your child to read word problems out loud to utilize both auditory and visual memory. Teach them to find the important numbers and write them down. Visualize the actual question at hand. Reason out loud what the problem asks for and which steps to take to achieve the needed result. Using this method helps develop vocabulary, organizational skills and spoken and written communication – all keys to successful education.
Graph paper for long division
Having trouble lining up those columns? Have your child write them on graph paper, one number per box. Instant columns!
Writing out steps of different math processes
Because dyslexic kids have trouble remembering directions and learning sequences, write the steps down and have them handy while the child works on the problem. For example, as division becomes more and more complex, have the child write out the steps:
4. Bring next number down
Applying a mnemonic to the process can help your child step away from the notes. Taking the first letter from each step, have the child come up with their own unique mnemonic: Dad Mom Sister Brother, or how about Dead Monkeys Smell Bad? The weirder the better – for memory purposes, at least!
I had one child who could solve fairly complicated Algebra problems in his head. He struggled with writing the traditional steps on his paper because those steps were not the steps that he was taking to figure things out in his head. I eventually allowed him to solve equations in his head and only forced him to work them out if he got them wrong. No situation is the same. Know your child and don’t be afraid to think out side the box!
What about when they haven’t mastered their math facts and their curriculum is moving ahead anyway?
This is highly anecdotal without any research to back it up except for my own family of dyslexic learners. In our homeschool, we are mastery based. No one moves on unless they have mastered the material. However, if a child conceptually understands the math problem but struggles because of slow computational skills, I give them a chart of the math facts, let them look at it and get on with that long division! Cheating, you say? If a child in our home does not know their math facts well, they have to choose one method of practice each day and practice them for 10 -15 minutes until they no longer need the ‘cheat sheet’.
Resources for Teaching Math to Children With Dyslexia
Finally, here are some resources that we recommend:
Math curriculum for K-12. Teaches the ‘why’ of math using manipulatives.
Teaches math facts by creating silly (and memorable) stories with the numbers as the characters. Downloadable or DVD based video options available. Our kids love this program!
Hands-on teaching tool that teaches strategies for figuring out math facts.
Web site full of audio resources for use in all subjects.
We love Teaching Textbooks as our main math curriculum after 3rd grade. Click the image below to read why using Teaching Textbooks is like having the good math teacher every year.
Helpful Web Sites for Teaching Math:
Dianne Craft has lots of ideas and suggestions for teaching right-brain learners.
Chris Woodin has a lot of hands on ideas for understanding math concepts. Lots of information on math and the right brain learner.
Lots of free, printable math sheets.
Millions, yes millions, of educational videos on every subject from Math and Science to Computer Science and Test Prep. Excellent resource for when kids don’t get it.
Thanks for joining me here for this 5-day series on how we teach our kids with dyslexia. Be sure to stop by tomorrow when we will be talking about how we teach science to our kids with dyslexia.