Homeschooling With Dyslexia: How We Teach Math

by | Jul 16, 2014 | By The Subject | 9 comments

Wondering how to teach math to your child with dyslexia? Use multi-sensory techniques and help your dyslexic child learn math. I’m sharing exactly how we teach math in our homeschool.

Wondering how to teach math to your child with dyslexia? Use multisensory 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 an 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

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.

So with the older child, getting their hands on objects so that they can understand math concepts is critical for building the understanding of why that is so important in the right-brained child’s learning style.  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

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.  Another visual strategy is using images for remembering math facts.  Citycreek has a set of over-sized flash cards for both addition and multiplication that teaches the math facts using pictures, stories and songs.  Perfect for the highly visual learner.

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 {surprisingly} 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 {quietly} 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:

1.  Divide

2.  Multiply

3.  Subtract

4. Bring next number down

REPEAT

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 {it takes them waaaaay too long to complete the daily assignment} 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 U See 

Math curriculum for K-12.  Teaches the ‘why’ of math using manipulatives.

City Creek

Addition and Multiplication facts memory aid in the form of over-sized flash cards with humorous stories and images to aid with memory.

Times Tales

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!

Math It

Hands-on teaching tool that teaches strategies for figuring out math facts.

Sing ‘n Learn

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

Dianne Craft has lots of ideas and suggestions for teaching right-brain learners.

Chris Woodin – Landmark School

Chris Woodin has a lot of hands on ideas for understanding math concepts.  Lots of information on math and the right brain learner.

Donna Young

Lots of free, printable math sheets.

Kahn Academy

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.

9 Comments

  1. Rebekah

    Thank you 100 times over!

    Reply
  2. Yonna

    Don’t forget to include Montessori materials as an additional resource. All math is presented concretely way before the abstract is introduced.

    Reply
  3. Davetta

    I have found “Times Tales” is awesome my daughter has never forgotten her multiplication facts through story form.
    I also love Teaching Textbooks she is growing leaps and bounds.

    Reply
  4. Stacy

    My dyslexic child is doing very well with Saxon. Their K-3 curriculum is very heavily manipulative based (kindergarten used NO paper).

    Reply
  5. Jessica

    I have been struggling with whether or not to “move on” in math with my 8 year old. We are using Math U See Alpha and are almost finished with it. He understands the concepts of addition and subtraction and I was sure he had committed to memory all of the addition facts. I was so excited because the “specialist” told me not to bother trying to get him to memorize math facts and I disagreed. We then moved on to subtraction where he struggled with the concept some, but seems to have really gotten it now, but now he can’t remember his addition facts!!! We just re-do the same addition and subtraction facts every day, we are both bored to tears, literally… Some days he remembers them and some days he doesn’t… Some days he doesn’t seem to know that 11 is one more than 10, but then he completely understands fairly complex word problems… Should I just move on, and assume that over time the facts will stick?

    Reply
  6. Jenny

    Question: Other than the blocks that come with Math U See, is there any other aspect of the curriculum that makes it worthwhile? I found it to be a series of endless worksheets that really didn’t seem all that fabulous to me. What about Right Start? I have never used it, but it looks much more hands on that MUS. We are currently using Living Math from Masterbooks. The page layout and story based approached and spiral method has really helped my daughter. Curious to you know your thoughts on Right Start and MUS.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      We love Rightstart! Few worksheets, goes from concrete to abstract, teaches strategies for learning all the facts,and teaches students to use the abacus and eventually practice visualizing moving beads without actually moving them.

      Reply
  7. Anita

    The paragraph above, with rote memorization….going over things a large amount of times…and the…..What?! ..the very next day.

    THANK YOU for that. I thought I was the only one dealing with this, and also lost my marbles somewhere along the way!

    Reply
  8. Nancy

    I prefer Math U See to Right Start for my struggling learner because I like to be able to add games, manipulatives and other math resources. Like the book Dyscalculia Took Kit by Ronit Bird or Math It. There are just so many great resources out there for math that having the basic foundation of Math U See is wonderful. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but I Iike to add that in with extra resources that fit specifically with my child’s needs. Furthermore, Math U See has a better pace than any other math curricula in my opinion. You can go as fast or slow as you need to. I find the way the worksheets are organized make it so much easier to adjust the pace.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

My membership site, Beyond the Box Learning, includes new and helpful Master Classes, Success Stories, Book Clubs, and monthly Live Chats. Are you looking for a community to homeschool alongside you?

Join Our New Community!

Products I Recommend

Logic of English Logo