How Giving Up On The Math Struggle Paid Off

I don’t usually advocate giving up.  Quitting isn’t an option around here unless you have a darn good reason.  This time, I didn’t have a good reason, so I just followed my instincts.

The Engineer hates math.  At least, he says he does.  Put a math worksheet in front of him and the whining instantly starts.  He says “I can’t do it,” “I’m not good at it,” or “it’s too hard.”  It’s stuff I know he can do, like basic addition and subtraction.  Still, math became a battle between us.

So I gave up.  I quit.  And I watched.

His logic and spatial skills are really high, so there’s no good reason for him to fight math.  I did eventually figure out that he was ready for more advanced math despite needing practice with addition and subtraction.  Not a problem, we moved on.  I bought him fraction manipulatives to play with, and we started the basics on multiplication.   I got place value dice and manipulatives and we played.  Nothing serious.

In general though, we haven’t been doing “math” at all.  I was ok with that: he’s far above the kindergarten level in most things.  I figured we would catch up at some point.  My expectations are high because I know what he’s capable of, but most kindergarten teachers would probably think he was just fine.

About a month ago he came bounding down the stairs yelling “mom, mom!  This is really important!  Two 10s make 20!”  I told him good job, and casually asked “if two 10s make 20, what’s 3 x 10?”  He instantly popped back “30!” and ran off to play, leaving me floored.  Math, it seems, had just become a subject to discover.


I’m not really sure what the catalyst was, but he’s slowly ramping up his math skills.   One of his new favorite things to do while we’re driving is math problems.  I decided to give word problems a try just in case the whole writing issues were holding him back.  I’m still trying to teach him basic shortcuts, but he can generally work out the problems in his head.  They’re not easy problems, but they’re not extremely difficult either.  An example:

You have 5 green marbles, 3 red marbles, and 2 blue.  How many marbles do you have?

There are 7 cars at the stop light.  3 turn left.  2 turn right.  How many cars are going straight?

Sure, these sound silly and simple, but it’s a great way to do mental math.  Plus, it’s getting him used to the whole sequence of a math problem in the proper order.

Today he headed for the chalkboard to finish a problem I had asked him in the car yesterday.  He has trouble visualizing the numbers if they’re too big, so he said he needed to write it out.  I’m working with him to do double-digit addition – in this case, the problem was 12 +12 = ?

He arrived at the correct answer (24) but his methods were…weird.  He wrote out two number lines up to 12 and then counted the numbers for a total.  I showed him how to write it correctly, but he wanted to do things his way.  Including writing 24 as 204.  It makes sense in a kindergarten kind of way.

He’s also posing math problems for me – and he stumped me with “what is a million millions?”  Um….a lot?  His dad promptly answered “1 Trillion” and then showed him how to count zeros.

I’m in over my head already, and he’s not even first grade!


One comment

  1. I’m in the same boat with my 6th grader. He arrives at the correct answer but it’s never the way the book says it should be done and I never understand why it works. I figure I’ll just roll with it . As long as he understands the operation I can deal with it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.