Homeschool Math Struggles


Disclaimer: if this posts sound like bragging, then I invite you to dust off your high school textbooks and look up abstract and negative numbers along with me.  Have fun! 


My brain hurts.  I am OVER this homeschool teaching thing at the moment.  No one ever warns you that hey!  You might end up with a kid who loves advanced math! 

See, math reluctance is pretty common.  I assumed that I would have kids who – like me – struggled with math.  I should have known better, right?  Because Mr. Genius over here is the former kid who tried to explain quantum physics to his aunt at age 6 or so.

To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s abnormal to like math.  In fact, the math reluctance thing is overblown and exaggerated.  Anyone can understand basic math concepts – even algebra – if it’s explained in a way that makes sense to them.  The problem is that I’m the one doing the explaining.



What math problems?

I haven’t written about the Engineer’s math abilities in a while, so I should probably explain what I’m talking about.  His math assignment today, courtesy of my tired brain, was this set of problems.  (yes, he only did 3 problems.  Because he’s a reluctant learner, and I take what I can get.)


4/8 + 6/8 = ? and simplify

3, 427 + 9,783 = ?

X – 6 = 17 – 3  solve for X


Now, you’re probably thinking “that’s not that hard!”  Sure.  For you?  For your teenager?  But this is for a 6-year-old, a first-grader.  According to Khan Academy that equation is around the 5th or 6th grade level.  The addition problem is 3rd or 4th grade, and the fractions? I have no idea.  At what grade level are kids expected to simplify fractions?

Next week we’re going to start doing algebraic equations with multiplication.  Yay me.



Here’s the issue  

This kid still counts on his fingers for basic arithmetic problems.  He doesn’t have many basic math facts memorized.  He doesn’t have any multiplication facts memorized, which means he struggles with the mechanics of the problems despite understanding the concepts.

I can’t drill him with flashcards so that he can advance at a normal rate – nope, I just have to balance this dichotomy.  A child counting on fingers while doing algebra.  /facepalm



Jumping around

Here’s the thing: we’ve jumped, hopped, and skipped over so many grades in math that we have holes.  Gaps.  He still struggles with telling time, we’re still practicing adding money, and he has no clue what decimals are yet.  Plus a lot more.  I’m trying to challenge him while simultaneously giving him a rounded math education in multiple grades all at once.

It’s rough.  I never expected to do this.  I finished college with a sigh of relief – no more math!  Now I’m not just doing the math, I’m having to relearn this stuff just so that I can teach him.  If he could just READ already I would dump him on Khan Academy and let him loose.  But no, asynchrony is reigning supreme in our household.


Math and more …

And it’s not just math.  I told him that we were going to learn about DNA in science co-op this week.  The next day, he watched ALL of the Brainpop videos about DNA so that he would feel prepared.  Not Brainpop Jr. for K-3,  but the full version of Brainpop for grades 4-7.  Today I caught him listening to a literary analysis of the Lord of the Flies.  Yikes!

Just so you don’t think I have a perfect kid, I should share that he was sent to his room for trying to break the glass storm door after art class today.  Yup, my smart kiddo didn’t stop to think what would happen if the glass fell to the floor.  (It didn’t.  Thankfully.)



You could say I should just teach him according to his age grade.  Or that I should drill him more, force him to practice more.  And I could – he would perform better, certainly.  But at what cost?  If I keep him to his age grade, he’s bored beyond belief.  If I force him to practice more, he’s frustrated – and also bored.  So we’ll keep plugging along, doing the high-level stuff while catching up on the lower level stuff at the same time.

And of course, I let him play.  Huge, glorious chunks of time for free play and exploring.  Even if his brain is advanced, he still needs time to grow and play.  He’s only 6, after all.





  1. Absolutely NOTHING wrong with a calculator in advanced math. It’s what they were invented for. 😀 When you count, you use fingers. When you practice addition facts, you use fingers or what you’ve memorized, or your number line. And so on. When you move up to higher stuff, you use the appropriate tools … and that can mean letting the machine do the simple parts so you can think out the complex parts. (He’ll still have to figure out the decimal stuff, though, but with the calculator he might just teach himself?)

    Not sure if it helps or not, but when my kiddo was that age somebody had a homeschool or school yard sale and we ended up with a bunch of manipulatives that look a lot like your basic base-ten blocks, but came with material to use them to teach all the way through Algebra. My son didn’t use the curriculum; he found other ways to teach himself stuff and mostly proceeded at a more ‘standard’ pace through textbooks, but he loved the hands-on materials. I wonder if there’s still something like that out there that would interest your son? Except it would probably mean learning yet another way of understanding algebra (which is why *I* never followed through on it, LOL) so you could help him …

    Gotta love our asynchronous darlings. You’re an amazing mom.


    • Good points! I’ve seen those base ten blocks, but I can’t remember the name. Time to go looking! Our kids certainly keep us on our toes 🙂


  2. Yay you! We have the same situation. I homeschool my Asperger’s/gifted grandson. We started algebra and graphing equations at 6 and keep moving in spite of the fact that he. counts on fingers to add and I doubt he will ever know multiplication tables. I doubted myself a lot in the beginning and turned to my sister for advice. She’s a mathematician and an engineer. Her response – hand the kid a calculator and teach what interests him. It’s the best advice I have been given regarding homeschooling. Her best friend is a math teacher who serves on his state board that oversees all of the formal achievement testing. She consulted him after talking with me and he gave exactly the same advice. Sometimes we do simple math problems like the addition problem above. But never more than a couple at a time, then it’s back to high school geometry. In today’s world, he will always have a calculator available and he has learned all the basic concepts as we have moved along. I’m going to be in trouble when we hit calculus because I only made it through one semester of college calc but by then I’m hoping he’s ready for community college classes. You have amazing instincts, go with them. And thank you for your blog, I feel much less alone.


    • Thank you for reading! It’s so hard when you have a kiddo that soars and you’re stuck on the ground (that’s how I feel lol!) I like the calculator idea – that always felt like cheating because of my drill-and-kill background. These kids are amazing!


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