When Math Brings Tears

Math is always one of those subjects that people seem to love or hate, there doesn't seem to be much ambivalence about it.

When we started homeschooling, we assumed we would use Saxon and began with Saxon 1 for K. After almost a year of spending about 45 minutes to an hour a day on math, having my child grasp no concepts only "what was that trick again," and often having to postpone lessons because I would need a trip to the store to requisition supplies... I knew I needed a change.

I loved the idea of Asian style math, but I was afraid of teaching it. Also, what if my kids aren't "mathy" will they get it? I eventually found Math Mammoth and it was a wonderful fit. Based on the Asian way of doing math, super straight forward, one worktext, no teachers manuals or cumbersome manipulatives...I was sold!

Since we had already done Saxon 1, I questioned where to start in Math Mammoth, but since I wanted a better foundation than we had, we started in MM 1 in the spring of E's kindergarten year. She flew through 1A and we did 1B finishing in early fall of second grade. By the middle of first grade she was working a full year ahead in Math Mammoth. Math became a struggle and often brought tears. I loved the way Math Mammoth taught but I began to question if it was right for us. I hated the struggle, and I hated my daughter thinking she was "bad at math."

I decided that second grade was going to be different. After all, Tears don't facilitate learning. We started with a much more relaxed approach to math. We added in Right Start math games regularly, took our time, and began to rebuild confidence. By the end of the year we were running about a semester ahead instead of a year, and it seemed to be a much better pace. Though I am more than happy to slow down further if needed.

Here are a few principles I have learned in the context of our own struggles in math:

When Math Brings Tears:

1. Assess the situation

Is it the curriculum? Is it how we are using the curriculum? Switching math curriculum is not the end of the world, but it can cause gaps. Just be sure to think this through. Be prepared to go backwards if you have to in the new curriculum if you do decide to switch.

2. Slow Down

Sometimes its not what you're using, but how you are using it. This was the case with us. We just needed to slow down. Occasionally a child will hit a "wall" and just cannot get past it. Time is your friend here. Move on, come back in a few weeks. It's amazing what new scenery a few weeks can provide!

3. Build Confidence

If a child thinks they are bad at something, the chances of them succeeding at it are slim. Foundational concepts are key. Grant them time to truly master concepts before moving on. Let them feel successful. Be diligent, but don't rush.

4.Make it fun

This has been key. The thing is math just isn't "fun" for everyone. I know that is a total shock for some of you! ;) Games are fun for most kids though. The smile my kids give when a math game IS the "math lesson" for the day is a wonderful thing! Learning is still taking place. Skills are still being developed, as is a more confident joyful student.

5. Never sacrifice the relationships

Never underestimate the importance of the relationship. Nothing, not even math is worth fighting, tears, and anxiety. Be flexible, be aware of your child's struggles and needs, and meet them where they are. Grant them the gift of relationship-- whatever you have to give them -- a break, time, change, smiles, confidence, and ultimately you will give them success. Math is important, but our relationship with our kids is more important. Be willing to take a step back, reasses, regroup, and grant yourselves a new perspective.

Some of our favorite math games and apps:

The Game of Chips
Math Dash
Right Start Games
Math Rider (computer)

Sushi Monster
Math Bingo
Math Ninja
Hungry Fish
Math Songs Times Tables

Don't forget to check out how the other Homeschool Help Series 
bloggers answer the question: "Help! My Child Hates Math!"


  1. What a sensible list of suggestions. It's so hard sometimes to change something even when there are tears, but you are so right, relationships are the most important thing of all. And as you say, where there's fun, there's usually learning :-)

  2. I like your approach to problem solving and think it can work with much more than math. When something isn't working in our homeschool that's a huge indication that it's time for change. Figuring out what and how to change is always the trick.

  3. Love your five steps to successful math. Where was this list when I was trying to drill math into my oldest daughter???


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