* Math: homeschooling kids with attention problems

how-to-improve-concentration-01In response to a question, here are some strategies I have found effective when teaching math to kids with attention problems.

1.  Make sure you complete adequate assessment so you have a solid idea of where to start instruction.  The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics offers an effective overview of the basic strands of mathematics instruction for all grade levels: numbers and operations, algebra (don’t panic- this includes sorting, classification, and patterns at lower grade levels), geometry, measurement, and data analysis and probability.  They also emphasize the importance of problem solving and reasoning.

2.  Make the content meaningful.  If your child has musical interests, create authentic problems related to music.  For instance, you could compare the number of black to white keys on a piano, solve problems related to how many keys are not used when playing a melody, or determine how many two-note chords are played per minute.  Use proper names that trigger some association for your child (such as siblings, parents, and friends).  Make the problems humorous or include a competitive angle, depending upon your child’s characteristics; I find that kids enjoy problems portraying a bit of friendly competition with others.  (If you don’t know how to write effective word problems, use commercially prepared materials and adapt the questions.)   Remember to introduce kids to multi-step problem solving as early as possible.

3.  Make practice meaningful without being deadly.  Start with guided practice until the student demonstrates mastery, then practice over time for long-term retention.  Achieve higher levels of automaticity by using timed fluency of math facts, letting your child fill in graphs of progress.  Have kids complete the smallest number of problems necessary to gain competence and show retention.  Successful focus on 10 problems is far superior to desultory performance on 25 problems.  Avoid cluttered pages.  Avoid pages with so much content that your child is stressed as soon as they see the assignment.

4.  Make sure you include reasoning and interaction as your child works on math.  You could film your child’s explanations while problem solving and watch them as a review of skills, an assessment, or to coach younger siblings.

5.  Make time for breaks.  Home-schooling allows you flexibility in scheduling math when your child is most alert.  You may also provide more frequent breaks (and brain breaks) for a child who is easily fatigued or distracted.  Use a timer so your child can see when breaks will occur.

6.  Make effective use of technology and games.  Use online resources which allow for experimentation and use of manipulatives.  Math Is Fun, National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, and Illuminations are three of my favorites.  Some kids with attention problems may be overly distracted by certain manipulatives, but it is important to find those that work effectively for your child.  Consider creating a digital portfolio for the school year.  Your child can help decide which math work and videos to include (see #4 above).  Check out the websites in my Technology Cools section.

Are these suggestions helpful?  Do you have any other tips for readers?

9 thoughts on “* Math: homeschooling kids with attention problems

  1. Homeschooling is rapidly becoming recognized as a reasonable option for disgruntled parents who can’t get their local schools to provide the special services their LD/ADHD children must have in order to succeed. To these families, home education is the last resort – something to be considered only after all other options have failed.

    There are young people who crave solitude. Our culture tends to fear any kind of isolation that might turn a child into a “loner.” Yet for some children, particularly those with poor social skills, it is a kindness to remove them from the constant burden of having to interact with their peers.

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    • I also know families who homeschool to avoid special education labeling or provide an environment not available in either public or private schools. Many homeschooled kids attend group instruction so they do get a chance to socialize. Homeschooling continues to increase in popularity. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. As a homeschooling graduate with ADD, I can say these are good ideas. Most importantly, DON’T ignore the issue. If your child is struggling, address it, try to figure out what works. I grew up thinking I was stupid because I could not focus on math assignments and would end up working on them from 8am to 8pm some days. My issues were never addressed and I suppose it was assumed that I was just not motivated (I don’t actually know what my mom thought of me). It turns out I wasn’t stupid; I was just learning in a non-ideal way. Once I was high-school age, I finally tried to find ways to improve it myself. Shortening the problem sets, doing my work in different positions and places, listening to music, taking frequent breaks, doing math only 3 times each week instead of every day, setting timers to remind me to work, leaving myself notes of encouragement and more ended up being the trick to train my mind to do math.

    And hey, I’m getting a PhD in Astrophysics now, so it’s not impossible.

    But don’t ignore it! Try something. And, of course, remember that your kid doesn’t have to be a math whiz, but nor do they have to fail.

    Thanks for writing about this. 🙂

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    • Thank you SO much for sharing. I can see that you used some effective strategies. I was trying to imagine how difficult a regular school environment would have been, especially if you suggested math three times a week! On the other hand, it sounds like you have taken some serious blows from thinking you were stupid. You’re right: ADHD is definitely one of those problems that needs to be discussed so that kids can understand how their brain works. ADHD does NOT equal a broken brain!! Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Good luck with your graduate work!

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      • Agreed, ADHD does not mean you are broken and I really REALLY wish that people would stop talking about it as if it’s this TERRIBLE thing that ruins a child’s chances to be NORMAL. Ugh. I find myself in a bit of a bind with this because I’m a big proponent of natural, clean eating (and practice it myself) but it drives me batty when all-organic-gurus fuss about how you must force your child on a diet of only raw vegetables and seeds because otherwise they will exhibit ADHD tendencies and that would just be HORRIBLE and you must FIX them. ADHD is not so terrible. Honestly, I sometimes feel like it gives me a sort of energy and drive that I might not have otherwise (not that I can verify this in any way since I’ve always had it… I am NOT one of those people that grew out of it). Anyway, those are my thoughts.

        As far as the possibility of doing regular school… it is difficult for me to say if that would have been better or worse for me, since I am a very auditory learner and might have benefited from actual classes, and regular school would also have forced me to spread my subjects out into smaller bites throughout the day. On the other hand, I would not have been able to choose my own pace and alter my own schedule. So I suppose I probably could thrive in either environment, provided that I had the tools to handle my attention issues.

        I think homeschooling can be a great choice for ADD children, although I think it depends a lot on the kid and on the methods used. Flexibility is awesome in education! And now, I think I am going to get distracted and go find myself a snack. 😀 Have a great day!

        -Evan

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