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?