Itty Bitty Problems in Math

by Kate Fulling-O'Donnell, M.Ed

Let’s keep them itty bitty.

My first thought about this article came from number reversals (Numbers written backwards).  See the picture to the left.  This picture comes from an assignment my kindergartner completed recently.  Reversals are really difficult for him,  however, he is wholly unaffected, unaware of them at this point.  He loves to write numbers and letters and more than 50% are reversed.  Yet, he feels good, and confident, about his letter and number writing.  So, how do we critique, re-teach and/or fix mistakes in Math without frustrating or hurting our child’s confidence?

My son completed this assignment on his own, I was not with him.   Later, I looked at the page and saw all of the reversals and wanted to work with him post-homework.  However, the thought occurred to me, “How much should I touch on a piece of work that he felt very good about and that felt complete to him?”

In this case, I touched on it very little.  Instead, I commented on the wonderful job he did with many other numbers and I made a mental note that, moving forward, I would approach number situations with a visual in front of him so he can see what direction the numbers travel as he attempts to write them on his own.

I chose to embrace his confidence over nit picking one small assignment.  This is, in fact, much different than a slightly older child who has an assignment requiring correct answers. Would we allow our child to hand in a Math paper with answers all incorrect?  This often sparks debate.  I know some parents who would want the teacher to see that the concept is not being understood by the child and leave the answers incorrect.  I know others that would prefer to sit with the child and talk the concept through with them and then hand in the homework with the mistakes so the teacher could see the issues.  Still other parents might go over the concept and fix the homework.

There is no correct answer here.  Your familiarity with the concept may drive the amount you get involved.  I hear many parents say that today’s Math is “different” and that is true. There are new methods and strategies being used that were not taught when we were in school.  This alone makes assisting with Math at home difficult.  When we do sit down with our child, how much should we help?  How much do we nitpick and when do we praise what is right and leave some of what is slightly off in an effort to boost confidence?

To help or not to help?

In my profession, working with children that struggle, I often hear from parents how stressful it is trying to help with homework.  Every night becomes a power struggle.  Knowing this, having a child work on additional foundational skills, when not required, could be torture for all involved.  So, how much do we interfere?

Different children require different amounts of intervention.

Those with more than one child at home can attest that each child has very different learning modalities.  Therefore, it goes without saying that teachers, sometimes working with 30+ students, have quite a challenge on their hands. Knowing this, it’s important to remember that children approach learning and homework in very different ways.   If we decide to assist, we must be thoughtful and flexible as we may need to make changes to meet individual needs.

The question then becomes HOW? How do we do this? How do we take away the struggle and leave the child feeling confident and secure in the concept?  The first important task is to make sure you understand the concept the child is learning.  If it is a new method that was not taught when you were young, seek out the teacher, watch the worksheets that come home, investigate the child’s mathematical computer program (if there is one), search Google, and educate yourself.  Then, when you sit with your child, you won’t both be struggling for comprehension.  Next, seek your child out the right way.  Try to find an optimal, quiet time for homework, when they are ready to learn,  Sit with your child and go through the each of the steps.  Approaching the situation confidently, and “in the know”, is the best beginning.

If all goes well and your child gets it, step away for the day triumphant. If it’s a disaster and your child is still struggling, try a new approach or don’t be afraid to write a little note to the teacher.  Sometimes they can assist before or after school.  And they might be open to you going as well to watch and learn.

This is my same child’s numbers two weeks later.  Again, It is a paper he completed at school.  Does he still have reversals?  Yes, he does.  I am not making him fix each one, but rather noting them and keeping them on my radar.  When the moment is right, we’ll sit together and practice some different approaches to number formations.

To me, this is a healthy way to look at children as learners.  We all have individual learning styles and needs.  And at different times.  Right now, my son feels fantastic about his learning and he should.  And I want to keep it that way while at the same time guiding him correctly.

Keep positive, support without criticism and, when intervention is necessary, educate yourself so you can be the best advocate possible for your child.


6 Replies to “Itty Bitty Problems in Math”

  1. My son does this with his homework and I correct him when he writes his number backward. He always say thank you mom, when I correct him.

  2. My daughter has the number reversal problem as well. It does get very frustrating at times, because I want her to get it soooo bad! But I don’t let her see my frustrations. Recently I’ve been writing the numbers she struggles with along side her and we write them over and over again slowly. This method has been very helpful to her and may be helpful for others as well.

  3. This is a great topic. I don’t think i would change the answers on the homework my child completed but I would make it a priority to give my some time with me to that would involve writing numbers and would make the corrections during that activity. The activity might be creating a grocery list and writing the numbers of each item needed and then if a mistake is made we could correct it together.

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