Math is a subject that kids dread the most. If they don’t “get it”, they shut down and stop trying to learn new concepts. Once children lose confidence in their math abilities, it is really challenging to pull them back in. One of the most important steps to get your child back on track with math is to make sure they have a solid foundation with basic skills. 

Because subject matter in math is sequential, kids have to build upon prior knowledge to complete new tasks. Teachers expect students to use basic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, to solve more complex problems throughout middle school and high school years, yet these basic skills are usually only taught during primary years. If children do not fully grasp these concepts to start, they have an extremely challenging time working through more in-depth problems. 

As a parent you can look for specific behaviors as indications your child may benefit from a skills review. Students who do not have basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts memorized often rely on calculators for homework time. When calculators are not allowed, these students, even in their teens, count up on their fingers when solving subtraction problems. They tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly when doing multiplication problems or rely on tricks they learned when they were young. These students do not volunteer to share answers in class for fear they are wrong. They miss problems on tests due to calculation errors rather than problem process. Students with a deficit in basic math skills encounter daily challenges in class and during homework time. 

Bridging this gap takes time and energy, but it is worth it in the end. You can put specific study strategies in place at home to ensure your child is making progress. The most important thing to remember is to start small but to always work cumulatively. Have your child start with addition and subtraction and then move on to multiplication and division. A student should begin with facts for one number and keep adding in another until all facts for a specific operation are mastered. For example, after addition with 1’s is mastered, have your child work on 1’s and 2’s. After all 1’s and 2’s are mastered, add 3’s in. Eventually your child will have facts for all numbers down. After addition is mastered, add in facts for subtraction one number at a time. Later, when the student is ready, have them use the same strategy to master multiplication and division. As time progresses, facts for old numbers can be sprinkled in on an alternating basis so your child does not get overwhelmed with the amount of problems.  

There are many useful study tools. Flashcards are great! They can be kept on the kitchen table to go through during breakfast, in a car to review on the way to or from school, or on a bedside table to study before bed or first thing in the morning. White boards, math dice, and card games can provide a fun, hands-on approach. Timed test worksheets are useful as well. They can be printed off the internet and given once a week after proper review. These days there are fabulous websites kids can use to work on math facts. Web-based learning offers interactivity and engagement. Incorporating math problems into daily life is always best. You can give your child math problems that relate to interests, such as money, sports, or food. Have your child choose several favorite study tools to ensure buy-in to the process.  

Regardless of the strategies you choose, consistency and repetition are key. After all, skill building improves confidence. Students should find that knowing their math facts is a reward in itself, but offering a special prize can be a good incentive for extra practice and focus. Set realistic goals and celebrate those that are accomplished. Going back to the basics provides a strong foundation to build upon. Bridging your child’s gap in basic math operations is key to success throughout middle school and high school years.