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When Math Makes Them Cry

ORGANIZED UNDER: Mathematics // Quick Start

Three hours into his math lesson, my son was still only on the eighteenth problem. Eighteen. Out of forty. This was becoming a nightly routine. Not only was I becoming wearied by it, but my son was beginning to hate math. And that was not acceptable.

Over the years, we’ve had lots of experience with math tears in our house. Two of my three children really struggled with math. But I did something that turned things around. I took to heart that verse in Proverbs: “A wise teacher makes learning a joy” (Proverbs 15:2).

My Favorite Make-Math-Fun Activities

They’re simple and don’t require buying expensive games. All you have to do is just decide to turn a chore into fun.

Go to the Park

Freeze Tag

If you’ve got a group, have them play freeze tag. To be “thawed” you have to answer a few math facts.

Slide Math

If you’re doing flashcards, send your kid to the top of the slide. He doesn’t get “cleared for landing” till he’s gone through five (or ten) flashcards. Down he goes!

Going Fishing

Put the math problems on 3 x 5 cards, stick a paperclip on it, and throw them on the floor. These are your fish. Now give your student a stick with a magnet tied to the end of a string. They go fishing. Answer a problem. And fish for another.

Table Games

Park It

Create a “parking lot” on a poster board. Put the answers to the math problems in each spot. When your child does the math problem, he parks a matchbox car there.

Play Yahtzee

This familiar dice game uses loads of multiplication and addition skills. Want a simpler version for younger kids? Create a game board with eleven sections. (Look up “Kindergarten Yahtzee” on Google images and you’ll see game board samples.) Number them 2-12. Now, have your kids roll two of the dice, add them together, and put an “X” by the sum. First one to fill in all the sections wins.

Math War

Play the old card game of war. But instead of each player turning over one card, turn over two. Now the greatest sum wins that hand. Or if your kids are a bit older, multiply, and let the greatest product win the hand.

Throw Something

Beach Ball Math

Write numbers all over an inexpensive beach ball, using a permanent marker. Throw the ball. The catching student adds (or multiplies) the numbers nearest their thumbs.

Toss It

Throw a bean bag back and forth, each time saying the next number as you skip count. “3” toss. “6” toss back. “9” toss again. And so on.

Angry Bird Boxes

Tap into the popularity of this online game. Write a number on each of the six sides of a cardboard box. Do this with a bunch of boxes and then stack them in some fun way. Now, take some balls — you can even decorate them with markers to look like the angry birds. For each play, your child throws a ball. Then they add up the numbers that are face up on each of the boxes they knocked down.

Making a Textbook Fun

If you want to stick with a curriculum but need ways to motivate your student through a page crammed with math problems, here’s an idea. Take the book away. Write down one problem at a time on a small piece of paper and hand it to your student. They now only have to focus on one task. When completed, they attempt a shot at your indoor basketball hoop. (See Nerf toys for some options.)

The Power of Rhyme

This one will amaze you. Put formulas or things your student needs to memorize in rhyme form. Just repeat the rhyme each morning for one to two weeks. No pressure for perfection. Just repeat it again tomorrow. With no effort at all, they’ll memorize things they’ll use the rest of their lives.

Here’s part of one we created for adding fractions (and when you hear us talk about your shoes needing to match, we mean the denominators have to be the same before you can proceed).

Action in Fractions

When adding or subtracting fractions you can’t lose. Just be sure before you start you’ve got matching shoes.

Now once your shoes DO match, keep your shoes the same, And work straight across the top. That’s the name of the game.

We call these little rhyming powerhouses “ditties” and we’ve created nearly seventy of them through the years. I couldn’t believe how easily my kids could learn them. Your kid’s brains will stun you with their ability to store and use information brought to them by simple daily repetition.

So when math becomes a struggle, don’t just sit there telling your child to keep plugging along till midnight. Switch it up. Create a game. Change the dance. And along the way, you may find you’ve made math fun!

Carol Barnier is a homeschooler of 17 years, author of four books, mother to three children, and wife to one husband. She’s a popular humorist frequently on Focus on the Family’s Weekend Magazine radio program. Her objective is to have the wit of Erma Bombeck crossed with the depth of C.S. Lewis, but admits that on most days, she only achieves a solid Lucy Ricardo with a bit of Bob the Tomato. Go to and find out why her business cards read: Delightful Speaker, Entertaining Author, Adequate Wife, Pitiful Housekeeper.

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