My son Boo has no intuitive math ability. None. He comes by it honestly, though. I am a Math Turkey. My husband Philip is no better. His two brothers are engineers, so obviously they got all the math brains and Philip got the language brains. So the genetic possibility of math prowess does exist in the family, Boo just didn’t get it.
As a first grader he couldn’t tell you what number comes before or after any given number and he struggled to count backwards. Frequently his math assignment would be to fill in the missing numbers on a hundreds chart.
It would go something like this:
Me: No Boo, 20 is over here after 19.
Boo: Ok, then what is it? (note the attitude!)
Me: Well, what comes after 9?
Me: Good, so what comes after 59?
Boo: 50 10?
Me: Yes, and what do we call that?
Me: No, remember I told you we already used 20 back here after 19?
Me: So the number after 59 wouldn’t be 20, would it?
Boo: No. Um. 60?Me: Good! OK, keep going.
He continues filling in numbers. We repeat the same conversation at 79.
Me: No. Boo, 20 is only very rarely going to be the right answer. In fact, it’s only going to be the right answer if the question is “What comes after 19?″ or “What comes before 21?″ (Note my attitude!)
I considered charging him a nickel every time he said “20.”
In Kindergarten, we started using Singapore Math. It sounded like the perfect program for a family of Math Turkeys. Singapore Math teaches mental math, a skill I just don’t have. I use calculator math or finger math. Mental math is so not there for me, that any time I have to calculate a tip, say for a haircut, I spend a good portion of the time leading up to the tip having Math Anxiety.
So back to Singapore Math…we were doing fine with it except that the boy was just not learning his math facts. Well, without those facts and given his lack of intuitive math knowledge, we hit a wall. We absolutely could go no further in our math assignments without him just knowing that 2 +2=4. So we switched to Horizons Math.
We backed all the way up to about 1/4 of the way through the Kindergarten level and were really building a great foundation of math. I loved the way Horizons keeps reviewing the same concepts over and over, moving on for a while, then returning. Boo was actually learning and retaining things. He was no longer quite so angry at math.
We stayed with Horizons Math for about 2 years. Even though Boo had an easier time with it, he still struggled. He never developed a logical understanding of math. He never learned his math facts, instead he could only add by using his fingers. I asked other homeschoolers about it and almost everyone said that one day it’ll just click for him. I wasn’t so sure. I watched as the math assignments got harder for him. Even though he understood the concepts, having to use his fingers for every problem (and sometimes still getting the wrong answer) was really slowing him down. He honestly couldn’t tell you what 4+1 is without giving it some thought. Multiplication was coming up fast and Something Had to Be Done.
I’d heard good things about Math U See. At this point, I was willing to try anything, so I ordered the free trial DVD. I watched it with Boo and he liked what he saw, so I ordered the whole set of blocks and the first level books. Boo made huge strides with learning his math facts. Yet in spite of his new progress, he still showed that lack of any logic when it came to numbers. It felt like all the math information stored in his brain was somehow skimming the surface and never really sinking in. The information was in his brain, but he was unable to access it.
At that point someone suggested to me that Boo might be more than just “struggling to learn math,” but might have a learning disability called Dyscalculia.
Wow. A learning disability. Could it be true? Could Boo’s struggles be more than just a weakness in math?
It gave me a lot to think about and to research. Not a lot of information about dyscalculia is out there, but I did find enough to convince me of what we were up against. Next week I will share with you what I learned.
This article was originally published in part on Lorri’s blog The Mac and Cheese Chronicles, where she writes about life in the military, homeschooling and whatever else crosses her mind.
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