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Nothing in our homeschooling journey has made me cry more than trying to teach my 14 year old daughter math.
There have been tears, frustrations, sulky looks, and harsh words — and a good portion of them were my own. (And then there were more tears because I’m not proud of that.)
It’s not entirely Arielle’s fault, though. Her brain and her body are not cooperating. They are actually working together against her, in spite of her best efforts. The only part that actually falls on her is saying “I can’t” and giving up.
Though I’ve always suspected she has some attention deficit issues, they’ve been manageable until recently. With the shifting of the growth hormones that happens around age 12, everything started spinning off course. She has struggled increasingly with reading comprehension and memory retention, which makes it incredibly difficult to learn and remember math concepts like “how to find the circumference of a circle.”
She has come to despise math lessons, and I’ve come to dread the inevitable meltdown. I don’t like fighting with her.
But we can’t quit doing math! We have to keep going. We have to keep trying. We have to do… SOMETHING.
I’ve turned to friends for advice, I’ve turned to the Great Google, and I’ve tried a few other things, too. After spending the last nine months digging into Arielle’s medical issues, practicing more patience with her, implementing some tools and helps like essential oils, and turning to a new math curriculum (CTC Math Online,) I’m finally feeling a little ray of hope.
Three Ways to Help ADHD Kids Learn Math (For Struggling Learners and Those Who “Can’t”)
NOTE: In the spirit of good bloggership and appropriate FTC-guideline-following, I have to let you know that CTC Math gave me a free family membership in order that I could try out their product and write about it. But after you read what I’m about to tell you, you’ll see why I *asked* to review their program, why I *wanted* to try CTC Math Online, and why I’m glad I did. What you are about to read is the real-life, true story of a kid who felt like she couldn’t learn, and her mom who took a long time to start listening.
If you start asking around or searching the internet, you’ll find a lot of good information and tips for teaching ADHD kids. It can be a bit overwhelming, and not all of it will work for your child. You will probably try and then eliminate a lot of suggestions.
But there are three things that I think are true for every child and every situation. In fact, these three strategies will help with any kids struggling to learn math–ADHD or otherwise.
#1 – Be Cool, Model Confidence
Too many times in the past couple of years, I’ve found myself angry-face to angry-face with my sweet girl. Our school day would start fine but when it was time for math, the atmosphere would instantly go downhill. Her mood would change so fast and I would get caught in the wake before I knew it.
It solves nothing. It helps no one. The only thing it accomplishes is making the situation more tense and difficult.
As frustrating as it is to hear one more “I can’t,” “I can’t remember,” or “I don’t know,” when I lose my cool it only makes it harder for Arielle to remember, focus, and learn. When I feel like she’s not trying and I raise my voice, it makes her feel worse, less confident, and mad at her own self.
Not only that, but her focus and attention issues aren’t likely to suddenly go away. She needs to learn what steps to take to be her best–and that doesn’t involve yelling and getting angry.
It may always take more effort for Arielle to learn and succeed at math, but I fully believe she can do it. She needs to know that. She needs to be able to believe that for herself. I need to model the calm and the confidence for her until she does.
So the first and most important thing I can do for her is modeling what she needs, being cool and confident for her until she can.
#2 – Consider Health and Other Environmental Factors
For a long while now, I’ve been trying to help Arielle eliminate distractions in her environment. She’s easily distracted by noises, visual movement, hunger pains, and more. For the past nine months we’ve been taking a closer look at her health, too.
In a nutshell, my sweet Arielle has:
- a rather significant case of scoliosis along with the hypermobile type Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
- mild mitral valve prolapse and a bicuspid aortic valve that needs to be monitored regularly.
- ADD/ADHD and a related sleep disorder which affects quality of sleep.
As a result, she is frequently tired, brain foggy, dealing with back or joint pain, light headed, headachy, distracted, unfocused, (or all of the above at once.)
As overwhelming as that may sound, it’s also wonderfully validating for her. She says, “See mom? I’m not making it up!”
“I’m tired” isn’t always just an excuse to get out of school work. “I can’t think right now” isn’t necessarily a ploy. “I don’t feel well” very well may be true.
Now, that doesn’t mean this can become a “get out of jail free card,” nor does it mean she doesn’t need to learn how to cope with these issues. But knowing this has helped us implement some changes. Adding vitamins, using essential oils for focus, improving her rest, shortening lessons, and providing healthy snacks are some of the ways we’ve been addressing these issues.
One of the things I’ve learned from this experience is that maybe we need to listen a little closer when our kids complain instead of dismissing it as just complaining about school. You never know if there may be a good reason.
#3 – Keep Trying to Find a Well Fitting Math Curriculum
If you’ve read my blog, you know that we’ve switched Arielle’s math curriculum around a few times already. The wonderful curriculum we loved for Catie wasn’t working for Arielle anymore. She couldn’t retain everything she was reading. The audiovisual curriculum we tried next wasn’t working well either, because it didn’t offer enough practice.
I feel like we’ve been treading water in the math department, doing our best to not lose ground or go under, but not really going anywhere either.
I want my girl to succeed! After trying a few different things, I believe we’ve found it.
In May, I introduced the kids to CTC Math Online. I liked what I saw online when I researched it, and I felt like this could be something that would work for Arielle. She was skeptical at first of course, and she even muttered “it isn’t going to work” as she sat down for the first lesson.
She was wrong. =)
It works because:
- The audio/visual lessons are just long enough to teach a bite sized piece of information, and just short enough to keep her attention.
- She can replay it as many times as she needs.
- The video includes a good handful of demonstrated examples
- The assignments are only 10 problems long.
- I’ve set it so that she has to score 80 or higher to pass, and she can redo it as many times as she needs. So far, she passes with an 80 on the first try most of the time.
- It requires minimal reading/reading comprehension.
- It’s online so it cuts down on writing with a pencil and paper (she can focus more on the math concepts and less on handwriting and fine motor skills)
- It’s largely taught by the computer and not so much by mom.
She STILL doesn’t like math. And that’s okay. But she does like this math program, because it’s helping her learn. She can also practice her speed skills (addition through division) before each lesson, which she doesn’t WANT to do, but which she NEEDS to do. I’ve reminded her that the brain is like a muscle, and it needs to be exercised, too!
Best of all, I can help as little or as much as she needs, and I can see everything I need to know in the reports from my parent dashboard. It works on the iPad (and her iPhone but the screen is a little small) so she can take her lesson to her room or outside or wherever is best for the day.
Don’t Give Up on Teaching Math To Your ADHD Kid
I know it’s frustrating, and I know it’s a lot of work. I know that it isn’t solved overnight, either.
Some days you feel like you can lead your child to the math book but you just can’t make them drink from the proverbial fountain. Consistency is key. Consistent patience, consistently exercising the brain, consistent sleep, consistent encouragement, and consistent math practice.
It may always be a little more difficult for her, but a lot of people with ADHD have become very successful adults! Google “famous people with ADD/ADHD” and let your kids see how many people they recognize. And how did they become successful in their profession? Hint: It wasn’t by saying “I can’t.”
That goes for you too, homeschool mama. Let’s strike “can’t” from our homeschool vocabulary, shall we?
P.S. If you’d like to know more about CTC Math Online:
- You can sign up for a free four week trial of CTC. (Expires 7/31/17)
- And if you think you’d like to use CTC Math with your kids, use this link for an amazing 60% discount for homeschoolers AND an extra six months of CTC Math, FREE, for my readers. (Expires 7/31/17)
- When you become a member, you pay for one student or one fixed price for “two or more students,” so large families can save even more.
- Memberships include access to all grades and levels of everything. Kids can work through more than one level while their membership is still active.
- I have many more wonderful things to say about CTC that I didn’t have room to write about. Leave questions in the comments and I will answer them!
The Disclaimer: As I mentioned above, I was given an annual membership so that Arielle and I could try CTC math for ourselves and so I would be able to write about it. I was also given a small compensation for my time reviewing their product. As you know, I never write compensated reviews for products I’m not genuinely interested in, nor do I allow it to sway my opinion or influence my writing in any way. I wasn’t told what to say, I wasn’t required to write a positive review, and everything you’ve read here is true and my own opinion. Read my full disclosure policy here.