Math gets a bad rap as being one of the hardest things to teach. And no lie, it can be difficult. Math gets progressively harder and harder, and there are already several things in my oldest daughter’s math book that I never learned or don’t remember.
On the other hand, math is very orderly. It’s very clear, very black and white, right or wrong. (Other things, like creative writing, aren’t so cut and dry.) So when your child is struggling, it’s usually very easy to see where they’re going “wrong” in the process, what they need to work on, and what you need to re-teach.
Math With Life of Fred
We’ve been happy converts to Life of Fred Math for a while now. Yes, it’s not your conventional math book. That’s part of the reason we like it. It presents the material in the context of “every day” scenarios (albeit unrealistic ones,) in a very “living math” sort of way. It isn’t what you would call rigorous or strict, and it doesn’t put your child through pages of math drills.
“How can they learn math that way? Don’t they need more practice problems?”
I always have three responses to these questions.
1.) They do learn the math.
2.) If they catch on to a concept quick, they don’t need unnecessary practice.
3.) If they do need more practice, you can always add more in.
Even though I have been quick to answer “what if they don’t learn it,” in the past two years and up until recently, we haven’t had to cross that bridge. (Bridge! Hehe. Life of Fred has bridges. If you’re not familiar: at the end of a certain number of lessons there is a bridge – which is basically a quiz that you *have* to pass to continue ahead in the book. If you don’t pass, there is a second, a third, a fourth.. when you pass, you keep going.)
So what do you do when your child doesn’t pass the bridge? Or the second? Or the third? What do you do when you sit down with your child and realize, “they aren’t getting any of this?”
What To Do When Your Child Gets Stuck In Life Of Fred Math
First question, are we talking about “a little bit stuck” or “a LOT?”
“A little bit stuck” is easy, it’s not really that hard to figure out what to do. Both of my daughters have had an experience once or twice where they didn’t understand one specific concept, weren’t getting it on each successive lesson, and weren’t able to pass the bridge because of it. If that’s the case, it’s no big deal. You re-teach the concept, trying a different approach, maybe pulling out a Khan academy video, and you have them work it until they get it. Once they get it, you move on. Done.
What if you’re not talking about a little bit?
Recently I sat down with my middle child to work in her Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents book, because she was struggling. She had been working in her book independently, and I had been letting her. A few moments later, my heart sank as I realized that I had fallen down on my job and let her get too far into the book without a firm grasp of the material. This wasn’t a simple matter of re-teaching a single concept, and it wasn’t her fault.
I took a deep breath and made a plan.
1.) First we worked through every problem on the bridge together. I helped wherever she needed help so I could see what she knew and what she didn’t. Truthfully, I did most of the work, teaching as I went.
2.) As we worked through the bridge, I made a list of specific concepts she was struggling with.
3.) The next day we worked through the next bridge together, slowly, re-teaching any unmastered concepts in that bridge, and I gave her some practice problems for one specific concept.
4.) We spent the following days working through the successive bridges the same way, alternating days with a page of practice problems on concepts she still needed to work on, until we had covered every concept on the list.
5.) Toward the end of this process, I taught less and turned more over to her to help her recall and retain the necessary steps, stepping in when needed.
We spent about two weeks on this process, bringing her back up to speed in math. It was long and challenging for both of us, but it was necessary and it paid off in the end. She’s getting it now.
But even after we were done with this, I didn’t turn her loose on her own again. Not yet.
I love letting the kids work independently; I’m not a helicopter teacher. But there are times they can work independently and there are times they need my presence–and knowing when to be near and when to step away is one of the more difficult parts of homeschooling. We want to raise independent learners. But we don’t want to let them muddle their way through something and not really master it. No.
For a while, we will continue this way, with her working the lesson and me sitting next to her watching her do it. I made sure to point out in the very beginning that I wasn’t “taking away” the independence because of something she had done, nor was she in trouble or anything of that sort. No, the other way around really. I was stepping back in to be the good mom, the good teacher, to do my job right and make sure she really succeeds with this.
Another difficult part of homeschooling: admitting to yourself and your kids, “Hey, I haven’t really been doing a great job with this one thing, and I’m sorry, and I’m changing that right now and making it right.” Humility: another necessary homeschool mom tool.
So this is how we handled getting stuck while using Life of Fred Math. What about you? Have you been through something similar? How did you help your child get back on track?