Let me preface this post by saying, no homeschool curricula is ever going to be a “perfect fit” for every single one of your children! But – as far as math programs go – Kate Snow’s Math with Confidence series comes pretty close to my idea of the “perfect math program,” and we’ve tried many of them out there in my 9, almost 10 years of homeschooling 3 kids! (If you’re not familiar with Harvard grad Kate Snow and her significant contribution to the homeschool community, you can find her here.) At the time of this post, she’s published her kindergarten and first grade programs, and her second grade program will be released spring of 2022.
The three things I appreciate the most about her programs are that: (1) they are scripted for parents making it open and go, (2) they use the CRA math progression making it ideal for kids who struggle with math, (3) and they playfully utilize a variety of easy games and hands on activities for math fact practice (instead of drilling with endless worksheets). Kate has managed to find that sweet spot of “mastery with some spiral” concept which I have not seen in many math programs. And she makes it fun, to boot! And while the Math with Confidence series isn’t designed specifically for kids who struggle in math, they can and do work VERY well for kids with learning differences – dyslexia, dyscalculia, and ADHD just to name a few. All it takes is keeping a few principles in mind, which I will explain.
Each lesson typically begins with oral review, then moves to the teaching of a new concept, then usually has a game or hands on activity to move a new or prior concept towards mastery, and finishes with 1-2 pages of worksheet practice. Here are some tips for your consideration to maximize her program for your child who struggles in math.
- Give extra time for mastery of concepts. In general, I’d say Kate’s programs move at a good pace (not too fast, not too slow) for neurotypical kids. But for kids who struggle, they might need extra time in each of the sections I listed above. Kate has checkpoints at the end of each unit, and offers specific games and activities if students haven’t mastered specific concepts. I absolutely LOVE this feature. More often than not, I’d find my son with ADHD hadn’t mastered those concepts when we went through the 1st grade program. Kate recommends spending a few extra days playing games before moving on to the next unit. But for my son it was more like I had to spend a few extra weeks before I was able to move on to the next unit. We often had to return to a prior unit’s games for extra practice to solidify a concept I thought he had already mastered! Don’t be afraid to do that. So, for your child who struggles, moving at your child’s pace is so key to making any math program work for both you and them.
- You can’t learn to swim by drowning. I learned this from the ladies at Rooted in Language, but the key here is no one masters math concepts when they feel like they’re drowning! If you’ve moved on and your child starts to freeze or push back on the worksheet or game, back it up – back up to a place where your student is working at a 90% mastery level. If it means staying on ONE game for a whole week to master the minus 9 facts, then don’t be afraid to do that! The goal is mastery and having fun with it, no matter how long it takes. We as parents can often let fear take over our homeschool when we feel like our students are “behind”. For kids with special needs, we just have to throw that fear right out the window! Regular timelines can’t apply.
- Get it “off the page”. Using as many multi-sensory methods as possible will make the math facts more “sticky”. Some kids need to just move their bodies in order for concepts to be moved from their short term to their long term memory. Instead of just orally doing the math facts during review time, toss a bean bag back and forth while you chant the 9s facts, or days of the week, or skip counting by 5s. Roll a ball on the floor back and forth to each other while doing it. Go outside and make hopscotch blocks with chalk and hop to the right answer. Take your nerf gun and shoot plastic cups (with numbers written on them) to answer questions. Use your imagination here! The wackier the better, because when math feels fun and game-like, the facts tend to stick faster! Review, review, review, using these multi-sensory, fun methods! You’ll most likely need to review much more for your differently-wired learner than your neurotypical child. So make it fun – and get it off the page.
- Scribe for your child. If your child’s fine motor skills just aren’t there yet, don’t be afraid to write down the answers for him! Boys tend to develop handwriting skills slower than girls, so don’t let the physical mechanics of writing interfere with the mastering of math skills. If the 1-2 pages of math worksheets in the program is too difficult for your child, then for sure be his or her scribe while he dictates his answers to you!
- Focus on strategies. Kids who struggle with low working memory or poor number sense really need a multi-sensory experience with math, but they also need to learn math strategies. Kate’s math programs teach fantastic strategies (she’s even published a streamlined series of making math facts stick using those strategies) which is why her programs can work for kids with learning differences. Because I can’t emphasize enough, how crucial it is, for struggling learners to be using these strategies! Strategies like subtracting in parts (part-part-whole), or going to 10 first when subtracting larger numbers (a friendlier number) can make or break a struggling child’s experience with math. So for sure, focus on those strategies that Kate teaches!
- Focus on what your child does know, and move forward from there. You can help your child find the answer to a problem using what he already knows. When my son was struggling with his addition facts through 9, I had him learn the doubles facts first. We would then talk through his thought process. If he knew 7+7 = 14, and 8+8 = 16, then 7 + 8 must = 15. Using strategies and focusing on what your child does know, helps struggling kids learn math facts without needing to memorize ALL of them. And this is huge for kids with low or poor working memory, and poor number sense.
- Take a break. Sometimes, you just need to take a break from the curricula, and let the concepts simmer for a few days or a few weeks. When my son was just too frustrated with a concept, or having too many meltdowns, we just closed the book and played card games like war, or addition war. We played Sum Swamp. We played Memory and Connect Four. We read the Life of Fred math series for a few weeks, or other math books. (Kate lists lovely math picture books at the end of every unit!). When some time had passed, we came back to the math program. And wouldn’t you know it, more often than not, he “got it” the second time around!
All in all, it took my son more than 9 months to complete the 1st grade program; because of his low working memory, we had to stay on certain concepts for a long time. Differently-wired learners are going to have a different time table than neurotypical kids and that’s okay. What matters in math is mastery of concepts, and by using a teacher-friendly, hands-on multi-sensory program that explicitly teaches strategies and uses games to practice, you will get there! Kate’s programs fit that bill to a tee. Just don’t be afraid to stretch out the given timelines, to play certain games more often than prescribed, and to make everything as multi-sensory as possible. Get the math “off the page”! Focus on the strategies given and stay at a 90% mastery level, moving at your child’s pace – not at the pace of the guide – and you’ll have a great year!