Math for Gifted and Struggling Learners

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Math for Gifted and Struggling learners

I haven’t been sharing a lot about our homeschool curriculum. I’m sure you’ve noticed that.  It’s not because I don’t want to help others, but because I have seen how easy it is to become caught up in what other people are doing and compare. And now that we have quit homeschooling through a traditional way, but focus more on our hearts, I pray that what I share will encourage you and not cause anyone to ever compare or make rash decisions.

However, I need to share something about our math. After all, we need to share our successes, right?

Why math?  Well, when you have two children who are gifted in math and one who is extremely creative and does not filter the world in the same way, math can be a struggle.

Learning Place Value with Card and Abacus

For the first four years of homeschooling, we used the same math curriculum. I decided early on that I would use the same math curriculum to save money and because it appeard to be working well.

Then, reality hit. I realized two of my children were very bored, another was not grasping the concepts.

So, when I was at Teach Them Diligently Convention in Spartanburg last year, I finally decided to dig into Right Start Math.

And I am so glad I did!

You see, all of my children are begging to work on their math now. The two who were bored are excited about math and the one who was struggling is making great progress -and we are no longer experiencing tears and unnecessary frustration during math.

In the past, the children would watch a video and then finish their worksheets. Now- I sit with two of them  for about 30 minutes each. I teach them the lesson (I have already reviewed) and we work through the lesson utilizing the manipulatives we purchased with the program.Truth be known, these have become the secret to their success.  From using cards to an abacus, a math balance or tiles – they look forward to learning. And they are not just learning for the moment, I can truly see them progress in their understanding as they work through the lessons.

Learning patterns in math with tiles

And me – I love the way the program utilizes different methods to teach various concepts. For example,  a few days ago, I was teaching a lesson to one of my children about place values. The lesson used a calculator to help the child fully understand place value.  How?  Well, take a calculator and enter 449. Enter the value that will then show 409 on the calculator.  The child has to understand the ones, tens and hundreds – in order to grasp that 4 tens needs to be removed, thus – subtracting 40 will ensure the success of finding 409. That is just one example and there are many others.

Our fun changes in math don’t begin and end with Right Start Math.  My oldest is learning so much from his new program: Video Text.  He is excited about math again.  It’s wonderful seeing his eyes light up with excitement as he grows in his knowledge.  I was afraid the program would be too advanced for him, but it’s just what he needed. He’s just like his Dad and thinks in mathematical equations.  So, it’s been perfect – and he is no longer bored with math.I wish I had realized he was bored with math rather than thinking he was being lazy or had an attitude problem. I believe he would be even happier now and we would not have suffered through a few years of me pushing him.

Math Balance and Abacus

For a little fun, we all love sitting down and reading through a chapter of Life of Fred. And we add in some good old Principal style math with Rays Arithmetic
when we are sitting around the table. The children like it when I ‘quiz’ them using Ray’s.

So, how do you identify math for gifted and struggling learners?  Honestly, it takes trial and error.  What works in my home may not work in yours. However, I do recommend this – if you can find a program you like with manipulatives that are already created for you – use it. The hands on learning without needing Mom to spend even more time creating something will help reduce stress and frustration in your home.

And last but not least – if your children are struggling with math, if you think they are being lazy – take a step back. You may have a very gifted child who is bored. You may also have a child who is struggling because the style of math you are teaching is not what they need. It’s difficult to identify what we need sometimes, but this is part of the beauty of homeschool. It shouldn’t be cookie cutter for each child. Use your days to customize the right learning environment for each of your children.


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  1. You make this math look so very good! I may start shopping. I was going to try a web-based thing, but I’m wondering if I like the idea of not doing the teaching myself. I LIKE teaching math! But what we’re doing is not progressing as quickly as I think these kids are capable of, either. Hmmmm….

  2. We switched to Right Start Math this year too. My 2 youngest are dyslexic and math is a struggle. I love RS and I know it’s going to work, but right now I’m having a hard time finding our place in the curriculum. We have to start at the beginning of the book to learn “the RS way” but it’s way too easy. Right now it’s a lot of me skimming through the TM and the kiddos are bored.

    • I just jumped into where they were ready to start- and try to look ahead. Cover some of the basics but then move forward. I think you will enjoy it more and the children will too. And one of mine is dyslexic – and a very tactile learner. If I can help, please let me know.

  3. Math for my kids usually comes easily. But after moving them from public to private school then to homeschool I found that they had areas that they needed to master. So I combine math programs to mix things up for them. They both use Abeka DVD math programs but I also use and Teaching Textbooks as their ‘Math Lab’ which they do daily after dinner. I find with kids once they master the basics they have an easy springboard to advance math topics. Finding a math program that works for your kid is a never ending journey it seems as I start high school math with my older child.

    • Nita, it is truly a journey finding what works for each child. My oldest is using Video text for math. I highly recommend it for higher grades. When your child finishes the program -they should be able to test out of college math.

  4. Rebecca, this post was wonderful. I am so glad to tell you that it was the “most clicked” on the Hearts for Home Blog Hop last week and will be featured on over 20 blogs this coming Thursday. Be sure to grab an “I’ve been featured” button. Congratulations, friend! I am so very happy for you. Much love, Lisa

  5. I am soo frustrated with math with my eldest. He’s in 2nd grade and is “behind” — we worked on additional all last year. He got it and then a week later it was like he had never learned it. We were doing review this year and it was like he never learned it ever. He fills out his worksheets like this: 7 + 2 = 1 or some other random number. If I sit there with him and make him think real hard he’ll get it. But it’ll take 30 minutes to do 6 problems. He answers one and then thinks the next problem should just be the next number in line. 2+2 = 4, so he would write 6+2 = 4. You see? He is a smart kid, I just don’t get it. We use Saxon math. I got the learning wrap ups because I thought they’d help with it being hands on, different, visual, and fun. He likes competition. He would get the wrap ups perfectly, but then when he has to fill out a sheet he doesn’t get it at all. I don’t even know where to being to look for what kind of curric would be good for him. I’ll check out right start, but I just feel like I wouldn’t know if it would be good or not. You know? We homeschool through a charter school so we have to conform our curric to state standards and I can’t really take a non traditional approach. I avoid math and I hate that my son cries every time we do math. I don’t want him to think he isn’t smart or isn’t good at math, because he is smart and capable and he is capable of being good at math! How do I know what to do for him? How do I figure it out without going broke?

  6. Oi, I meant 6+2 = 5 is what he’d write. Plus I meant addition, not additional. It’s my nap time! Good gord, I have a lot of typos in my comment, I hate writing incorrectly.

    • Oh, It’s completely ok, Rochelle – I completely understood what you meant – and LOL on the nap time.. That sounds like two of my children. One used to take forever to do their math and the other, could do the work, but wouldn’t. I have never used Saxon. We looked at it and went a different route – but what we did wasn’t working. I realized that two of my children needed more hands on and the other needed to move faster. So, the math curriculum we chose is less ‘work book’ intensive and more intensive on utilizing hands on and real life experience. Example – today, my daughter and I sat for 30 minutes and discussed different scenarios at the grocery store: If you purchase two loaves of bread for $1.99 and hand the clerk $5.00 – how much change should you receive? But, she couldn’t write down the problem, and she had to figure out the answer by estimating to the next number and working backwards. We moved into the hundreds and thousands and also worked through hours on the clock. Then, she had a few problems to work on the paper. I found that by working together and out loud she was able to map the appropriate responses in her brain. That’s what all parents want – for the math or grammar for that matter to be utilized in the real world, not just a piece of paper. Try that approach. I don’t know if you can switch math curriculum, but you can find ways to help him apply it to real life. Grab apples or cars – my little guy loves cars so we’ll work with cars or marbles… but, he loves the manipulitives that came with our program…so, he’s usually begging. I’m still working with my daughter to overcome her anxiety with math and the oldest just finished his first unit in Algebra (and last year, I could barely get him to do half of page of his math in our old curriculum). The point is this – stay patient, if a child is crying…put it away. I’m serious. It took me forever to really learn that. Focus on your relationship and never make the mistake of making the curriculum more valuable than your relationship. Let me know how it goes – I’d love to help any way I can.

  7. I have a 10yo daughter who was born with a mild CP, affecting one side of her body, she has dyslexia, difficulties with language expression and processing. She has an exceptionally hard time with math. She can do simple addition and subtraction with manipulatives and even thinking them through, maybe using her fingers for help. We met with an educational consultant who specializes in math. She gave us a numeracy system to help create number sense, and then she put my daughter in MUS. She learned place value at the very beginning, which made such a difference. She can actually read numbers in the hundreds now. However, as we move on, I am afraid MUS may not be a very good fit for her. The method used with the rods seems to be confusing her. If she is doing just one type of problem, she catches on, but when there is a cumulative review, with various problems, she gets methods intertwined. They have lessons on ‘finding the unknown’ which is like algebra(2+_=5), in the 1st grade book. If I talk her through, she can get the answer, but does not know how to put it in an equation. She wants to write 2+5. They do this before subtraction, and I know she could do subtraction. The methods of finding some answers with the rods looks like it may be confusing her as well. I think she would understand it better to just have some buttons or something and if the problem is 12-5, have 12 stones and take 5 away, rather than taking the 10 rod and the 2 rod, put them together, then lay the 5 rod on top of the 10 rod and add the remaining 5 and 2 together. I am thinking we need to do something different, but not sure what. A friend recommended just going to the dollar store and getting a math workbook with just the basics and not have a an actual math curriculum right now. I am just looking for some guidance. I thought MUS was the answer, but now I’m not so sure. I feel like I need to keep it simple. Any suggestions.

    • Pam,

      We began with that exact same math system for the same reasons. However, as my children progressed, I found that it wasn’t a good match in our home. Now, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a match in other homes, just not ours. I have very tactile learners and two with slight dyslexia – so this switch has made a huge difference. Because one of mine has dyslexia with the gift of memorizing, sh has pulled over much that she learned from MUS but, the hands on and various activities in Right Start have helped her improve tremendously. Each of her assignments begins with a few problems she has to work out in her mind. The tutorials through the book have helped me identify ways to help her work out problems in her mind and see math while working it – and touching it. The little guy begs to do math every day and even my oldest (who is in Algebra) will often put his books aside so he can do math with his brother/sister because he sees things he did not learn through MUS and because he says ‘this is fun, Mamma, can I do it, too?”

      Again, both are good and it just has to match your family. I fyou think those will work, then go for it. You can make your own manipulatives – use your money, your coins or even things the children like. My son loves love loves rocks so a lot of times, we’ll make math problems out of rocks. And, I have friends who only use workbooks they buy at the store and their children are progressing wonderfully in math.

      My first suggestion is to sit, and pray. Then, consider your child and how they learn best – try a few different things and if you have friends who can loan you books or manipulatives to help you figure it out, do that – don’t hesitate to talk with your friends or anyone else. We homeschool Moms tend to think others haven’t been where we are, but they have and most are just dying for someone to ask them question so they can help others the way they have been helped.

      Please let me know if I can do anything to help you – if I am able, I will.

  8. I was looking at IXL above. That looks like a great resource! If purchased, could that be our primary math resource?

  9. I’m sorry. I think it is an ad that is showing up at the top. It is They have math and phonics online practice for all grades. It can be purchased per month or year. I didn’t realize you didn’t put it there.

    I am looking into some different things, even for her reading. The reading program for dyslexia that we are currently using is very expensive. Pray that I have clear direction. Thanks for your reply.