Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 24: Learning Issues - Math

Welcome back to 31 Days of Spina Bifida Awareness! 

mathFrom the research I’ve done it seems math difficulty for children with SB revolves around two main areas.  The first is number sense, the ability to understand the size of a number (that 1 is smaller than 10, that 10 is smaller than 100) and how far away it is from another number (is 9 or 19 further away from 12?).  A portion of this difficulty comes back to executive function.  Remember how making quick judgments is problematic for some children with SB?  Determining which number is bigger or which is further away both involve making judgment calls about groups of information.  Having a physical representation to manipulate helps develop number sense.  As a child moves further in elementary school and beyond the numbers get larger and more abstract, making it more difficult to picture and make judgment calls.

The second area that poses difficulty in math is that calculations include many different procedures, sometimes all in the same problem.  Remembering and using them consistently, especially if a child has memory and attention issues (as discussed yesterday in executive function), are the challenge.  Even if a child starts out well in a multi-step problem if their attention is distracted midway they return to work and cannot remember where in the process they were or what step to do next.

How to Help

In my reading there have been themes for how to help, which I alluded to in an earlier post: Medication and turning the child over to special education departments.  Specific to math the strategy is to turn a child over to someone else to teach differently, accommodating their learning disability with special interventions. 

Remember, I homeschool.  That means I won’t just accept the “let someone else deal with it for you” answer.  Doing a bit more research I began to find just what these ‘special interventions’ are when helping a child with SB overcome math problems.  Is it just me, or are these pretty straightforward?

In the Preschool Years

  • Practice counting groups of items.
  • Practice sorting items by different characteristics (ex: by color – red in a pile, blue in a pile; by type – bears in a pile, cars in a pile).
  • Have them make judgment calls on larger vs. smaller groups and then allow them to count the items in each group to check their answer (can I say DUH?).
  • Play games like Candyland and dominoes.

In Elementary School and Beyond

  • Use meaningful manipulatives to help a child see math problems concretely.
  • Use a number line to allow a child to see numbers in relation to one another.
  • Keep playing games!
  • Relate abstract math problems to real-life using word problems.
  • Practice each math concept until it is mastered, instead of a spiral math approach that teaches multiple new skills and rotates back through them repeatedly until they are all mastered.
  • Encourage a child to think through a math problem out loud.  This helps them not go on auto-pilot and make distracted mistakes.  It also allows the teacher/parent to hear the child’s thought process when tackling a math problem to see where they are getting off track.
  • Teach a student to check their work. 

I don’t know yet if Mason will struggle with learning and applying math.  I do know that what I’ve read so far is common-sense strategies to help him, things I can teach myself.  And if we come to something I don’t know how to help him with we can work with a professional to learn together.   

Tomorrow – reading comprehension.  I promise, I’ll cover the whole ADD/ADHD medication topic before the week is out.


  1. A boy is not a sitting-down animal.

    — Robert Baden-Powell

    I have been thinking of ADHD and my son since I read this post this morning. Then I stumbled on to what I think sums up our approach to his learning struggles. I hope it doesn't seem dismissive or trite, but letting him be a little boy while he is and not having a structured school has been so beneficial not only to him, but to our relationships within the family as well. Before it was fights about school work-with a five year old. What was I thinking? At eight he has cultivated interests on his own sufficient to compensate for the lack of schooling up until now (more formal schooling has begun, but still on a schedule that allows plenty of wiggle room. That being said, we expect exceptional behavior at church and as he has worked to achieve it, we gauge his work based on what we know he is capable of at church, as far as sitting still and such). We also work to control his food, trying to not eat out and limit treats and increase all of the word of wisdom type foods. I am not sure how it will all work out in the future, but I know that this course has proved to be a sure one. I would not medicated my son and while I am not a judgmental person, I think the need for others could be eliminated as well through alternative eating/sleeping/educational practices/excercise/supplements/schedules/etc. Anyway, thanks for the courage to to share your thoughts.

  2. Katie,

    You said it well! In many many cases the behaviors that are troublesome with ADD/ADHD are the lack of attention or the extra wiggles that need to get out. The public schools medicate because they are not equipped to let little children BE little children who need to move all the time, need to learn in short doses instead of expecting them to sit at a desk for 7 hours at age 5. Most adults I know can't do that! They get up and have breaks, do something different, and manage their workload around their need to move. Children are not given that option. Those with ADD/ADHD tendencies who are wired BY GOD to be this way should not be medicated just to fit them into an unnatural 'sit down and focus' 7 hour day. There are many things that can help them (you mentioned lots!) and none involve brain altering drugs.

    I suppose that gives anyone who reads the comments a peek at my thoughts on it all, doesn't it? Thank you for commenting!

  3. Tristan, These posts continue to be so EDUCATIONAL and informative. Wow! I am learning so much!!!

    I wanted to be sure you saw that your blog has been linked by No Hands But ours, which is the advocacy blog I had asked you about linking to your blog from ... here is the link to the post: (2nd paragraph in 2nd subheading "Blog World")

    I hope this helps bring more awareness and education to SB, and ultimately that it helps to ensure more children are born with SB. For those whose birthparent choose life but feel they can't parent, I hope adoption is a choice for them and I hope more adoptive parents will consider adopting waiting children with SB.

    Thank you again for putting what is obviously so much effort and HEART into these posts. I hope they spread far and wide!!!


Thanks for commenting!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.