Clash of the Learning Styles (Our Daily Math Battle)

mathSome of us on the Crew are sharing about “the subject I struggle teaching most.”  I’m guessing that more people will say “math” than any other subject. (Okay, science came in pretty high too!)  Personally, I always thought I hated math as a child, but really it was just that I hated the way it was taught.  Now my greatest struggle in homeschooling is trying to avoid a similar experience for my son.  Math actually came really easily to me when I was young, and I got good grades without really having to work at it at all.  The reason I hated it (or thought I did) was that I was in a class full of other kids who needed a little more time catch on to what we were doing.  I’d get so bored waiting around for them, I lost the joy of playing with numbers.  In reality, I loved figuring out math problems and marveling over how the numbers worked.  I just longed to go at my own pace.

When I was sharing this with my husband, he said he had always wished the same thing, but for the opposite reason.  Things didn’t “click” instantly for him.  He worked hard to understand new concepts, and then he wanted to spend a few days lingering there, enjoying the satisfaction of seeing it all work out perfectly.  Instead, he had to rush ahead with the rest of the class because of people like me who were bored stiff and ready to move on.

Oh, the luxury of homeschooling!  We can go at whatever pace works best for our children.  I was really excited when Ian got old enough to start working with numbers and going through a math curriculum.  However, I wrestle continually with setting aside my own learning style and trying to work with his.

Math itself was fun for me as a child.  I got it.  Ian does not, at least not without some time and serious brain energy.  He is his daddy’s boy.

How do you explain something that seems completely obvious to your own mind?  This is my recurring frustration.  My bewilderment is increased by the fact that Ian’s grasp of certain concepts fluctuates from day to day.  One day we might cruise through a set of addition problems.  The next day I ask him, “What’s 4+1?” and he stares at me blankly before guessing, “4?”  And I’m so befuddled by how he could possibly come up with such an irrational answer that I start to push him too hard, which then gets him as frustrated as I am and one (or both) of us ends up in tears.

Am I the only one who has math days like this?

Surely not.

I do math in my head.  I always hated wasting time showing a problem when I could tell you the answer without bothering.  That isn’t how Ian’s brain works though.

There’s a scene in the movie The Mirror Has Two Faces where a professor is trying to help one of her colleagues become a better teacher.  After watching him fill up a board full of numbers, explaining them all with his back to the class, she critiques him, saying, “It’s like you’re having a math party and you only invited yourself.”  He was great at understanding math, but not so good at helping others understand.

I still love the way numbers work, but I try really hard not to turn our lesson into my own personal “math party.”  I am learning (and have to continually remind myself) to keep math as conceptual as possible, using manipulatives and real world situations to be sure Ian is really getting it.  No skipping steps.  No rushing through.  Each part of the problem needs to be laid out in a way he can see and touch.


I have also recently discovered an unbiased arbitrator that helps preserve our relationship: the timer.  It is the peacemaker in our schoolroom.  We’re currently reviewing a spelling program that has us set a timer for 10 minutes to get through a certain part of the lesson and then consider the page completed.  The technique worked so well for Ian that I tried implementing it during our math time as well.  I was amazed at how it affected his attitude as we worked through the lesson.  Knowing he was not going to be stuck at the table until the page was finished freed him to actually enjoy working through the problems we did do.  And that’s what I really want for him.  I want him to not only understand but appreciate the beauty of mathematics.  I want math to lead him to marvel at the God who has created the world of numbers.  Is it too much to ask that a math lesson be an act of worship?  I don’t think so.

And so I will continue to persist in the struggle, which is not so much against math but against myself and the desire to do things “my” way.

How about you?  What subject do you struggle teaching most?  You’re probably not alone.  Click on the picture below to see what others members of the Crew are writing about and be encouraged!

Subject Struggle


  • I like your suggestion of using the timer. I may try that with my math-resistant daughter. 🙂 And you are right – a lot of the Crew named Math as the subject they struggle with!

    • I hope it helps you guys! The other day even that wasn’t enough and I finally just called it quits for the day. That’s REALLY hard for me, but I’m trying to keep our relationship as the first priority, and there was no way we were going to get through math that day without some serious relationship damage. You win some, you lose some!

  • A great post! We’ve had moments like that too–when I’m like–seriously? How are you missing this?! LOL! But I actually don’t mind teaching math…I just have to take it one day at a time.

  • You’re doing a great job being sensitive toward your son! That is so important.

    I find some aspect of math frustrating to teach, too. Thankfully, my husband steps in and teaches the mechanics much of the time and I enjoy teaching the Bible Principles and seeing God’s Providential Hand in mathematics on the history timeline. 🙂

    ~Heather @ Principled Academy/TOS Review Crew