Published on ADDitudeMag.com

18 Tips for Sharpening Your Child’s Math Skills

Teachers and parents can use these strategies to give their child the knowledge and tools to excel.


Shorter Is Better

Avoid overtaxing an ADHD child’s focus by assigning him every second, third, or fourth math problem, not all of them. Make sure that the problems you do assign address the math skills you want him to master. Use the same principle for homework assignments. 

Keep Sample Problems Front and Center

Keep a step-by-step model of a problem on the board, listing the steps taken for solving it. Some students with ADHD have working memory problems and can’t hold the problem in mind as they look back and forth from the board. Write the same problem in the same spot everyday. Number (don’t use letters) the steps in the order they are to be completed. 

Ease Word Problem Challenges

Word problems are tough for everyone, but especially for kids with ADHD. Make word problems more concrete and visual to help them meet the challenge. Have them…
> circle needed facts in the problem
> X out any unnecessary facts
> Underline the strategy or phrase (“How much did she spend?”)

Jog the Memory

Use mnemonics (acronyms) to help students remember what math operation to do when. Use Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (PEMDAS) to help them solve problems that have parentheses and other operations (Parentheses first, Exponents next, Multiply or Divide from left to right, Add or Subtract from left to right). Dumb Monkeys Sell Bananas (Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring Down) can makes long division a snap. 

Check for Errors Right Away

Parents and teachers should have a student do a problem on a white board. Instruct her to hold it up when she’s done to make sure that she did it correctly. It frustrates and demoralizes a child to complete a page of problems only to find out that they are wrong.

Use Color to Increase Focus

Students with ADHD often don’t notice when the operations sign changes from plus to minus. Before beginning work on math problems, ask students to highlight key math operations. Color addition signs yellow, subtraction signs pink, and so forth. 

Keep Formulas and Facts Handy

Shrink multiplication tables to a size that will fit in a student’s wallet. Allow her to use it when a calculator is not permitted or is unavailable. Have the student keep a small card with formulas written on it. These cards will trigger her memory when she important math facts. 

Pair Up with a Student

Working with a classmate is an effective way to master math concepts. Each child makes up a problem and solves it, then hands a copy of the unsolved problem to his partner to solve. If they come up with different answers to the same problem, they work to figure out why. 

Meds to the Rescue

If possible, schedule math class when medication is at its peak. Work with school officials to schedule the class about 1 to 1 ½ hours (if he’s taking a short-acting med) or 1 to 3 hours (if he’s taking a sustained-release medication) after the medication is taken. 

Create Manipulatives at Home

Have your child use uncooked pasta, dried beans, or another household item to reinforce the concepts of division, subtraction, and addition. Place 40 items on a table. Then ask your child to divide them into 5 groups of 8—or subtract 10 and add back five. 

Make Math Musical

Most children like to sing along with tapes or CDs that set multiplication tables and other math concepts to catchy tunes. To engage students further, come up with chants or class songs set to familiar tunes.  

Put Math on the Menu

If you are serving a snack, such as cookies or grapes, ask your child to divide them equally among family members as a quick multiplication/division problem. While at a grocery store, practice converting ounces to pounds. 

Set Up Shop

Open a classroom store/bank in which students use checkbooks and transaction sheets for deposits and withdrawals. Collect shopping circulars and allow students to shop in class. Give them a set amount of money and have them recalculate their balance as they purchase items. 

Give Review Summaries for Exams

Review summaries are helpful study aids for students with attention deficits. Summaries are even more critical for parents who may help their student study for the test. 

Neaten Up Sloppy Work

Kids with ADHD have a tough time spacing out their work and calculations on assignments and tests, causing them to make careless errors. Turn notebook paper sideways (with lines running vertically rather than horizontally). This makes it easier for students to keep numbers aligned in columns and reduces careless errors. 

Give Extended Time on Tests

Some children with ADHD have extreme difficulty memorizing basic math facts. This is not due to laziness. Even if they do know their facts by memory, they choke and can’t perform on timed tests. Allow students who can’t recall facts and write them down rapidly extra time on tests. Also consider giving them credit if they can recite the facts orally. 

Get Tech Support

Use computer games to drill and practice math skills. The games provide immediate feedback, and are fun, non-threatening, and motivating to students. These games also hold the interest of an ADHD student. Teachers can adjust the speed and level of difficulty to keep kids on their toes. 

Punch in the Numbers

Try using a calculator for class- and homework. It allows students to focus on mastering concepts rather than struggling to remember math facts. Caution: Some students become “calculator dependent,” and may not remember how to do the basic problem. Review basic math skills periodically to make sure they know them.

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