Learning Challenges

Do the Math

Math doesn’t have to be torture! Kick it up a notch with these fun math games, designed especially for kids with ADHD.

Close up of ADHD child's notebook with math problem written out in pencil for school
Close up of ADHD child's notebook with math problem written out in pencil for school

Math is challenging for many students. Children diagnosed with ADHD find it deadly dull. It’s hard to get excited about a subject that requires so much repetition and memorization, especially for the ADHD brain, which craves novelty and multi-sensory stimulation. There are standards that must be taught, whether students have restless minds or not, but there are simple activities and games that we can use to make learning math more tolerable and (sometimes) fun.

Here are some suggestions for parents to use and build on. These activities may lead to more creative ideas of your own. Ask your child for his thoughts, as well. If a fun activity can make a child less reluctant to do his homework, and also help that lesson stick in his memory, it’s worth a try.

Activity 1

(Materials needed: cardboard boxes, permanent marker, painter’s tape, golf club and golf balls from a thrift store)

This activity will improve basic math skills. To prepare, place a long cardboard box upside down, and cut out nine squares along one long side. Determine which math facts your child needs to practice and memorize. With a permanent marker, write the numbers 1-9, so that there is one number above each square. Place painter’s tape in a straight line on the floor, and put several golf balls on the tape. Have the child putt a golf ball until he puts it through one of the numbered holes.

When he does, there are several options. The child can add (or multiply) the hole’s number to another number that you come up with, putt again and subtract the lower number from the higher number, and so on. After the child has practiced putting for a while, end the session by having the child putt the ball into the holes until he reaches a score of 12 or 15.

[Read: Conquer the Fear of Numbers]

Activity 2

(Materials needed: index cards, permanent marker, painter’s tape, tube socks – I use the socks that come out of the dryer without a match)

This activity is a favorite with young teenagers, though all children seem to enjoy it. Whether you use it to work on math vocabulary terms or as a reward when your child completes a homework problem, your student will not complain about math being boring after playing this game.

Write the answers to math problems on index cards and tape them to a wall or door. (The problems can be taken from your child’s math textbook or you can make them up.) Ask your child for the answer to a math problem — What is 20 divided by four? — and have him toss a sock ball at the correct answer. This is a great way to practice and review for an exam.

Activity 3

(Materials needed: painter’s tape, sticky notes, permanent marker, ruler)

This activity helps a child master graphing. Create the X- and Y-axes of a grid with painter’s tape. Use a permanent marker and a ruler to write numbers on the axes at even intervals — 1-20 should do. Your creative student might enjoy placing colored dot stickers with the numbers on them.

[The Right Way to Teach Math]

Have the student use sticky notes to plot coordinates as he determines answers to equations from his textbook, or, better yet, have your son or daughter stand on the spots to physically graph the coordinates. Counting out loud while taking steps on the grid — say, 5 on the X-axis and 10 on the Y-axis — will help your child remember how to graph coordinates.

Much of the time, a student in school will graph coordinates using a calculator, but when she first learns about graphing, or needs a movement break, this can be a good activity to lock in the lesson.

Activity 4

(Materials needed: index cards, clear packing tape, painter’s tape, towel, a squirt gun – not a Super Soaker-type)

This is a fun outdoor activity that can be done year-round. First, write the answer to each of your student’s math problems on a separate index card. Then cover the entire surface of the cards, front and back, with clear packing tape to make the cards water resistant and sturdier targets. Tape the index cards to the side of the house or garage, or on a deck railing. (If the weather forces you to practice inside, use the painter’s tape to tape the index cards to the interior bathtub wall.) Use the painter’s tape to mark an “X” on the ground and have your student stand on the X.

When you ask a math question — What does 7 x 6 equal? — your student squirts water at the index card with the correct answer. You can use this game to improve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills, as well as learning fractions. You could end a homework session with this activity. If there is a dry card left after your child has taken his shots at all the math questions you’ve asked him, then you know which problem to revisit.

These games will show your child that math does not have to be all drudgery and “sit still and work.” After trying these ideas, look for other ways to add fun to the learning process. It never hurts to try, and it might help a great deal.

[The Math Teacher’s Guide to Helping Struggling Students]

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