Learning Challenges

How to Make Math Meaningful

These five games will help children with ADHD and learning disabilities comprehend abstract mathematical concepts.

These five games will help children with ADHD and learning disabilities comprehend abstract mathematical concepts.
These five games will help children with ADHD and learning disabilities comprehend abstract mathematical concepts.

Children who have attention deficit disorder (ADHD) or a learning disability like dyslexia tend to be “concrete” thinkers.

Without something to see, touch, or otherwise experience, they struggle to learn new mathematical concepts. But by using common household objects to make abstractions, well, less abstract, you can show your child that math can be meaningful — and fun.

1. Measuring up

Give your child a tape measure, and ask her to measure various distances in your home – the span of a windowpane, for instance, or the distance from the TV to the sofa. Then have her ask you to guess each distance. In return, you get to ask her a question or two about each measurement: “What’s half that distance? Double the distance?” or “What would that measurement be in inches? In centimeters?”

2. Mystery number

Say, “I’m a mystery number.” Then pose several math operations to help your child figure out the number, adjusting the difficulty to your child’s skill level. For a young child, you might say: “Add three to me, you’ll end up with five. What number am I?” A more advanced puzzle might be: “Find my square root, add five, and you’ll end up with nine. What number am I?”

3. Number chase

Give your child a starting number, then have him keep track of the answer as you outline a series of math operations. A chase for a first-grader might be: “Start with the number 5. Add 2. Subtract 1. What number do you end up with?”

As children advance in grade level, integrate new math operations into your chases. For an eighth-grader, you might try: “Start with the number 25. Find its square root. Quadruple that number. Multiply by 5. Find the square of that number. Subtract 25 percent. What number do you have?” (The answer is 7,500.)

4. Kitchen mix-up

Give your child a cookbook, and let him pick a recipe that’s meant to feed four or six. Tell him that you want to make a special meal for just the two of you, and ask him to calculate the new amounts for each ingredient. Once you have your new recipe, let him measure the ingredients and help you prepare the dish. (Or invite friends over and adapt a recipe to feed more than the original yield.)

5. Shop at home

Use play money to “purchase” items your child gathers from around the house – shoes, stuffed animals, or ties, for example. As the “storekeeper,” your child gets to figure out how much you owe, and how much change to give you after each transaction. As your child’s skills advance, have her add sales tax. After you “buy” them, you can return the items for a full refund.

You can also use coins and bills to teach decimals and fractions. For example, “Give me one-tenth of a dollar…200 percent of a quarter… 50 percent of a dime.”

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