Learning Challenges

9 + 9 = 18 Tips to Sharpen Your Child’s Math Skills

Kids with ADHD aren’t the only ones who struggle with math, but challenges with working memory and sustained attention can make a tough subject even tougher. Help them improve math skills — and gain confidence — with these simple tricks for parents and teachers alike.

A girl reading a textbook about how to improve math skills
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Shorter Is Better

Avoid overtaxing focus by assigning a child with ADHD every second, third, or fourth math problem, not all of them. Make sure that the problems you do assign help to improve the math skills you want her to master. Use the same principle for homework assignments.

A teacher giving a lesson on how to improve math skills while students raise their hands
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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.

A teacher helps two students improve math skills with worksheets
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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?”)

[Self-Test: Dyscalculia in Children]

A boy does homework to imrpove math skills
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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.

A teacher helps her student improve math skills with a worksheet
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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.

A boy practices math problems on a whiteboard to improve math skills
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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.

A set of colored index cards, perfect for keeping formulas and facts handy which leads to improved math skills.
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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.

[Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents: A Free Handout]

Two students read a book about how to improve math skills
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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.

A boy does practice problems at his desk to improve math skills
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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.

Using uncooked food such as these dried beans at home to teach division and other concepts can lead to improved math skills.
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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.

A boy plays a tambourine and sings a song about math skills
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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.

A girl counts a basket of cherries to improve math skills
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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.

A student and teacher practice math skills at an activity board
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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.

A teacher writes math problems on the board to help students improve math skills
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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.

A student does practice problems to improve math skills
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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.

A student completes a worksheet at her desk to improve math skills
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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.

A girl playing a game on her tablet to improve her math skills.
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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 a student with ADHD. Teachers can adjust the speed and level of difficulty to keep kids on their toes.

One way to improve math skills is to consider using a calculator to avoid basic calculations and focus on mastering concepts.
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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.

[Four Math Activities for Children with ADHD]