Learn how to overcome one of the biggest challenges homeschoolers face when teaching math: consistency.
You can feel your hands clench and your frustration level rising. Your child looks at you blankly as though he’s never even heard of equivalent fractions. But you just taught him this! The two of you cut the carefully-prepared paper circles into halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, and eighths. You sloshed around water with measuring cups. You even related equivalent fractions to graham crackers at snack time!
But when was that gold-star-for-mom fractions lesson?
Was it yesterday?
Or the day before?
Or was it last week?
If you find it hard to teach math regularly, you’re not alone. In my years of helping homeschoolers, teaching consistently is always the challenge I hear about the most.
And no wonder. Between illness, appointments, laundry, and little ones, it can be hard to have regular school days—especially when it would be so much easier to let everyone stay in their jammies and play Legos all day.
But without daily math lessons, your children have trouble remembering what they’ve learned. They struggle to make connections between math concepts, and they forget the procedures needed for simple calculations. It’s a vicious cycle: the more frustrating math time is, the less you want to teach it…which causes even more forgetting and aggravation.
There’s no magic formula for becoming more consistent with your math lessons, but there are changes you can make that will help you teach math more regularly. Some are easy, while others are more difficult, but all of them will help you start a virtuous cycle: regular, daily math lessons that lead to increased success and confidence for your kids.
Easiest: Keep all your math supplies in one place.
Gretchen Rubin, who writes on happiness and habits, calls this the Strategy of Convenience: the easier it is to do something, the more likely we are to do it. If you don’t have a spot for all your math materials, grab a box and toss it all in there. Make sure to include everything you could conceivably need for math: workbooks, teacher’s guides, manipulatives, sharp pencils, scrap paper, anything. Let yourself off the hook on finding the perfect organizing system—any random cardboard box around your house will do the job.
Stick the box up on a high shelf so that no one wanders off with the pattern blocks while you’re not looking, and you’ll know you’re ready to teach math without having to track anything down.
Pretty easy: Make sure you have a game plan.
If your curriculum isn’t scripted, creating a simple daily lesson format will help you teach math on auto-pilot on the days when you might otherwise skip math. Take a look at your teacher’s manual (or my list of what makes an excellent homeschool math lesson). Then, make a quick list of what you want to include each day. (For example, this might be as simple as: 1. Review multiplication facts. 2. Review previous lesson. 3. Teach new lesson. 4. Independent work.)
Jot your list down on a post-it and stick it to the front of the math book so you can’t miss it. It’s super-simple, but having a written list makes it a lot easier to teach well on days when you were up with the baby the night before or are fighting a cold.
Medium difficulty (if you need to switch): Use an open-and-go math curriculum.
Another way to take advantage of the Strategy of Convenience is to use a curriculum that you can just open and use. It’s a lot easier to teach math everyday when you don’t have to decide what you’re going to do next. That’s why I discourage families from creating their own math curriculum, or cobbling together their math program from printable worksheets. You may be able to put together a solid sequence of concepts, but there’s a good chance that you’ll go for days between lessons simply because you haven’t had time to get anything planned.
Scripted programs (like RightStart Math) not only tell you what to teach, but they literally give you a script as to what to say and do to convey the concepts to your child. They make teaching math especially straightforward: all you have to do is open the book, grab the materials on the day’s supply list, and start reading aloud. But even if you don’t use a scripted program, any program that tells you what to do next will help you teach math consistently, without having to make any extra decisions or preparations.
Harder: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Sometimes knowing that we can’t do something perfectly keeps us from doing a good-enough job. Despite your best-laid plans, there will be days when you only have 15 minutes for math and there is just. not. time. for a complete lesson. On those days, remind yourself that an imperfect lesson beats no lesson. (And yes, it still “counts” as a day of math.)
It helps to plan ahead for what you’ll do on days when a full lesson isn’t happening. Here are some quick options for busy days:
- Teach half of a lesson and save the other half for the next day.
- Print a worksheet with some practice or review work that your child can do independently. (Here’s my favorite site for finding good quality worksheets quickly.)
- Play a quick math facts game.
- Sometimes, it’s faster to write out a few problems rather than searching for just the right worksheet. Choose a computation topic your child has been studying (like multi-digit subtraction, or dividing decimals), grab a pencil, and write out 10 problems. Done.
Keeping graph paper on hand makes it even easier to write out a few problems.
Very hard, but most important: Wash, rinse, repeat.
Once you’ve gathered your math materials, made a daily game plan, chosen an open-and-go curriculum, and created a back-up plan for bad days, you’re well on your way to being more consistent at teaching math. Now, it’s just a matter of putting the plan into action, day after day and week after week.
There will still be days when it’s hard to be consistent. On those days, keep your eyes on your goal: raising kids who are capable and confident at math. And when you miss a day, just get back on track the next day.
No matter how consistently you teach math, there will still be days when your child doesn’t seem to remember anything you ever taught him. But if you teach math every day, he’ll be much more likely to actually remember the last math lesson you taught him—and be ready to ace equivalent fractions and move on to the next new concept.
22 thoughts on “5 Changes (Easy, Medium, and Hard) That Will Help You Teach Homeschool Math Consistently”
Thanks for the tips! I’m always interested in what you have to say, and I’m a big Gretchen Rubin fan, too!
Following your advice we began the RightStart Math curriculum and have never looked back. Even on difficult and chaotic days the ease of pulling out a scripted program means that math is never skipped. It has enabled us to be consistent and my son has really grasped the math concepts taught. He enjoys math because I can be relaxed about it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who was struggling with consistency. Thank you for your sound words of advice Kate, always appreciated.
Is anybody else having trouble getting the cheat sheet link to work? I’d like to print it but nothing happens when I try to click it.
Sorry it’s not working for you, Tiffany! When you click on the purple text, a box should pop up. But if it doesn’t, just send me an email at the contact menu above and I’ll email you a copy directly.
Emma, I’m so glad to hear that RightStart has been working so well for you, even on the busy days!
I have a preschooler, and I’m doing your preschool math activities with him, as well as some stuff I found on Pinterest. At this young age is it also necessary to do math every day? I did notice that when we took off a month or two because of a new baby that he forgot some of his letters, but not so much math… Perhaps because we are pretty much just working on the first section of your book, number sense for 1-5. Perhaps also because counting stuff has just become something we do and he does without even thinking about it, so maybe we were still doing some of it during that time off.
With preschool, it’s completely fine not to do math every day. As you said, there are lots of ways to incorporate number skills into everyday life, and there’s no rush for preschoolers to master every skill immediately. Much better to enjoy these days. 🙂 Later on (say 1st grade), it’ll be more important to teach math at least four days a week.
I decided not to focus too much on math now that my kids are little, but I am working with your Addition facts book with my 6yo (and plan to use the other ones as well). We go slower than the recommended pace, but he is enjoying quite a bit. How important do you think it is to follow a curriculum at this point? Thanks a lot!
I used a curriculum with my own children when they were 6, and I do recommend using a more formal curriculum along with my Addition Facts book as well. Lessons don’t need to be long or involve a lot of writing, but a curriculum will help ensure that your child learns all the basics necessary for a solid foundation, especially place-value and number sense. The addition facts are a key part of that foundation–but only a part.
I started homeschooling my 3rd grader after winter break this year because the remote learning that our school district was offering was not working for her. They used Math in Focus in class & I am moving her to Primary Mathematics. The order of learning is different in these 2 curricula so I am working through that. I am also finding she didn’t really pick up on the basics of the mental math that they taught in prior grades. I want to keep moving forward in the curriculum we’re using (because I feel like we’re behind where schools are), but am also interested in going through Addition & Subtraction Facts that stick. Would it be too much or too overwhelming to do a little bit of one of your books each day with our curriculum? Maybe I could use that as the mental math warm up time? What do you think?
If your daughter doesn’t have the addition or subtraction facts down pat, it’s a really wise investment of your time to help her master them. The Singapore programs become very hard very quickly for kids who don’t have their facts down. A little bit per day alongside your curriculum is a great way to handle it. (See this mini-article for a little more about teaching the math facts alongside your curriculum.)
Thank you, Kate! I ordered your addition, subtraction, multiplication & division books 🙂 My husband & I like the Singapore Math approach (my degree is in math & he’s an electrical engineer), so we want to keep moving forward with it & believe mental math is so important. I am going to use the books for both my 3rd grader & 5th grader. As I’ve worked with my 5th grader, I feel like he’s missed out a bit too. I just want them to have a great foundation.
Sounds like a great plan, Mary!
I love this! Finding a curriculum my kids enjoy and that I feel confident about (both in implementing it and it’s effectiveness) has made all the difference for me. When I was using something that I did not feel was effective it was harder to be consistent, especially since I felt the need to supplement a lot which required more prep time! So thankful to have discovered Right Start! Also, I consider Math one of our 2 biggest “rocks” in terms of what my kids need the most growth in so we do it first, or at least second while they’re freshest. We do a 4 day math week though, saving science experiments and field trips/special outings for the 5th day.
So glad that RightStart is working so well for you, Amy!
Thank you so much for all your tips and resources. My granddaughter and I both look forward to math lessons. She is so proud of her progress. Look forward to being part of your FB team.
Kate, you give me the peace about math that I never knew existed. I so appreciate your gentle but consistent approach, your generosity in sharing and caring about helping and supporting others. What a gift you have. May God bless you for your efforts! Thank you!
I have been pushing my fifth grade daughter, whom we both are brand new to homeschooling as of 3 months ago, to get math in by the end of the year. There are tears every day. She has inattentive ADHD and a slow processing speed. I feel like a terrible mom for pressuring her in the way I have just to avoid the thought that she will be behind. I’ve had her take a couple assessments through Saxon, math mammoth, and one other program just to realize that she has gaps all over the place. It’s really discouraging to realize that she may need to go back a couple math grades/levels. But I believe I need to do just that. Let go of the comparison and worry of her getting behind. We have all four of your math that sticks books. I also just ordered the life of Fred for more of a fun/bedtime routine for the two of us. Anyhow, I just wanted to say thank you, and if you have any suggestions for my story I would be so thankful to hear what you got!
Thanks for your kind words of encouragement, Janae! I’m thrilled that you’ve found my site helpful.
It sounds like you are doing a fantastic job with your daughter, so keep on doing what you’re doing. Have you taken my Homeschool Math 101 course? It’s a free, quick email course, and it should help you separate the most important topics from the less important ones as you work on helping fill in her gaps.
I love your site, emailed resources and books that I have used! Thank you! I have a 4th grader and we did not get his Multiplication skills strong last year. This year we are using your Mult. facts book daily. I love it and your mental math practice that is included as a warm up. I realize he could be stronger in these skills and I think Strengthening his double digit addition will be key to moving forward. Do your Addition and Subtraction books work on this? Are there other games or activities you could recommend? I feel like I keep backing up to build skills. Thank you for any assistance!
You’re wise to reinforce that foundation, Sarah. Mental math is such a helpful tool for building deep number sense. I’d recommend Mental Math in the Middle Grades. It’s out of print, but still available from third-party sellers on Amazon. It does a great job working through mental math skills step by step.
Hi Kate, I homeschooled my daughter from the start. We are entering 3rd grade this coming school year. We began kinder with math in focus and she did well. When grade 1 came it got too complicated and fast paced for her really fast so we switched to level B Rightstart. She loved it but it began taking us 1 hour to get through a lesson because maybe 20 lessons in she had a hard time understanding it. Because of the length of the lessons she started crying when math came out. We took a break and came back to it and started covering half a lesson a day instead but that pace got us behind so we switched to math mammoth and covered level 1 in 5 months. She was understanding it and did really well with it. But we are so behind. We have only covered 2 chapters of second grade math and trying to work through it during the summer to catch up. I wish we were on grade level with your math program. But we’re a year ahead of it. I try to go at her pace because I really want her to have a good understanding. We use a charter homeschool so we have to test ect. She is testing in grade level somehow still. She is very creative and is very good at geometry concepts and loves to engineer things on her own and taught ether self to sew ect. I’m trying to figure out where to go from here. Any suggestions?
I should add, we still do bring out our Rightstart book and play some of the games. When we were learning to tell time we brought out rightatart and learned from that book as well as coins and money. She likes the games and is always willing to play one. About every 2-3 months she seems to get burnt out on any book we’re working from so I take 1-2 weeks and we just play games or work on learning a topic she wants to like telling time ect.