If you are a homeschool mom of a teen with ADHD, you may see math as the bain of your existence (like me). For our entire homeschool career, I have complained bitterly about math. While I’m not the queen of math myself, I managed to get through it in high school and college relatively unscathed, but it was not my favorite subject to learn. And because it’s a subject that has not been intuitive for my son, it’s my least favorite to teach today.
There may be a few reasons your teen with ADHD struggles with math:
Remember when your teen was a little guy and you couldn’t ask him to do more than one thing at a time? Tasks with multiple steps (go upstairs, get your dirty clothes, bring them to the laundry room, and sort them into whites and colors) likely left your child frustrated so he just started playing with Legos instead, and you exasperated when you realized an hour later that he hadn’t made it down to the laundry room with his dirty clothes. It’s the same with high school level math. There are lots of steps, and oftentimes, your teen with ADHD will miss a few of them, or just give up trying to get the answer correct. He may still end up playing Legos.
Rushing Through the Problems
It’s no surprise to moms of a teen with ADHD, that these kids tend to rush through life. The run, skip, jump, and climb everywhere they go well into the teen years. They eat quickly, speed bathe, and talk a mile a minute. They also tend to try to rush through their schoolwork. This will lead to simple mistakes, and we all know it doesn’t really matter how minor the mistake is in math. One number reversal, missing step in division, or misremembering how much 5×7 is means the answer will be wrong every time.
Kids as a whole, and likely your teen with ADHD, are easily overwhelmed and overtaxed by learning math. Often blessed with a very strong and creative “right” brain, it is easy for these kids to lose confidence and motivation when they are having a difficult time with a subject like math. They often struggle with disorganization, inattention (duh!), and working memory. As a result, it is not uncommon for a teen with ADHD to also struggle with learning disabilities in the area of math, such as dyscalculia. Even if your student doesn’t have dyscalculia, the underlying tenets of ADHD can manifest themselves as a disability more with math than other subjects.
There are a few things you can do to help your teen with ADHD succeed in high school level math. He can learn Algebra and Geometry (and even Calculus and Trigonometry), if you use the right tools, and practice a little patience.
Use Memory Tricks for Memorizing Rules
Kids with ADHD often have issues with working memory. Acronyms such as PEMDAS (parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract) for order of operations or Dumb Monkeys Sell Bananas (divide, multiply, subtract, bring down) will be helpful basic math tools for your kids to use. If you did not teach them in the earlier grades, do it now. You will also want to make sure sample problems similar to those your student is working on are front and center for him to refer to when needed. I frequently write these in large numbers on our whiteboard so they are easy to see and follow.
Math Charts and Calculators
Don’t think of it as cheating. Give your student every advantage for success. If this means hanging a multiplication chart on the wall in front of his desk, purchasing Pre-Algebra, Algebra, and Geometry Study Charts, or giving him a calculator, then do it. I’d rather my son be successful with math than continue to struggle because he simply cannot memorize algebraic and geometric formulas or even the multiplication tables no matter how many fancy resources, diddies, games, or flash cards we’ve tried.
Practice Multiplication Tables
I just alluded above to the idea that your teen with ADHD may struggle with simply memorizing multiplication tables. This is a common problem and I believe the main cause of problems a teen with ADHD has with upper level math. When math facts do not come easily and quickly, two things oocur — working math problems becomes a slower process than need be, and careless mistakes are made as they try to add the number six, seven times because they can’t remember what six times seven is. I cannot tell you how much I have spent on tools to help my son just in this one area; most of it a waste of money. However, I keep believing this will click with him eventually, and I think it’s an important component for success in math, so every day, we practice multiplication facts.
Write It Down
It’s commonplace today with many online and DVD-driven curricula for everything to be done on the computer. But when your teen with ADHD is doing math solely on the computer and mistakes are made, you will not know where he is struggling. So even if you use an online or computer-driven resource, make sure you either purchase the written text that may accompany your curriculum, or have him work the math problems on paper (I highly recommend 5×5 graph paper since his hand-writing is probably your second biggest complaint about your teen with ADHD).
Find the Right Curriculum
This is the tricky part because none of us want to buy math curriculum that doesn’t work and then have to toss it aside and buy another one. We have tried it all, trust me. But you will not have success teaching math to your teen with ADHD with just any curriculum. So let me help you think about a few things so you’ll know what to look for in a math curriculum. Any math curriculum your teen with ADHD uses needs to use these criteria:
- The math curriculum should use a mastery approach. A spiral approach doesn’t work well with kids with ADHD because if they haven’t mastered a concept before moving on, by the time they circle back to it they will have forgotten how to do it.
- The math curriculum should give immediate feedback about right or wrong answers. If this isn’t so then as the teacher, you will need to work closely with your student to make sure he is working the math problems correctly and give immediate feedback. Your teen with ADHD who is struggling with math cannot wait until you have time to grade his work next week. If he didn’t understand the concept, he’ll now be a week behind while you reteach it.
- The math curriculum should have short, engaging lessons with plenty of sample problems.
- Less is more. Each math lesson should offer just enough practice problems without overtaxing the ability of your teen with ADHD to stay engaged and focused. A workaround for this is to have your student only do every other or every third problem. Just make sure the set of problems he completes is a good sampling of the skill he’s learning.
- While it’s not a 100% guarantee that your teen with ADHD will prefer and succeed better with a video-based curriculum, unless you’re a whiz of a math teacher yourself, I highly recommend giving this mode of teaching a try. Most ADHD kids learn well with video-based curriculum, and the multi-sensory nature of watching a video lesson, perhaps taking tests online, looking at sample problems on a whiteboard, and writing the problems into a notebook can be very helpful in solidifying learning.
Whether you are teaching math to a teen with ADHD or a young child, I think you’ll find most of these tips helpful.
What We Use — CTC Math
Name a math curriculum. I dare you to find one we have not tried over the years. We’ve tried popular textbooks, online resources, literature-based curriculum . . . everything. And none of it worked well. I even tried just putting off math for a year or two, hoping that as my son matured and his ADHD symptoms improved, it would just click with him. That was a huge mistake. I don’t recommend it. We ended up early in his high school career with so many gaps, and a major hatred of the subject, not to mention a tremendous lack of confidence. In a moment of sheer exhaustion over it all, I reached out to an online group, shared my story, and asked for recommendations from moms of high schoolers with ADHD who had major math struggles to please tell me what worked for them. Over and over and over again, I heard the same story — CTCMath changed our lives! CTCMath revolutionized our homeschool! CTCMath is the first thing that has ever worked for us! So I contacted CTCMath and asked if we could try their program and if we liked it, I would share with you, my readers, what we thought. Thankfully they said yes, and so now, after using it for a couple of months, here’s what we think.
CTCMath is a web-based program that uses audio with a video/visual component whereby math problems are demonstrated on a whiteboard. There are no distractions, making it simple for my son to follow. CTCMath uses a mastery approach which, as I mentioned above, is important for kids with ADHD. Each skill set has a test option. As we are remediating my son right now to see where his gaps are and fill them, we have used the tests both as a placement option (to see if he already knows the material) and as a testing option for after he finishes a skill set. He is given immediate feedback when working through the lessons and tests, which helps him know if he should move forward, or review the videos again and retake the test.
Those moms were right! CTCMath is slowing changing the attitude in our homeschool toward math. I’m not quite ready to say it’s changed our lives, but I will say it is changing how my son feels about math. He doesn’t complain about doing it (that is huge!), finds the video lessons with Aussie Pat Murphy engaging and easy to understand (does anyone else have a teen with ADHD who is obsessed with accents??), is able to follow along with all of the sample problems Pat does with each lesson, and finds the number of problems in each lesson and test just challenging enough, without overtaxing him. Plus it is self-paced, so he can take his time and watch the video lessons 10 times if he needs to, or he can move quickly to the next lesson if he easily understands the concept.
As the teacher, I really like the Parent Portal where I can both make assignments and check to see how my student is doing. I also have access to the lessons through the Parent Portal should I want to refresh my own memory on the topic to better help him. I’m thrilled that CTCMath also includes a fun speed skills and times table “game” to help my son continue to hone these basic skills that have always been a struggle for him. Since we travel a lot, having math accessible anywhere with a laptop or iPad is very convenient for us. No more lost time because we didn’t want to lug heavy books along in our suitcases.
My son’s “review” is this:
It moves at a good pace that I can keep up with and the lessons are easy to understand. I’ve never used a math curriculum before where I immediately understood every lesson and was able to remember it later. I would like to keep using CTCMath until I graduate from high school!
CTCMath has levels for all of your students, through high school Calculus, and you can move through them at whatever pace is good for your student, meaning you have access to everything for the cost of your membership. And the cost? So reasonable! A single student membership is $197/year or $127/6 months or $26.95/month. A family membership (up to 10 children in one family) is $297/year or $197/6 months or $39.95/month. If you have more than one child in your homeschool, this is an incredible deal. And for one child, while it may not be your cheapest option, for us, the price is worth it. I’m pretty sure I spent double that last year on curriculum we ended up tossing aside.
I have exciting news for those of you who are interested in purchasing CTCMath for your family. You can receive a 60% discount + get an extra 6 months for free when you purchase a yearly membership from now until the end of the year. That means you can get the single student membership for $11.97/month or $78.80 for the year or a family membership for $15.97/month or $118.80/year! Friends . . . this is an exceptional deal. Don’t miss out! Still not sure? You can try CTCMath for free.
Click here to learn more about CTCMath. And tell them I sent you.