Homeschooling A Child With Dyscalculia (And a FREE printable!)
Honestly, I’d never heard of Dyscalculia until a few months ago and it was kind of by accident. It was a blog post I’d come across (which I really wish I could remember where!) that mentioned Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. I knew what Dyslexia was. I figured Dyscalculia must be the “math version,” and since my daughter struggles immensely with math, I thought I’d do some research. Make sure you grab the free helpful hints sheets printable at the end of this post!
So, what is Dyscalculia?
The National Center for Learning Disabilities puts it this way: “Dyscalculia is a wide range of lifelong learning disabilities involving math. There is no single form of math disability, and difficulties vary from person to person and affect people differently in school and throughout life.” Some students can do some aspects of math while some cannot.
Research has shown that students with Dyscalculia have a brain dysfunction – the nerves that connect to help you understand math don’t function correctly.¹ Dyscalculia is a serious learning disorder and cannot be easily fixed. There is no cure for it and many people with it have to learn coping mechanisms to function as adults. It is connected to concentration and strategic thinking difficulties.
¹ Dehaene, S (2011) The Number Sense: How the mind creates mathematics.
How common is Dyscalculia?
There is an estimate of 5-7% of school age children have Dyscalculia. This means there may be at least one student in every class of 30 children that has Dyscalculia.
Learning With Dyscalculia
Students with Dyscalculia will need intensive help and will progress much slower than other students. They do not have an intuitive number sense. Example: if there are 4 pencils in a cup they can’t tell at a glance how many there are, they would have to take them out of the cup and count them. They have difficulty using mathematical “common sense.” They need things explained plainly and literally. In a step by step manner.
THERE IS NO CURE FOR DYSCALCULIA.
Signs of Dyscalculia
- Cannot estimate or infer
- Slow responses
- Difficulties with math “language”
- Difficulty with memory for math facts (mental math) and operations
- Difficulties with sequence
- Difficulties with position and spatial organization
- Poor number sense
Many students with Dyscalculia have math anxiety. They know math is coming, they know math is hard and anxiety takes over sometimes making it impossible to even start doing math.
Our Story With Dyscalculia
My daughter’s dyscalculia and other learning difficulties were why we chose to take her out of school and homeschool her. (She is 13 and entering 8th grade this year.) We had to start almost at the basics. She has a good number sense now, so we were able to move past Kindergarten level math. She’s now doing 2nd grade math which still can be frustrating for her at times. I have to limit how much time we spend on math – if she starts getting frustrated and I can’t get through to her we have to set it aside for awhile and work on something else. She will show signs of anger while doing addition problems: violently erasing, roughly pushing her hair out of her face, pulling on her shirt, etc. Then I know it’s time to take a break.
If you can find the student a good tutor that understands Dyscalculia that would be invaluable! We have not found such yet.
Note: I am not suggesting every child with Dyscalculia needs to be homeschooled or start back at Kindergarten if they’ve kind of been shuffled through the system.
Too much math causes a kind of “brain overload” and the student won’t be able to absorb anymore learning or be able to actively concentrate on anymore math work. We identify areas that need the most work and just stick to those until she has a good sense of that (such as telling time on an analog clock or counting money.) But it has to be in small increments or she gets completely overwhelmed and frustrated. If you can apply anything to real life situations that helps tremendously. If she can connect math to something she already understands; sometimes she has the “oh! I get it!” proverbial lightbulb.
How You Can Help Your Child
- Enjoy numbers when you watch sports. Talk to your child about the scores, the records and other statistics.
- Encourage your child to get used to handling money as soon as possible, so they begin to get real life experience of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing with money.
- Teach your child to be a serious shopper and to look at prices, weights, measures, and so on, to find the best buy.
- Open a bank account for your child and show them how to read their statement and check their deposits and withdrawals.
- Encourage older children to use a computer spreadsheet to compile a summary of their school grades or sports scores or an inventory of their hobby collection.
- Encourage your child to count by 2’s, 5’s and 20’s when counting large numbers of items.
- Encourage your child to use numbers that are already provided on boxes of food items you use in real life. How many cookies are in that box? Will one box be enough for when Grandma comes over? or How much elastic is on that card? Is it enough to go around your sport shorts?
- Involve your child in practical activities such as cooking, household projects, repairs and gardening so that weighing, measuring, calculating, counting, budgeting and timing all become a part of everyday life.
- Encourage craft and construction activities, as both really help to promote good mathematical thinking.
- Show your child how you use estimation and rounding to work out the mat that you need. You probably use estimation more often than proper math when you by materials for a project at home oro in the garden, or work out your budget or check your supermarket bill. Include your child when you do this type of math: Your three snacks were 99¢ each and the sausages were $2.75 so will $5 be enough?
- Extend your child’s knowledge of numbers by showing them bigger numbers and talking about them. Look at expensive items such as bicycles, computers, mobile phones, cars, houses to increase your child’s familiarity with large numbers.
- Promote your child’s mental arithmetic and memory for number facts by playing family games where scores have to be added up.
- Encourage your child to make intelligent use of a calculator. Show them how to check their answer against an estimate of the right answer.
- Use your family tree and family history to give your child a sense of time and number. Who was alive 100 years ago? Uncle Sam was born in 1952 and Uncle Joe in 1949, so who was the oldest?
- Use a calendar or year planner for family organization. Put it somewhere where everyone can see it and use it to mark important dates.
Math on the Go
- In the car looking out the window see what numbers you see on the large vehicles around you. What do the numbers mean? (You might see a phone number, the weight limitations, engine size, model number, etc.)
- Inside the car look at the dashboard. What do the different numbers mean?
- See how the numbers of your speed change or how far the car has traveled.
- Stopping to get gas. Check the manual for how many gallons of gas your car holds. If the car is on E how much fuel will it need? How much does gas cost? How much will it cost to fill up the tank?
- Watch road signs for wherever you are traveling to. See how many miles to a particular city.
- Time how long it took you to reach your destination.
- Count how many cars go by when you are at a stop light.
- How long do the lights stay red before you can go?
- What are the speed limits on the road you are traveling on?
- Look for signs on buildings that tell you the date or temperature.
Using and Telling Time
- Quite a few children do not realize that the hands of a clock or do actually move! Stand with your child to watch it happen.
- Give your child a sense of your own family timetable: We get up at 7 o’clock … Mom has to leave work by 8:15 … School starts at 9 o’clock … We get home at 4 o’clock … Bedtime is usually 7:30 on school days and 8:30 on weekends.
- When your child is waiting for something, encourage them to use the clock: When the big hand reaches the 12 and the little hand on the 6, then it will be 6 o’clock and time for your TV show.
- Count down the time to an exciting event: Grandma should be here in less than three hours. Only five minutes and it will be time to get your cake out of the oven.
- Show your child how time can be found not only on clocks on the wall at home, but also on your watch, computer screen, mobile phone, car, oven, microwave, etc.
- Your photos will be ready in 30 minutes. Your prescription will be ready in one hour. I’ll be back in ten minutes. Involve your child in working out when to go back for photos, etc.
- The opening and closing times of shops, banks, etc are usually displayed prominently. Get your child to check them out for you.
- Look at the playing times on recorded programs. How long does it take to play this movie? If we start now will we have time to see the end?
- Look in the newspaper and get your child to check the times of the film you want to see.
- Look for directions on food items and encourage your child to understand and us the instructions relating to time: Microwave on high for 2 minutes.
- Cook with your child and encourage them to follow the instructions: Cook for 10 minutes on each side.
- Get your child to help you calculate cooking time: 15 minutes per pound + an extra 10 minutes.
- Allow your child to play with the kitchen timer, so that they get a sense of how time passes, and what a time span such as 5 minutes actually ‘feels’ like.
- Show them how to set the alarm clock or automatic timer.
- Encourage your child to read and understand the electronic time display on your microwave. Are the vegetables almost done?
- Talk to your child about different time zones across the world. Explain to them how when you are getting up, somewhere on the other side of the world kids are going to bed! Find a world clock so your child can look up the current time in various places for themselves.
Estimating and Inferring
Most students with Dyscalculia cannot estimate or infer. For example if my daughter was presented with a problem like this:
Estimate how many inches a book is.
If you were measuring your refrigerator, what would you use? Inches or feet?
She would have no idea what the answer to either of those things would be. She would simply guess. She cannot make the connection between the two things. Estimating is almost impossible for her, she just does not understand the concept.
So, I try another method, I word it differently or give her a visual to go along with the question such as a ruler. We’ll go to the fridge with a ruler and that will help her see the connection.
Measuring is really difficult for students with dyscalculia. Here are some ways to help:
- Use everyday situations
- Use hands-on items to compare and measure
- Have a chart that explains each unit of measurement.
Number Sense and Counting
- Use a number line to help students grasp the concept of number order. Make a game out of it and use visuals. For example:
Use a wall and start at one end with 1 and the other with 10 and have the student stand at different points. Such as “where would you stand for the number 7? Is it closer to 1 or to 10?”
- Judge numbers using visual comparisons.
- Use “touch” counting such as giving the student several blocks and have them count them by touching each one. Or moving one to another spot while counting. If using worksheets, have them cross off each thing as they count.
- Counting by 2’s, 4’s, etc. can be a road block, allow for extra time and visuals to help aid them with this. If possible give them items to group together and count by.
- The student must have a good number sense before he/she can get started in doing math equations.
- Teach operations with visuals if possible.
- Make sure the student has a grasp on what symbol you are currently using before moving on to another. Such as + or -.
- Ask them what + or – is telling them to do to see if they understand. Such as: + means to add more, – means to take some away.
- Have a chart available to show what the symbols are and what they do.
- Be very specific and repetitive – such as always using ” add” or “plus”.
- Allow for extra time and practice in mathematical reasoning. And know some kids may never be fluent. Or close.
- Use flashcards and other games.
Unfortunately, word/story problems may always prove to be impossible for some students with Dyscalculia. They cannot connect the words and numbers. Especially if it’s not completely straightforward.
Mary bought 12 jellybeans and Sally bought 18 jellybeans. How many more jellybeans did Sally buy than Mary?
The problems lies with the wording. The student sees the word “more” and immediately thinks they need to add.
Obviously, you can’t rewrite your curriculum, but you can allow them to do word problems with you and have you reword it in a way they can understand. It may not solve the word problem dysfunction, but it will decrease math stress.
Rational Numbers, Decimals and Fractions
Many students with Dyscalculia will never master these.
Here are some ways to help:
- Add visuals.
- Use everyday situations
- Use hands-on items.
- Allow for extra time.
- Don’t move on until you are sure your child is ready.
Place Value and Operations
Before teaching place value be sure the student recognizes and is comfortable counting double digit numbers.
- Emphasize the position of the numbers repeatedly.
- Use hands-on counting by 10’s (using unifix cubes or similar)
- Use a chart to show how to write down place numbers.
- Then have them use unifix cubes to count these out. Tens in one place, ones in another place. But always left to right.
- Be consistent with the learning technique you use.
Students with Dyscalculia need a solid foundation in number sense before they can successfully move on to operations. Dyscalculia literally means calculation dysfunction.
- Make sure students know the order math equations go in and how to write them vertically and horizontally. Students with Dyscalculia often have a hard time going between the two. If possible, allow the student to use the easiest method for them.
Other ways to help
Realize your child has a real disorder that they cannot help. By the time they start Middle School, whatever math knowledge they have is basically as far as it will go. They will need extra help, extra explanations, no tricky word problems, digital clocks, calculators and tons of extra time learning money. Their brain cannot process these things the way a normal student can. Using these tools isn’t a crutch, it’s a necessity. They need to learn these coping skills to use as an adult. Most 17 year old students with Dyscalculia have the math knowledge of a 10 year old. Or less.
Let them know that it’s okay if they don’t understand and that you are there to help. Make sure they know it’s okay to ask for help!
Printables reproduced with permission from Glynis Hannel. Post info based on months of research and Glynis’ book “Dyscalculia: Action plans for successful learning in mathematics.” Printables and information sheets also available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.