Homeschool Math Woes? 3 Mindset Shifts You Might Need to Make


Each night at dinner, our family takes turns sharing our “highs” and “lows” for the day. One night, my daughter said that the best part of her day was finishing her homeschool math lesson.

Homeschool Math Woes

She definitely had struggled a bit through the lesson that day. I figured she was just happy to be done with it, but when I asked her to clarify, she told us all how proud she was of herself for figuring everything out and persevering.

I was proud of her too!  And not just because she finally understood some difficult multiplication problems, but because she was gaining skills she didn’t even realize would benefit her across the board.

Our Own Math Experiences

As a former high school math teacher, I can’t stress enough the importance of helping our kids build a strong foundation in mathematics. Not only does it increase their chance of success as they move through Algebra and beyond, but it can alleviate math anxiety, lead to a greater appreciation for the subject…and possibly even help them enjoy it!

So often I would see kids barely scrape by, earn a “passing” grade, and then struggle in future courses, hating math and believing they were “bad at math” – which was not the case.  

Fortunately, as homeschooling parents, we have an opportunity to do better.

Often, though, we need a mindset shift, especially if we think we are “bad at math” or had a poor math experience in our own education. Sometimes we have to change our way of thinking to change how we approach math with our kids.

Those math lessons aren’t going to go away. So let’s take a look at 3 ways we might need to adjust our attitudes to better our homeschool math experience.

Shift 1: Know Your “Why”

I bet you can guess the question I was constantly asked as a math teacher: Why do we have to learn this?  

So, why do you teach math in your homeschool?  

This answer is going to be different for every family, for every child, depending on your goals and situation. But sometimes math can be a struggle because it’s hard for kids to see the relevance and application of what they are doing.

So I would encourage you to make this clear to them. Just as you may have a homeschool mission and vision statement, think about your “why” for teaching math. Especially in the day and age when we carry calculators around in our pockets on our phones, what do you want your kids to know and be able to do after they finish their curriculum?  

It’s a question that can be challenging, and you may have to wrestle with it a bit. But once you have your “why”, share it with your kids, and make sure that what and how you are teaching is helping you accomplish your goal.  When your kids begin to struggle with something, you’ll have a reason to stay encouraged.

Shift 2: Realize You’re Not “Bad at Math”

I truly believe that people who say they are bad at math aren’t really bad at math. There are so many different types of learners, different types of math learners, and different ways to approach problem-solving that to just throw your hands in the air and claim you’re bad at math is selling yourself short.

Math is all around us, in everything we do. It’s in art, electronics, engineering, music, sports, video games, you name it. It’s much more than simply a worksheet filled with algebra equations.

And we have to watch when we make comments like this in front of our kids because they can begin to internalize those same thoughts. They will decide whether or not they are “good” or “bad” at math based on one concept they are struggling with, or by watching a sibling who doesn’t seem to struggle with math at all, and they forget the big picture. Motivation can decline because they begin to believe you are either born good at math…or you aren’t.  

However, we want to help promote a growth mindset in our kids and help them realize that intelligence is not fixed and that they can overcome what they are struggling with. Because they can. And the beauty of homeschooling is that we can come alongside them and figure out the best way to help them learn.

This takes practice and an intentional focus on our words whenever our kids want to pout in a fixed-mindset attitude. For example, when one of my kids gets frustrated and says “I can’t do this!”, I like to ask them, “What can you do?” and “How can I help you figure this out?” It helps them to see that they do know something, and if they keep working at it, they absolutely can figure it out.

Another method is to have them ask questions instead of just saying “I don’t get it.” It’s empowering for our kids to understand what they don’t understand and helps them realize they can find the answer. On the same note, when they come to you for help, instead of just working out the problem for them or showing them how to do it, assist them in figuring it out on their own by asking guided questions.  

Be mindful to try and incorporate different activities in your math lessons depending on what type of learner your child is. If they’re not getting a concept, it doesn’t mean they can’t – they just might need the material presented in a new way.

Shift 3: It’s Not Always the Right or Wrong That’s Important

I have one child who aces pretty much all of his assignments. And another who will frequently get everything wrong her first go-round.  

Now, I am not a perfect homeschool parent. I hate to admit that there have been occasions I get upset with her because every. single. problem. is. wrong, and weren’t you paying attention to me at all during your lesson??  

You can guess how this scenario ends. Never well. Usually with tears.  

And almost always with me eating my words and having to go back to apologize. Because when I take a closer look, there is a lot of great thinking that went on underneath those wrong answers. When I actually take the time to ask her to explain how she got the answer she did, I can help her figure out where she went wrong.

We don’t want our kids to fear being wrong. We have to recognize that even when answers are seemingly “wrong”, there is more to learning math than just getting the right answer the first time every time.

That being said, I would encourage you to give careful thought to how you grade homeschool math assignments. Remember that we have an opportunity in homeschooling to not just end the lesson with a page of wrong answers, marking down a bad grade, and being done with it (we’re different from public school, remember?).

When I go through an assignment the first time, I will circle answers my kids need to take a closer look at, then give it back to them to work on until they get it right. Sometimes I do need to reteach, approach the problem in a new way, or have them explain their thinking to me. But all of those are valuable and empowering ways for our kids to learn from their mistakes.

The book TEACH by Dennis DiNoia (Mr. D Math) also offers some great strategies I’ve adopted in my homeschooling regarding how I grade some of our math assignments. If you’re interested in helping your kids become great mathematical thinkers rather than just focusing on getting the right or wrong answer, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Now, yes, there is a time and place where answers need to be precise and correct the first time through.  When getting the right answer is important. But it’s not when every math lesson ends with all parties wanting to pull their hair out or run and hide in a closet. Help your kids build confidence in their abilities early on, appreciate the learning process, and the rest will follow when the time comes. 

And the Biggest Mindset Shift…

I know I said there were only three, but you get a bonus. If nothing else soaks in from this post, let this be it:

Your relationship with your kids matters more than the math assignment.

This is the mindset we need to embrace, not just about math, but about every subject we teach our kids.  It’s when we truly realize this that we are able to stay calm during those days our kids are frustrated. It allows us the flexibility to realize when something isn’t working that it’s ok to change and try something new. And it allows us to give our kids grace when they get all of those answers wrong (or they really weren’t paying attention to the lesson).

No matter what your thoughts are about teaching math, I hope these tips will help you build that happier math experience in your homeschool. Who knows? It just might become your kids’ favorite subject after all.  

Sara Radginski

About the author

Sara is a math teacher-turned homeschool mom to four kids (including a set of twins!). She loves encouraging other moms on their parenting and homeschool journeys and offers tips, printables, and more on her blog Blessed Homeschool.

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