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9 Ways to Improve Math Skills Quickly & Effectively

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Math class can move pretty fast. There’s so much to cover in the course of a school year. And if your child doesn’t get a new math idea right away, they can quickly get left behind.

If your child is struggling with basic math problems every day, it doesn’t mean they’re destined to be bad at math. Some students need more time to develop the problem-solving skills that math requires. Others may need to revisit past concepts before moving on. Because of how math is structured, it’s best to take each year step-by-step, lesson by lesson.

This article has tips and tricks to improve your child’s math skills while minimizing frustrations and struggles. If your child is growing to hate math, read on for ways to improve their skills and confidence, and maybe even make math fun! 

But first, the basics.

The importance of understanding basic math skills

Math is a subject that builds on itself. It takes a solid understanding of past concepts to prepare for the next lesson. 

That’s why math can become frustrating when you’re forced to move on before you’re ready. You’re either stuck trying to catch up or you end up falling further behind.

But with a strong understanding of basic math skills, your child can be set up for school success. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of sets or whole numbers, this is a great place to start. 

What are considered basic math skills?

The basic math skills required to move on to higher levels of math learning are: 

  • Addition — Adding to a set.
  • Subtraction — Taking away from a set.
  • Multiplication — Adding equal sets together in groups (2 sets of 3 is the same as 2x3, or 6).
  • Division — How many equal sets can be found in a number (12 has how many sets of two in it? 6 sets of 2).
  • Percentages — A specific amount in relation to 100.
  • Fractions & Decimals — Fractions are equal parts of a whole set. Decimals represent a number of parts of a whole in relation to 10. These both contrast with whole numbers. 
  • Spatial Reasoning — How numbers and shapes fit together.

How to improve math skills 

People aren’t bad at math — many just need more time and practice to gain a thorough understanding.

How can you help your child improve their math abilities? Use our top 9 tips for quickly and effectively improving math skills.

1. Wrap your head around the concepts

Repetition and practice are great, but if you don’t understand the concept, it will be difficult to move forward. 

Luckily, there are many great ways to break down math concepts. The trick is finding the one that works best for your child.

Math manipulatives can be a game-changer for children who are struggling with big math ideas. Taking math off the page and putting it into their hands can bring ideas to life. Numbers become less abstract and more concrete when you’re counting toy cars or playing with blocks. Creating these “sets” of objects can bring clarity to basic math learning.

2. Try game-based learning

During math practice, repetition is important — but it can get old in a hurry. No one enjoys copying their times tables over and over and over again. If learning math has become a chore, it’s time to bring back the fun! 

Game-based learning is a great way to practice new concepts and solidify past lessons. It can even make repetition fun and engaging.

Game-based learning can look like a family board game on Friday night or an educational app, like Prodigy Math.

A glimpse of the Prodigy Math Game world and a sample math question a kid could receive to help improve their math skills while playing.

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3. Bring math into daily life

You use basic math every day. 

As you go about your day, help your child see the math that’s all around them: 

  • Tell them how fast you’re driving on the way to school
  • Calculate the discount you’ll receive on your next Target trip
  • Count out the number of apples you need to buy at the grocery store
  • While baking, explain how 6 quarter cups is the same amount of flour as a cup and a half — then enjoy some cookies!

Relate math back to what your child loves and show them how it’s used every day. Math doesn’t have to be mysterious or abstract. Instead, use math to race monster trucks or arrange tea parties. Break it down, take away the fear, and watch their interest in math grow.

4. Implement daily practice

Math practice is important. Once you understand the concept, you have to nail down the mechanics. And often, it’s the practice that finally helps the concept click. Either way, math requires more than just reading formulas on a page.

Daily practice can be tough to implement, especially with a math-averse child. This is a great time to bring out the game-based learning mentioned above. Or find an activity that lines up with their current lesson. Are they learning about squares? Break out the math link cubes and create them. Whenever possible, step away from the worksheets and flashcards and find practice elsewhere.

5. Sketch word problems

Nothing causes a panic quite like an unexpected word problem. Something about the combination of numbers and words can cause the brain of a struggling math learner to shut down. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Many word problems just need to be broken down, step by step. One great way to do this is to sketch it out. If Doug has five apples and four oranges, then eats two of each, how many does he have left? Draw it, talk it out, cross them off, then count. 

If you’ve been talking your child through the various math challenges you encounter every day, many word problems will start to feel familiar. 

6. Set realistic goals

If your child has fallen behind in math, then more study time is the answer. But forcing them to cram an extra hour of math in their day is not likely to produce better results. To see a positive change, first identify their biggest struggles. Then set realistic goals addressing these issues

Two more hours of practicing a concept they don’t understand is only going to cause more frustration. Even if they can work through the mechanics of a problem, the next lesson will leave them feeling just as lost. 

Instead, try mini practice sessions and enlist some extra help. Approach the problem in a new way, reach out to their teacher or try an online math lesson. Make sure the extra time is troubleshooting the actual problem, not just reinforcing the idea that math is hard and no fun. 

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7. Engage with a math tutor

If your child is struggling with big picture concepts, look into finding a math tutor. Everyone learns differently, and you and your child’s teacher may be missing that “aha” moment that a little extra time and the right tutor can provide.

It’s amazing when a piece of the math puzzle finally clicks for your child. If you’re ready to get that extra help, try a free 1:1 online session from Prodigy Math Tutoring. Prodigy’s tutors are real teachers who know how to connect kids to math. With the right approach, your child can become confident in math — and who knows, they may even begin to enjoy it. 

8. Focus on one concept at a time

Math builds on itself. If your child is struggling through their current lesson, they can’t skip it and come back to it later. This is the time to practice and repeat — re-examining and reinforcing the current concept until it makes sense.

Look for other ways to approach new math ideas. Use math manipulatives to bring numbers off the page. Or try a learning app with exciting rewards and positive reinforcement to encourage extra practice. 

Take a step back when frustrations get high — but resist the temptation to just let it go. Once the concept clicks, they’ll be excited to forge ahead.

9. Teach others math you already know

Even if your child is struggling in math, they’ve still learned so much since last year. Focus on the improvements they’ve made and let them showcase their knowledge. If they have younger siblings, your older child can demonstrate addition or show them how to use a number line. This is a great way to build their confidence and encourage them to keep going.

Or let them teach you how they solve new problems. Have your child talk you through the process while you solve a long division problem. You’re likely to find yourself a little rusty on the details. Play it up and get a little silly. They’ll love teaching you the ropes of this “new math.”

Child using movable numbers and math symbols on a table to show a 5x5 formula and help someone else improve their math skills

Embracing technology to improve math skills

Though much of your math learning was done with pencil to paper, there are many more ways to build number skills in today’s tech world. 

Your child can take live, online math courses to work through tough concepts. Or play a variety of online games, solving math puzzles and getting consistent practice while having fun.

These technical advances can help every child learn math, no matter their preferred learning or study style. If your child is a visual learner, there’s an app for that. Do they process best while working in groups? Jump online and find one. Don’t keep repeating the same lessons from their math class over and over. Branch out, try something new and watch the learning click. 

Look online for more math help

There are so many online resources, it can be hard to know where to start. 

At Prodigy, we’re happy to help you get the ball rolling on your child’s math learning, from kindergarten through 8th grade. It’s free to sign up, fun to play and exciting to watch as your child’s math understanding grows.

Sign up for a free parent account and get instant data on your child’s progress as they build more math skills with Prodigy Math Game. It’s time to take the math struggle out of your home and enjoy learning together!

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