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Why Is Math so Hard for Some Students?

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No school subject divides children more than math. 

While many children thrive at topics like problem-solving, geometry and numeracy, others find math so hard to learn that they feel overwhelmed, frustrated or anxious when doing anything math-related. 

If your child is struggling with math, they shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. Everyone has their own strengths and challenges when it comes to learning. As their parent, you’re in a great position to help your child overcome this and make math easier for them.

In this article, we’ll be looking at why your child might find math hard and how you can support them as their parent.

7 Reasons why students struggle with math

To help your child make learning math easier, you should first work out why they’re finding it difficult. For many children, it isn’t what they’re learning in math that’s hard, but how and why they’re learning it.

Here are some common reasons why math is hard to learn for some children:

1. Concentration and attention difficulties

When your child is trying to solve a math problem, they need to concentrate and carefully follow each step. If they lose concentration or are distracted at any point in this process, they’re much more likely to make a mistake and will have to start over until they get the right answer. 

Over time, making the same mistakes repeatedly can lower your child’s confidence and interest when solving math problems, especially if they feel like they’re falling behind their classmates. 

Tools like Prodigy help capture your child’s attention by putting them in a game-based environment that engages them as they solve math problems.

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Did you know?

Research showed that students who cited low math enjoyment when they started using Prodigy Math saw their level of math enjoyment double in just a few months.

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2. Lack of understanding

A lot of math lessons start with a teacher presenting a math problem to the class and walking them through a step-by-step method to help them solve it.

After watching the teacher solve a problem using a specific method, your child might feel confident enough to try it out on their own. 

But when they’re presented with a more challenging problem later on, they might realize they didn’t fully understand the method taught in class. This can lower your child’s confidence. They may even avoid letting their teacher know, because they feel embarrassed they didn’t understand the method. 

School absences like vacations and sick days are other common reasons why your child may have a hard time understanding a particular math concept. If they don’t have the opportunity to catch up on their missed learning, this can cause them to feel left behind and find math harder to learn than their classmates.

3. Learning difficulties & disabilities

While teachers do a great job of bringing out the best in their students, the classroom isn’t always the easiest learning environment for every child. 

For children with learning difficulties or intellectual disabilities, it’s much harder to enjoy learning math without a teacher or teaching assistant who knows how to properly support them.

Also known as being neurodivergent, children with difficulties like dyslexia can find it challenging to read math questions or solve word problems. Other neurodivergent challenges like being on the autism or ADD/ADHD spectrums can also make it hard for your child to focus and comfortably participate in classroom math activities. 

If you suspect your child is experiencing a learning difficulty and believe it’s affecting their performance in math, contact your child’s teacher or school. Many schools offer special learning programs that will identify your child’s difficulty and tailor a learning program designed to help them reach their full potential.

4. Lack of patience

Because math involves using plenty of multi-step processes to solve problems, being able to master it takes a lot more practice than other subjects.

Having to repeat a process over and over again can quickly bore some children and this may make them become impatient with math. While learning to be patient is an important step in your child’s development, they should also be encouraged to practice math with activities that are fun and engaging.

child doing math work

5. Not enough opportunity

From art shows and science fairs to soccer and drama clubs, children have plenty of opportunities to practice their favorite sport or hobby outside of the classroom. But what about math?

More often than not, children aren’t aware of how they can practice basic math outside of school and homework. This can cause them to lose interest and make it harder for them to feel motivated with math.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way! Engaging and educational math resources like Prodigy change that by giving your child plenty of fun opportunities to practice their math skills outside of school.

child holding crayons

6. Being left-brained vs. right-brained

Every child has their individual likes and dislikes, including when it comes to school subjects. 

Generally, learners can be separated into two categories based on the particular type of subject they prefer. This is known as being either left-brained or right-brained. 

This is how it works:

  • Right-brained people enjoy being creative and expressing themselves in writing or when speaking. These individuals enjoy school subjects like art, English, drama or music. 
  • Left-brained people are the opposite of right-brained people. They naturally enjoy being analytical and solving problems in subjects like math, technology and science. 

While the verdict is still out on whether our brains are actually hardwired this way, many people believe children (and adults) have a preference for one type of subject over the other. 

If your child is right-brained, it could explain why they find math harder to learn because they’re outside of their natural comfort zone. 

7. Math anxiety

Is your child anxious or nervous when trying to work with math? If so, they might find math hard to learn because they’re experiencing math anxiety

Math anxiety is a phobia that appears when someone is faced with math problems. It tends to appear when a child (or adult) is placed in a testing environment, but may also appear when they have math class or need to do math homework.

Math anxiety shows up in many different ways. Your child may appear quiet and nervous or be reluctant to go to school when they have a math class or test. They may also show physical symptoms like nausea and shaking. While challenging, math anxiety can be successfully managed with support from professionals like teachers, tutors and counselors.

Discover the real-life value of math

One of the biggest reasons why students find math hard is because they don’t understand its value in real life. This attitude becomes harder to shake off when students are about to start high school math, which is more theory-based.

If your child is questioning the real-life value of math, explore why they think that is with them. You could explain to them that math offers plenty of real-life benefits, including:

  • Better job opportunities — As a STEM subject, math skills are in high demand and will give your child plenty of opportunities to achieve their future career aspirations.
  • Better money management — Being able to understand topics like interest and budgeting helps your child save and manage money more efficiently, meaning more opportunities for them to enjoy their favorite things. 
  • Computational skills — Math is a great way to develop technical skills in computer science, robotics and engineering.
  • Problem-solving skills — The skills learned in math class give students the ability to think analytically and solve problems using logic and reasoning, helping them to make better decisions.
parent helping her child with homework

How to help kids who find math difficult

While there are many reasons your child might find math hard to learn, there are also lots of ways you can help make it easier and more enjoyable for them. 

Here are some methods that will help make math more accessible for your child:

1. Discuss math difficulties with your child’s teacher

Keeping in touch with your child’s math teacher is an excellent way to identify where and why they might find math difficult. There are many ways to communicate with your child’s teacher, ranging from going to parent teacher conferences to simply sending them an email. 

When discussing your child’s math performance with their teacher, work together to develop a strategy that supports them in the classroom and at home. The more aligned you are with your child’s math teacher, the easier it will be to support your child.

children doing a kinesthetic learning activity

2. Adapt their learning to their preferred learning style

Whether you’re starting to homeschool your child or guiding them through their homework, it’s important you work with them in their preferred learning style. Learners often have a preference for a type of material that helps them better understand a concept. These include:

  • Visual activities like watching videos and creating drawings.
  • Auditory activities like mnemonics and group discussions.
  • Kinesthetic activities like playing games and making things.

To work out your child’s learning style, consider asking them about their favorite lesson and what made it special for them. You could also experiment with different activities to see what they respond best to.  

Interactive and engaging platforms like Prodigy are designed to suit many different learning styles. Better yet, a Prodigy Math Membership offers amazing perks to further engage your child’s unique learning style like video lessons, fun practice sheets and exclusive in-game content. 

3. Find a way to make math fun

There are so many ways to make math fun for your child and develop their problem-solving skills at the same time. These include:

  • Trying out puzzles and quizzes
  • Visiting math and science museums (even from home!)
  • Building models and paper crafts
  • Game-based learning tools online

Making math fun and engaging is one of the hardest challenges in helping kids build math skills. But if your child can learn to associate math with having fun, they'll start to see math problems as an exciting challenge instead of a chore.

Having fun while doing math will also encourage your child practice it more often. And the more time your child can spend practicing math skills, the more confident they'll feel in their ability to do well at math!

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Bonus tip: Try out a math app!

If your child likes to use a tablet or computer at home, a math app might be the solution you're looking for. Check out these 13 math apps that are designed to entertain kids and boost learning!

See the math apps

4. Bring math into real-life scenarios

From measuring ingredients to managing money, there are plenty of scenarios where we all need to use our math skills. Introducing real-life applications of math into your everyday activities is an excellent way to encourage your child to enjoy math and discover its many benefits. 

Introduce your child to real-world math in situations such as:

  • Managing money in the grocery store
  • Working out the time when planning their day
  • Converting measurements when baking or cooking
  • Calculating measurements when building or drawing
father and son practicing counting skills using money.

5. Stay involved with learning

Taking an active role in your child’s education is key to helping them fully realize their potential, especially before they start to become more independent in high school. Part of this includes working with them on subjects they might find challenging, like math. 

To keep involved in your child’s learning, consider spending some extra time with them on tasks like homework, especially if their teacher has highlighted it as one of their struggle spots. You can even ask your child to teach you what they’ve recently learned in math class. Following up with your child’s progress not only reinforces what they’ve learned in class, but also boosts their math confidence in a safe space. 

child learning with a remote online tutor

6. Try out a math tutor

Math tutors are a great way to get quality 1:1 time to focus on your child’s weakest spots. Math tutors can also teach your child problem-solving strategies that will help them feel more confident when handling unknown questions. 

When looking for a math tutor, try:

  • Looking for a tutor online
  • Reaching out to your school for suggestions
  • Asking friends and family for recommendations
  • Contacting students are training to become a teacher

Doing plenty of research early on can help you find the best tutor for your child. It's also a good idea to trial a session or two before committing. Most importantly, remember to ask your child for their feedback.

You could ask them questions like:

  • What did you learn in today's session?
  • Did you enjoy your tutoring session today?
  • Would you like to see this tutor again?

Tip: To help make your child's math tutoring go further, encourage your child to get extra math practice outside of tutoring. One easy way to do that is to introduce them to Prodigy Math, our engaging, online math game that adapts to your child's learning goals as they play.

See how it works

7. Get other professional help 

Challenges like math anxiety and learning difficulties shouldn’t hold your child back from enjoying math. Getting professional help for your child, like sessions with a school counselor, can help your child develop coping strategies that will make them feel more confident with their math skills.

To learn more about getting professional help, reach out to your child’s teacher or school. 

A mother sitting with child learning on a tablet

Ongoing math support for struggling students

Learning math isn’t always easy for some children, especially if they don’t have the resources or support they deserve. At Prodigy, we know not every parent has the time or capacity to completely manage their child’s math learning, even though they want the very best for their child’s education. 

That’s why Prodigy is here to help you and your child. Prodigy Math is an online math game that immerses your child into a safe, fun and engaging game-based learning environment. All our math questions are made by teachers for students in 1st grade all the way to 8th grade.

With Prodigy, your child can:

  • Work on the areas they find hardest — Thanks to our nifty algorithm!
  • Practice math activities — Specifically designed for your child’s curriculum.
  • Learn in a fun and safe space — Complete with cute pets, engaging math battles and plenty of exciting quests.
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