Sometimes in our schooling journey it can be wise to take a break from math. This need can be caused by a variety of reasons. Maybe your student has hit a wall with a particular concept. Perhaps you are experiencing a particularly difficult season in your homeschooling (your family has had a loss, a birth, a move, or maybe all three). It could be that you recognize there are gaps in your student’s understanding and there is a need to back up and review. You’re pursuing testing or a diagnosis of a learning struggle and need to reevaluate your approach for your student. Any of these can be a good reason to take a break from math.
What’s a “Math Break”?
What might a math break look like in real life? Do you stop doing math entirely? Sometimes, and it may be the best solution for your family in the short term.
Other times, it can simply mean taking a break from the current curriculum and focusing more on math games, math apps, reading math-related literature, or reviewing concepts. It could also include applying math to real-world applications such as cooking, budgeting, or a building project, all outside of a workbook! Below are some additional ideas:
Math Games to Add to or Revisit From Your Collection
• Thinkfun Math Dice®
• Prime Climb by Math for Love
• Head Full of Numbers by Learning Resources
• Monopoly by Hasbro
• CASHFLOW by The Rich Dad Company
• Tenzi Dice Game by Tenzi
• Farkle by Legendary Games
Math Review Resources (by Michael Levin and Charan Langton)
• Verbal Math Lessons Vol. 1, 2 and 3
• Verbal Fractions
• Verbal Percents
Fun Literature-Based Math Stories (by Greg Tang)
• Math-terpieces: The Art of Problem Solving
• The Grapes of Math: Mind-Stretching Math Riddles
• Math Potatoes: Mind-Stretching Brain Food
Taking a break from the math routine may also alleviate symptoms of math anxiety. Math can be a source of real anxiety for some students and can impact their learning to the point where the brain actually shuts down. The hope is to find a curriculum and provide a learning environment where this type of academic anxiety doesn’t occur, but if it does happen, it is important to take steps to work through it. This often centers around math fact mastery. Often, taking a look back to see if a foundational skill hasn’t been mastered can provide insight into our current struggle. In that situation, Accelerated Individualized Mastery (AIM) for Addition and Subtraction or AIM for Multiplication can be a great choice to master those facts before moving back into a full level curriculum.
Let me share my own personal experience and how a break in math curriculum benefited my math learning experience. Thinking back, math produced a lot of anxiety for me prior to 7th grade. I am the oldest of five kids and we were all homeschooled. My (math-loving) dad enjoyed getting us all in the car for a family road trip (so I was trapped!) and would start throwing out word problems for us to solve to pass the time (yes, I am old and this was prior to all the technological devices available today that can be used to distract kids from the miles passing by).
Reflecting on those trips today brings a tightening to my chest and a feeling of mild panic. I would feel like a deer in the headlights, my mouth would go dry, and I would blurt out answers (often wrong), all the while my younger brother was beating me to the answers and getting them right (he was the math-blessed child of the family). It was frustrating and humiliating. I felt like I would never be confident in math.
Thankfully, this changed for me when our family began using Math-U-See. I re-learned foundational skills and addressed the many learning gaps I had from curriculum hopping. Finally, I achieved solid mastery of math concepts I had exposure to, but had not fully learned! Math-U-See helped me to beat the “math anxiety monster”; he is real and he is scary!
Sometimes we need to change the approach and teach math by thinking outside the box. Facts can be another area where certain students struggle; memorization, memory, and recall can be weaker for some students and we need to capitalize on their strengths (visual or auditory). So, for the visual student, modify your flash cards and include the answer under the problem. Instead of 4 + 7 = blank, write in the answer so it looks like this: 4 + 7 = 11. Then drill with those modified flash cards; this engages the student’s visual camera! They can then “take a picture” to remember and recall all the information (problem and answer), not just a problem with what they perceive to be missing information (no answer). If they are auditory, music can help. Find facts set to music to listen to that are fun and catchy. Sometimes a very simple change in our approach can take a math situation from stress and struggles to confidence and success. We also have two great intervention programs, AIM for Addition and Subtraction and AIM for Multiplication, that can address fact deficiencies in a short period of time before picking back up after a break.
Once back on solid ground with confidence and mastery established, you can then reintroduce math instruction with renewed energy and move forward with success. Great leaps and major breakthroughs can happen after a very intentional and thoughtful break. My personal journey with math is an example of this.
Yet many parents shy away from taking a much-needed break for fear of falling behind. It is by far more important to make sure that mastery and understanding are attained to cultivate a lifelong enjoyable journey of math learning than comparing ourselves to our peers. Just remember, comparison is the thief of joy. We want to keep the joy in our journey! Hopefully my story and suggestions help you to see that value can be added to the math learning experience by taking a break, regrouping, or changing the instructional approach completely. This is where you, as an engaged and aware parent, can make all the difference! Knowing your student’s learning strengths and building up their areas of weakness make all the difference. But again, we have to be aware of what this looks like and the path that is best for each student in our care, and make the most of our time learning together.
Is it time for a break yet??
If you have more questions about AIM, you can schedule a personalized consultation.
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Thank you for this opportunity. As a homeschooling mother, I feel is time for a break. I just don’t know how to begin our break or where to start. This puts things in perspective for me. Again,thank you.
Sometimes, especially with teens, you need to change the associations with math. My strong-willed girl was really beginning to hate Algebra, so we took 2 weeks off. When we came back to it, we switched everything up – the time of day for math, the location, using marker boards instead of paper, and most importantly, a cup of hot (or cold) sweet tea to start each lesson. As she said to me today (Day 3 of the restart), “I just can’t be grumpy when I’m sipping tea!” Yes, it’s shameless bribery (she loves sweet tea), but now she’s approaching Algebra with a positive attitude – and that is more than half the battle!
Thank you for this article! I think many homeschoolers feel the fear of “keeping up” with public school and are worried if they take a break they will be behind. I have taken math breaks with my kids when their frustration levels were up and comprehension was down, some intentional and some because of vacation or sickness. Every time I worried about “catching up” but it was like the break gave their brain a chance to figure things out because each time they came back refreshed and flew through the material enjoying it and understanding it much more than before.
Now I try to focus more on each child truly understanding and have let go of keeping up with anyone. I’m so glad for the freedom to take breaks when we need to!