How and When to Take a “Math Break”
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 that may be the best solution for your family.
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 building that occur 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 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.
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 5 kids and we were all homeschooled. My dad loved to get 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 thinking outside the box. Facts can be another area where certain students struggle; memorization, memory, and recall can be weaker for some students and so 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 so 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 their visual camera! They can then “take a picture” to remember and recall of all the information (problem and answer), not just a problem with what to them is missing information: no answer. If they are auditory, music can help so 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.
Once back on solid ground and confidence and mastery have been 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 learning of math 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??