S is for Struggle: 5 Ways to Make Teaching Math Easier

4 out of 3 people struggle with math(click here for photo credit and to purchase this awesome shirt

You, too? 

What do you get when you cross a right-brained mom with a right-brained child? Besides a lot of creative, messy stuff?

I can promise you it’s not a propensity for math.

From early on in our homeschool journey, it became clear to me that our biggest struggle in homeschooling would not be Ben’s ADHD or my lack of planning and organization.

It would be math. 

It used to make me crazy — jumping from math curriculum to math curriculum. Name one — I can assure you we have probably tried it, or at least considered it. It took a few years for me to figure out that math curriculum was not the enemy. Lack of creativity in teaching math was. Funny, huh? The creative mom and child did not consider that perhaps our issue was lack of creativity!

In the meantime, Ben got farther and farther behind in math instruction and he developed a “I’m horrible at math” attitude  so detrimental to learning that we actually shelved formal math instruction completely for a year. That’s when we discovered math could be taught in new ways. 

Today, we still don’t use what is considered a common curriculum for math. We are using a more “living books” approach. I don’t know that Ben will ever be a wiz at this subject, but I do know that his ability is improving and, more importantly, so is his attitude.

Here’s how I’m accomplishing making teaching math easier with our right brains. 

teaching math easier


Life of Fred

There is no other math curriculum like this one. Written as a funny story line, Life of Fred shares the life story of a very young (and very tiny) college professor who encounters math every day and learns its methods. Ben started with the very first book in grade 5 (even though it was extremely elementary), and is working his way through, one book at a time. Apparently, finishing all of it will prepare students for year 3 of college math. I am counting on it because Ben loves Life of Fred. I knew we had a winner when he took the books to bed with him for “free” reading. 

Living Books

We keep a book basket of math books around. We have for a long time. We started early with simple counting picture books and have advanced as Ben has gotten older. Some of our current favorites include:

All of the books from A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander – Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of PiSir Cumference and the Great Knight of AnglelandSir Cumference and All the King’s TensSir Cumference and the Isle of ImmeterSir Cumference and the Sword in the ConeMultiplying Menace: The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin (there are more, but that should get you started). 

The I Hate Mathematics! Book – This book gave Ben permission to hate math, but also showed him that math can be fun and useful. We’ve had it in our home library for a few years now and he still frequently pulls it off the shelf to read. 

Math for Smarty Pants — Puzzles, tricks, word problems — the math book for those afraid of numbers. Very fun and entertaining. Another book that Ben pulls off the shelf (or out of the math book basket) frequently. 

Loving Living Math — This eBook gives great tips and ideas for how to incorporate living math with whatever curriculum you’re already using. It uses puzzles, games, projects, technology, and more living books to help you. 

For more ideas for living books you can use to teach math, check out this resource: Math Literature List by Topic


Ben and I both enjoy playing games, and there are many games that will help reinforce math concepts. Here are a few of our favorites (and I won’t even mention Monopoly): 

Sumoku — Think of this as the Bananagrams of numbers. 

Rush Hour – This awesome game incorporates critical thinking with spacial awareness. They won’t even know that it helps with math! Similarly, Blokus also teaches spacial reasoning.

Yahtzee — This classic dice games takes me back to my childhood, staying awake with my Grandma until 2am, eating peanuts and drinking Pepsi, trying so hard to beat her, but never quite succeeding. Even without the wonderful memories, I’d want to play this game with Ben. It is great for math, especially for multiplication.

MathDice — Another dice game, you won’t believe how much fun math can be with this game. And it helps with all 4 operations!

SkipBo, Uno and Phase 10 – A few of our favorite card games that help with math skills. 

Dominoes and Triominoes – Another sneaky and fun way to sneak in some math. 

Pyramath — I have a review of this fascinating card game. Ben still pulls it off the game shelf at least once a month.

Fractazmic — This is another card game by the same folks as Pyramath. It teaches fractions. There’s a review for it here.


Appschooling is an important part of our homeschool. My tactile learner thrives when I hand him the iPad. I have already shared many of our favorite math apps here in Appschooling Math

Using Science, Art, and Cooking to Teach Math

Much to the amazement of my student, math does indeed spill over into other subjects, especially art and science (which Ben loves) and of course, cooking. Plus, these subjects are just more fun than math worksheets. It sometimes takes some effort to point out where the subjects overlap, but here are a few ideas for you: 

Science and math just go together like peas and carrots. As much as Ben dislikes math, he loves science. So I take advantage of that and double the amount of science he does. In fact, he pretty much has free rein when it comes to anything science related. Learning math while studying science is just natural — there is nothing forced about it and you don’t need to even mention it to your math-hater. Just give them lots of tools for science and the math will soak in naturally. 

Using Art to teach Math has limitless possibilities — tessellations, tangrams, quilt pattern designs — there is so much geometry in art! Then there’s also shapes, lines and patterns. Here’s an awesome art project for teaching fractions, decimals, and percent equivalents.

Of course cooking is filled with possibilities for math, whether you use a recipe as is, double it, half it — add grocery shopping and all that entails (budgeting, coupons, sales tax), and you could spend weeks learning math with cooking. 

I just wrote a blog post about teaching math. Wow! Who would have thought it could happen?! I hope you found something useful here. In writing it, I was reminded of  few things we haven’t been doing lately, so I am excited to spend more time sneaking in focusing  on math. 

There are some other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew sharing their struggles, too. On Wednesday this week, you can read more from them by clicking on the graphic below. 

Subject Struggle


Until then,  how about you? Is there a subject you struggle with in your homeschool? What is it and what do you do to overcome your struggle? 

 blogging through the alphabet sm.

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  • Kym Thorpe

    My daughter and I have the same issue – right-brain creative types trying to wrap our heads around math. Life of Fred has been the life-saver here too!

  • Heather @ Principled Academy

    I can totally relate! My husband is a great help in this area (I’m so thankful!). As for me, I love teacher the *after-math*. I enjoy sewing a *second crop* by teaching the Bible Principles and God’s Providential Hand in mathematics. :-)

  • http://www.homeschoolways.com/ Adriana Zoder

    We love Life of Fred although we got it not because we don’t like math, but because we do. :)

  • leahrc

    Ah, I used math as my subject that I struggle with also. Although Life of Fred hasn’t been that great for us.

  • Meg @ Adventures with Jude

    I totally understand. I was an arts major (theater and English) for a reason, and Math was it!

  • Laura Prater

    What a great list! We love Life of Fred here too! :)

  • MMASpecialist

    I’m glad you posted Life of Fred

  • ASliceofHomeschoolPie

    I completely agree that when it comes to math, it has to be made fun during our children’s early years. Otherwise, it becomes nothing but a chore, for the student and for mom. :-) ~Clara

  • http://www.kathysclutteredmind.com Kathy Balman

    Great post! I also struggle with math. My post was on the same topic and very similar to yours. We do a lot of hands on activities and lots of reading!

  • Sharla Orren

    This is wonderful and totally in line with what my 10 year old needs. I just pinned to my math board so that I can go back and re-read!! Thank you!

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