How To Help When Schoolwork Is Hard


We homeschool Ja’Ana.  She is in 10th grade.   There are a lot of things that are easy for her, like cooking, sewing, music, and dance.  There are some things that are hard, like math.  The sad thing is that math is hard for me, too.  So, what’s a mom to do?  Especially when the time has come for Algebra?

Because all of the home-making areas, and music, and language arts are my strong points, we can sometimes get into trouble when it comes to math, when you add up my weakness with her extreme reluctance, due to how difficult it is for her.  I’ve taken some steps to make the process less painful for us both.

First, I bought a math curriculum that has cd’s with explanations for every single problem–Teaching Text Algebra.  I am aware that it is less difficult than Saxon, for instance, but it is just right for us.  In the past, I went through other Algebra curriculums with other children, and had to start from page one and do the entire book to be able to help them do the problems when we got farther into it.  I was hoping to not have to do that this time, and so far, so good.  This is especially important because no one has reached the Algebra level for quite a few years, so I am super rusty on the concepts.

I have actually used this brand of curriculum for a few years with her, and love the fact that the Algebra is now self-correcting.  So, if she punches an answer into the computer, it tells her if it is right or wrong.  Then, it will show how to do it, if necessary.  I use that feature at times.  I also am willing to look back at the explanations in the book, and carefully study the examples, and use them to figure out how to do the problems.  I have a brother-in-law who is a math professor, and have asked him if I get really stuck on something.  The fact is–you can’t teach something with any kind of confidence if you don’t understand it yourself.  So, the first step is to make sure I understand the problem.

The most successful method I use with her is to sit side-by-side with her, with each of us having our own pad of paper.  I have her read over the first problem and see if she knows the answer.  They are usually true or false.  Sometimes the wording is tricky and we need to discuss what it means.  After she is confident on what it means, it is usually easy for her to decide if it is true or false.  I would love it if she would listen to the explanation on the cd., or even read the explanations in the lessons, but she is usually in a big hurry and doesn’t really do that very often on her own.  When I am sitting there, I make sure she has done that.  I often need to re-word things into a way that she can understand more clearly.

Then, we both work each and every problem.  When we are done, we see if we agree on the answer.  If we do, she punches it into the computer.  Hopefully, we are right.  If not, we re-do it, using more of the examples in the book, or the explanation given.  One of the problems we have is that she was having so much trouble getting the right answer when she was doing it on her own, that she seemed actually afraid of punching the answer into the computer, for fear of getting it wrong.  I’m trying to get her to see that  learning how to do the problems is what matters, not the final score.  I’m also working with her on the fact that everyone makes mistakes, including me, and that’s ok.

On the story problems, I draw pictures to try to illustrate them.  That seems to help most of the time.  When it doesn’t, and all else fails, there is the explanation on the cd–our lifesaver.

After a chapter is done, I give her a test, with no help from me, except making sure she understands the questions.  If she cannot do the problems, we re-do the chapter, with me correcting it with the answer key because the computer grade book is already full.  I don’t care if we have to do it 3 times, I want understanding more than speedy completion of a book. After all, the reward for finishing a book is a harder book, and if you don’t understand the easier book, you have no hope of doing the harder one.  I also don’t care if one book takes 2 years.  With my children, my goal is slow, steady progress, coupled with understanding.

When she works hard, I heap her with praise, letting her know how proud I am of her.  When she get a problems right, and I don’t, I point that out and praise her.  She clearly can see for herself when she’s wrong, so I matter-of-factly say “let’s try again, boy that one is hard” etc.  I try to remember that doing a school subject that is very difficult for her, or any child, is the same as asking me to do something very hard and foreign to me, such as re-build a car engine.   I’m just glad she is attempting Algebra, even though it’s hard.  This method is working for now, and we both feel less like screaming with frustration:) Even better, she is understanding things she was not sure she could accomplish, and that’s got to feel good to her.

10 thoughts on “How To Help When Schoolwork Is Hard”

  1. I had one of the best math teachers in high school. She always did each problem on the chalkboard so we could see each step, stopping to explain why they were being done. It really helped to see where we were going wrong. The next year I missed school because of a sickness and just read the instructions and tried to figure it out on my own. It was a disaster. I think seeing helps in learning, so while sometimes it may feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, I’m sure all the extra attention is helping. You’re so right, that it isn’t about quickly finishing the book, but really learning the concepts.


    1. I have high hopes for her. She is getting so much more of it than many of the older kids did–so I want to help her along as much as possible, without making her life miserable with too much work. Again, balance is the key.

  2. I just saw a cup holder the other day at the dollar store that said “Yup, another day of my life has passed that I didn’t need Algebra”.

  3. Dear Becky, possibly you can team up with another homeschooling mom who is good at algebra? She could help with teaching algebra to Ja’Ana and you can possibly ‘barter’ your skills such as sewing, cooking, etc.

    1. We’ve tried some co-ops with certain subjects. Some were successful, some were not, with her learning needs. There are math classes in my area that she could go to, but I’ve been warned by my friends that they consist of a lot of “figure it out yourself” along with lecture and lots of homework, which would put me back in the same boat. I would have to sit with her for that homework, re-teach in a way she could understand, and so forth. She was very successful in the home-school Spanish class for 2 years. That teacher had a style that she could follow, and there were lots of hands-on talks, games, etc., along with the homework.

      I don’t know anyone who could actually tutor her in the way she needs for math, though, except one friend who works writing math curriculum and my brother-in-law who is a math professor at a college. They are both too busy for tutoring outside of their jobs. The hardest part is that things have to be broken down, and re-presented in a different way to fit her learning style, sometimes several times before she understands the concept. Then, when she does understand it, it is often in an entirely different way than I or anybody else does. I did take her to a class a few years back on how to think about math differently–we went for several weeks, two sessions, and it helped us both. (we both attended, and I was the most eager student in the class) So, I just keep plugging away at it, and rejoice in all and any progress.

  4. Bless you child. Helping with school work is darn hard. Hahaha. I was never good at math but once I understood Algebra I loved it. If you asked me a question about it now, I wouldn’t remember the first thing. I’m glad you are so patient with her. If it takes 3 do-overs then it takes 3. Understanding is so much better than guessing right.

  5. I homeschooled our boys through high school and am a HUGE “Math Midget” as I call myself. 😉 Math is not my strength, in part because I have a learning disability where I flip and transpose numbers the same way I do with letters (dyslexia). I was able to over come my dyslexia, but dyscalculia still haunts me. I was able to help my kids with their algebra and teach then that, but once they got into calculus and statistics, I had to get some outside help. I think you are doing great!

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