Taking the Sting Out of Math Title Typography
with Steve Demme
A New Mindset for Math
In speaking to parents for many years about teaching math to their children, I have encountered moms and dads on both ends of the spectrum. Some parents love math and can’t wait to teach it to their children. Others have never enjoyed math and are nervous or afraid or even terrified at the prospect of being their child’s math instructor.

It is to the latter group that I am writing today.

Consider homeschooling math as an opportunity for a do-over. Your first experiences were not positive and now you have a chance to learn it along with your children. You have several assets at your disposal that you did not have when you were a struggling student.

Your Assets
1 You have already spent over a decade studying math, have been using it in real life for many more years, and have a wealth of experience to draw from.

2 You are not a classroom teacher, you are a tutor. Classroom teachers follow the book. Tutors follow the student. As a tutor, first figure out what your children know and begin there. Move at their pace. Give them time to really understand a concept before moving on to the next topic. I know this sounds foreign to those of us who were hustled through the system in fear of being behind, but as a tutor you are in control. Take whatever time you need. You are the expert on your child’s progress.

3 YOU ARE NEVER BEHIND. Truly. Resist the temptation to compare your student. Your child is where they are. Build on what they know. Give them the gift of being successful. Don’t push. Lead.

4 Pray. God is on your team. He has your back. He is a wonderful teacher of you and your kiddos. Many times when I am tutoring and hitting a wall, I will ask the Spirit to help me figure out a new way to present material or a new strategy and He is always faithful.

Textbooks don’t teach; teachers teach. Books are a resource for you to use as you see fit. Most math curricula were written for a classroom with an amazing amount of repetition and busy work to keep thirty students on task. You are a tutor. You decide how much to do and how long to do it. You really know more than a textbook company.

No one is more motivated to see your children succeed. No one knows your children better than you do.

When your children are not getting it and starting to get emotionally distraught (or you are), take a break. Consider a strategy a friend shared with me which helped me teach one of my sons who struggled with math. Instead of giving your students more problems, give them more examples. It sounds trite, but it revolutionized the math relationship between me and my son.

Let’s say you are teaching double digit multiplication and your children are getting upset and discouraged. Tell them, school is over for the day and you will be doing the remainder of their work. They are only to watch and not participate. You select several multiplication problems and work them out. If possible, use blocks and build the problem, write what you are building, and say what you are doing out loud. We are using as much of the brain as possible. Finish the first problem and check your work. Model exactly what you want them to do. Do a few more, then tell them class is over and you will see them the next day. This approach was counterintuitive to me the first time I heard it. But as I tried giving more examples instead of more homework, I found that it worked!

As your children’s tutor, we want to give you a few tools in your toolbox to help you take the sting out of math! In each of Steve’s articles this year, he’ll be sharing how you can teach some foundational concepts.
Tutoring Tools
The Decimal System & Basic Operations
In the US, we use the decimal system where each place value is based on ten. I like to use base ten blocks to teach this important topic. To begin, I like to build a number like 132. I select:
1 red hundred square

3 blue ten rectangles

2 little green unit squares

The digits 1-3-2 tell me how many of each manipulative piece, and the colorful blocks tell me what kind or what value. When the shutdown occurred two years ago, I had the opportunity to teach my two grand girls math. I began with place value. I taught them the difference between numerals: 0-9, and place value—units, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. I would ask them which is larger 1 or 3? They learned to respond, “What kind are they Papa?” In our example, 1 hundred is larger than 3 tens!

When you are looking to illustrate place value in base 10, money is a wonderful illustration. Ten pennies makes one dime. Ten dimes makes one dollar. I use money frequently to help students grasp place value, and most of us are motivated by the study of moola!

After they understand place value, then study addition. I think it is wise to memorize your facts so that they become second nature. There are only fifty-five single digit math facts. When you have mastered addition, then study the opposite or inverse of addition, subtraction. Every subtraction problem may be seen as an addition problem. Instead of verbalizing 8-3=5 as “8 minus 3 is what number?”, consider saying, “What number plus 3 equals 8?” When addition is memorized, subtraction is a piece of cake.

Multiplication is fast adding of the same number. 3×4 is the same as 3+3+3+3. To help students grasp the connection between addition and multiplication, I often read 3×4 as “3 counted 4 times.” Take whatever time your child needs to be successful and competent in multiplication, then begin the study of division which is the inverse of multiplication. When you know 3×4 is 12, then you can see that 12÷3=4. You can verbalize 12÷3 as “What number times 3 is 12?”

When your basic operations have been mastered, then tackle fractions, decimals (fractions written on one line) and percents. There are not that many math topics.

For a video presentation where I illustrate many of these topics as well as six videos including the topic of place value, multiplication, division, fractions, algebra, and stewardship, visit:


To watch a video providing encouragement titled “Fear Not, You and Your Child Can Learn Math Together” go here.

May God bless and equip you to tackle math with renewed confidence and faith!
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Steve Demme Headshot

teve Demme and his wife Sandra have been married since 1979. They have been blessed with four sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and six special grandchildren. Their fourth son has Downs Syndrome and lives with them in Lititz, PA. Steve has served in full or part time pastoral ministry for many years after graduating from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the creator of Math-U-See and the founder of Building Faith Families.