Sloppy Math Work? I can help!

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By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist

If your child makes frequent math errors on worksheets or text assignments, consider changing things up to encourage accuracy the first time around.  Chances are, the worksheet approach has grown tiresome, and the child simply wants to be finished with it. Being accurate isn’t a priority when this happens.

My first suggestion is to scrap the written format for a while. Use a more interesting approach (like a dice game to generate the problem to solve) to tackle the same skills. See my “easy math games” blog for some ideas to get you started or read through my other Math resources.

If you can’t see your way clear to ditch the worksheets, try one of these strategies:

  1. Assign just the even or just the odd numbered problems with the understanding that all problems must be worked correctly or the other half of the problem set will be required. This puts sufficient emphasis on being accurate and slows the child down. Your child is happy to only have to do half of the possible problems.
  2. When checking the child’s work- don’t circle the errors. Simply hand it back and say “you have 3 wrong. I’d like you to find them and correct them”. Now the child has to recheck all of the problems to find the errors. Next time the child is likely to double check the work (and work more carefully) before handing it in, and accuracy is again pushed up the priority list.

Be sure to take math at your child’s speed. Blowing through a chapter trying to catch up or finish up doesn’t achieve the real goal here – of mastering the skill before moving forward.

Use outside resources for additional ideas or approaches to a skill when your child seems to struggle with a concept. Most curriculum have a very narrow range of explanation. Another source, and coming at the topic from another direction, may click with your child and be a better fit. Everyday Math for Dummies, Geometry for Dummies, Algebra for Dummies – these are great sources for alternative explanations of skill sets (and you can find them at used book stores or online through or amazon). The workbooks “Mental Math for the Middle Grades” and “Mental Math for Junior High” are another great resource.  

And give your child the chance to use the skills in real life settings. If you’re working on percents, at your next dinner out hand the child your bill with these instructions: Round up to the next dollar, then calculate a 15% tip. (When we did this, I told the boys I’d give them a dollar if they got it right the first time- that got their attention). Or next time you’re baking, make a double batch and ask your child to calculate the correct amount for each ingredient. Or make half a batch. Good practice either way. For decimal practice, kids can calculate sales tax on an item they are hoping to buy or figure out what percent FICA takes from their paycheck each week (if your teen has a job).

Make math real and meaningful. The biggest complaint math teachers hear is, “why do I need to know this? When would I ever use this?”  If math seems relevant, it’s more likely to be remembered and used.