Multisensory Math, by Cheryl

Sit at your desk and do a page of math problems and then take another page home. Drill, drill, drill so you can pass that timed test. Faster, faster, faster! So you don’t think when you do your basic operations.

This is the math that I remember from elementary school.

I have always been good at math. I enjoyed the drill; I got a thrill from finishing a timed test. The competition worked for me. But not all kids thrive in that situation. My own children do not do well with the “drill and kill” method of arithmetic study.

With Aidan, short sessions with a few practice problems each day while continuing on to more advanced concepts worked best for learning his basic facts. Once he understood 8+4, he did not want to drill it; he wanted to move on to 138+224. That same math fact is practiced, but the concept as a whole is harder. This is how he learned his addition facts. All the other operations were learned in the same method – start easy and memorize as you work with more difficult concepts. You can read a little more about math with Aidan here. For my daughter Lilly, math has been completely different.

Manipulatives have been more important for math with Lilly than with Aidan. He would push them off after a problem or two because they slowed him down. Lilly needs the hands-on aspect of working with the blocks, crayons, toys, or even our fingers.

All year I assumed that she needed the manipulatives because she did not know her facts or understand how to break down the numbers in her head. Last week she proved me wrong. She sat down to do this worksheet on her own:

I had planned to skip it. I did not think she was ready to work with the numbers that way. She worked on it while I read The Silver Chair aloud. She finished the worksheet in the time it took to read one chapter. She had found all but the two number sentences that overlap some she had already found.

She further surprised me when she pulled out a box of addition flashcards and asked to do them with me. She quizzed me on the first 10 cards and then I tested her with the remaining cards. She only missed a few, and a questioning look from me was all it took for her to correct herself.

Apparently our methods are working better than I thought! Here is a sampling of what we do.


Our main program is Singapore Math. We are currently in level 1a. We use the text, workbook, and extra practice book. I have drill sheets that I printed from the internet and Math 1-2 for more practice.

Singapore Math approaches computation problems in many formats – pictorial, matching, puzzles, and games. Math 1-2 is straight forward addition and subtraction problems set up in the standard format. We use manipulatives with both books.

We take it slow. We typically do about five problems a day. Occasionally, she is able to focus for 10-15 problems, but this is rare.

We are also slowly working through the Life of Fred series. Very slowly. We are only on Butterflies. It has been great for making math interesting.

Computers and Apps:

Lilly has loved Reading Eggs for phonics and reading practice. She also enjoys playing around on MathSeeds. (A membership was included with our Reading Eggs membership!) It is great for reinforcing math facts and concepts in a way that is engaging for her.

Math 1-2 comes with software for a fun math game that she plays occasionally as well.

I have also tried a few flash card apps on my phone. They are okay but not engaging enough for Lilly.

Games and Manipulatives:

We have lots of games at our house. Aidan practiced math all the time with some of our favorite games. Lilly is finally to a point where she can play some of these games without one of us doing all her math for her! Some of our favorites are Yahtzee, Sum Swamp, and Monopoly.

Sometimes, I really just need to get her moving. We have had races across the yard. I give her a math problem (3+4), she solves it (7), and then jumps or skips that many times across the yard. Then she gives me a problem. We see who gets across first.

At the table, she needs something in her hands at all times. We use Mortensen Math blocks most of the time, but we have also used our fingers, crayons, colored pencils, and toys.

One of my favorite ways to get her engaged in math is baking. She likes to help and has no idea we are practicing math! She helps measure and keep track of ingredients. Then we keep track of how many cookies we have baked. How many can we cram on one tray? How many are in each row? How many rows? How many all together? You can’t beat math that ends with a sweet treat!

Our approach has been multisensory. We see the problems on paper, work them out with our hands, play games that engage her with sound and fun visuals, and move our bodies. What we do each day is often based on her mood when she wakes up. Sometimes we just bake cookies!

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

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