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Helping your child with specific arithmetic difficulty

As we can see, arithmetic involves many different skills, and difficulties can be due to deficits in any one of these. It is, therefore, essential that a careful analysis of the exact nature of the child’s problem is undertaken. For example, if a child is having difficulty with multiplication, it could be a result of difficulties with interpreting process signs, auditory-visual associations, abstract symbolization, sequential organization, mathematical comprehension, operational functions, selection process, or long-term memory. An attempt should be made to establish which of these is the cause, so that appropriate help can be given.

With the great variety of methods for teaching arithmetic now used in schools, it is essential that you discuss your child’s difficulties with his teacher. If you try to teach him a different method of solving problems to that taught by the teacher, it could confuse him.

Parents often feel that their own mathematical skills are too rudimentary to allow them to teach their child. In this situation you may be able to arrange for your child to have extra lessons in mathematics after school. The teacher should have a good grasp of mathematics and be able to anticipate the difficulties the child may have, in order to devise methods of solving problems that are as easy as possible for the child to learn. Individual tuition on a one-to-one basis can pay great dividends.

You can always help your child with arithmetical concepts and arithmetical practice in everyday situations. Discuss things that involve numbers with him, and encourage him to take part in activities that involve counting, such as laying the table (he needs to count how many knives to take out of the drawer, and so on), making small purchases on his own, playing games with a dice (such as ‘Ludo’ and ‘Snakes and ladders’), and cooking (measuring ingredients).

Children with specific arithmetic difficulty often experience intense anxiety whenever they are presented with an arithmetic problem that they have to solve. It is interesting that many articles have been written on ‘arithmetic anxiety’, but hardly any on anxiety associated with reading or spelling. The reason that arithmetic seems more likely to engender fear and distress in children is unknown. It is therefore important that arithmetic is taught in an encouraging and positive manner. Try to make it as much fun as possible for you and the child.

When teaching a child with specific arithmetic difficulty, it is often necessary to return to basics and teach the child skills such as counting, addition, and subtraction all over again. Some teachers show great ingenuity in finding enjoyable ways of teaching children these skills. This is important so that the child’s self-esteem is enhanced. It is also important because a large component of mathematical skill development involves repeated practice, something that children are far more likely to do if they enjoy it.

If you need to take responsibility for teaching arithmetic to your child you may feel daunted when you look at his arithmetic text books. Remember that the basic arithmetic taught to children is not very complex, and remains fundamentally the same no matter what syllabus is followed. The child should go through the following stages, consolidating each stage before going to the next.

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