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Dear Learning-SuccessTM Coaches

by Victoria Kindle Hodson & Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis

My son is in first grade. He¹s having a terrible time with math. He doesn¹t seem to understand adding and subtracting. What can I do?

First , give your son two or three simple math problems (e.g. 2 + 1, 3 + 2, 4-1)) and watch what happens. If he uses his fingers and comes up with the correct answers, that means he understands the concepts. If he cannot come up with the answers, chances are he does not understand what it means to add and subtract.
If your son is a tactile and/or visual learner, he probably needs to learn math in a way that is different from the standard workbooks. Make a number mat out of sturdy fabric or vinyl, with ten boxes numbered 1 to 10, or draw it with chalk on concrete (sort of like hopscotch but without the side squares). Then have your son "walk" math problems. For example, say "You have 2 pencils (have him stand on the 2) and you get 3 more pencils. Where will you be on the mat?" (He walks up 3 squares and stops on the 5). Do 4 or 5 problems a day for a few days, then ask him to close his eyes and pretend he is on the mat. See if he can do the problems in his head, as he visualizes himself walking up the mat. Do the same procedure for subtraction, having him walk backwards (e.g. You have 3 pencils, you give away 2). There is also a math program called Touch Math from Innovative Learning Concepts (800-888-9191) which works well for visual and tactile learners. (For more hands-on/visual programs go to and scroll down to Math.)

Above all, please remember, that many students are not ready to do formal math until they are in 2nd or 3rd grade, or even older. If that is the case, it does not mean that there is something wrong with your son. It means that this is his timetable and we must respect it, otherwise math will become traumatic and he will dislike and resist it. Just because there are textbooks for first graders does not mean that you are required to use them. As much as possible, introduce math in a fun way with games and family activities. You might check out books such as "Family Math" and "Games for Math: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn Math from Kindergarten to Third Grade" (available at bookstores or through our website as noted above).

My 7-year-old is having difficulty reading. He reads very slowly and he doesn't like to read. I think he needs to read at least 30 minutes a day to practice, but he fights me and cries. What should I do?
There could be many reasons for your child's difficulties with reading. Perhaps he does not have a good grasp of the letter sounds, or he is having trouble with sound blending. Words that don't follow the rules may be confusing him. In many reading programs phonics is taught out of context and students have a hard time applying it to actual reading. He might even have memorized certain sight words but may be having trouble figuring out words that are not in his memory.

Most people who have trouble with reading are visual-picture learners and need a "visual" type of reading program (this means a good phonics program that makes use of visual cues, NOT a sight word program). Also, he might not be ready for a formal reading program. Many students are not ready to learn to read or write until they are in 3rd or 4th grade. Boys, especially, are not developmentally ready in many cases, at this young age, to write with a pencil, and their eyes aren’t quite ready to track left to right. The notion that kids should be learning to read in Kindergarten, First, and Second Grades has turned many potential book lovers into traumatized readers who'd rather do anything than pick up a book.

The most important thing is to not allow your child to feel bad or "slow" or that he has a learning problem. Checking his learning style would help to figure out what approach would be best for him, once he is ready to read. Meanwhile, praise him for all the things he is "smart" in -- his natural talents and abilities -- and take the pressure off of reading. Then slowly introduce reading with games and fun activities such as you can find in the book "Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read" (available at bookstores or through our website: When you are ready for a formal program, check out the Sonday Reading Program, also listed on our website.

Victoria and Mariaemma each have more than 20 years’ experience as teachers, trainers, and consultants. Victoria holds a Master's Degree in Psychology and Mariaemma in Special Education. Together they have developed materials and programs that help ensure successful learning experiences for every child. Their innovative way of viewing all children as gifted and their methods for building on kids’ strengths and interests, and tracking successes rather than failures, has earned them the title, America's Learning-Success™ Coaches.

Copyright © 2002 by Victoria Kindle Hodson & Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media