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Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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"Real Life" Math

By Letz Farmer


    As an author, I have had many opportunities to talk "math" with parents of special needs children. We have discussed everything from Johnnie's memorization (here today, gone tomorrow) to finger counting, form "putting on paper" ("hate to write", messy erasures, and number reversals) to directionality confusion. (starting on the wrong end of the problem). Regardless of the disability, parents all have one thing in common - their child isn't succeeding with math, everybody is frustrated, and what wondering what they should do!

My advise always begins with the same question: What skills does your child have right now and what will he need to know by the age of 25? By realistically focusing on where he is and where he needs to be, develop a plan of attack. And step one is ----if you aren't succeeding where you are, go back and build some basics.

    There are many necessary life skills your child needs without doing "paper and pencil" activities. These skills which were easy for you may not be easy for Johnnie. Take first things first. Whatever your realistic goal for Johnnie is, he must first learn to count, read and write numbers. The numbers from 0 - 100 can be an adventure in divergent thinking.

Counting and number recognition

(reading numbers correctly)

    Children should be taught initially: to count to 10, that zero means nothing, and the numeral 5 means 5 of anything. During this stage, let them count objects, touching or moving them as they say the number.(this is called one-to-one correspondence).

It is a shame that the teen numbers follow 10. the teen numbers are the only numbers that don't follow the pattern. The twenties, thirties, etc. all say their name and the 1, 2, 3 etc. in order (twenty-one, twenty-two, ....) The teens do not have this pattern - they aren't counted eleven-teen, twelve-teen, thirteen, etc. All numbers other than the teens are written left to right, but read right to left. This is confusing for special children, to say the least. If you see problems with the teen numbers, teach 1- 10, jump to 20 - 100, and then come back to the teens. For some children this odd approach works.

    In counting past 10, your initial goal should be counting and recognizing numbers to 31. At 31, the child is ready to learn calendars. He will be able to read any date (1-31). At this point, you can work on days of the week and their order. Talk about the concepts of today, tomorrow, yesterday (if today is Tuesday, what will tomorrow be? what do we usually do on (day)? What happened special yesterday?) Then work on days of the week, months of the year and their order.

    Your next intermediate counting goal is 59. At this point, you're ready for telling digital time. Looking at skills realistically, telling time with a clock that has hands may not be possible (or necessary). Fortunately, digital watches are popular today and are the best choice for special child.

    Teach him to look at the number before the colon (:) to know which "o'clock" it is, reading the time form left to right. Teach that the :00 means "no minutes after". Show him that

8:05 can be said "eight-oh-five", but means "five minutes after (past) eight o'clock". Don't worry about "till". while it is a nice skill to have, "after" will get him to appointments just fine. If you later want to work on an analog clock (one with hands), teach "o'clock" and "thirty" first, then the "after". Teach counting by fives to thirty first so they can learn "after" easier. Again, "till" is nice, but may be extremely confusing.

    You may also emphasize holidays - dates, history , family traditions, etc. They should learn their own birthday (month, day,and year) and think of it as a "special holiday". They should also learn their personal schedule. They go to be at____; they eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at what time; breakfast is the first meal of the day and happened in the morning; concepts of morning, noon, and night, afternoon, evening, daytime (whether sunny or rainy, daytime is "light" time); the seasons and the weather expected in each; what days do we go to church?

Money is the next important skill a child should be taught. It isn't important whether he knows the names of the coins (penny, nickel, etc.) He must know the coin's value and be able to identify it when it is shown either heads or tails (achievement tests show tails). Initially, work on the coin's worth\value. (Which is worth more -5 cents or 10 cents?) It may be difficult to explain that the bigger nickel is worth less than the small dime. It may also be hard to explain that 5 pennies in a stack are worth the same as one nickel. These simple equivalents are important, however, and should be mastered before the child begins to add coins.

When he\she is ready to add coins, add pennies up to a nickel (five cents) first. Then add different combinations of coins up to 10 cents. then 15 cents. Increase your goal each time by 5 cent increments, up to 25 cents. At 25 cents, you have reached an important milestone and should see more rapid skill development with the next 25 cents. Continue teaching counting change until you reach a dollar (100 cents). Teach "25-50-75-a dollar".

You may also choose to teach the "least number of coins" concept. While it is nice to hear coins jingle, you don't want him to carry a ton of change. "Trade in" 5 pennies for a nickel; 2 nickels for a dime; 2 dimes and a nickel for a quarter; etc. Now you are teaching the more abstract concept of equivalents.

    After he learns these, you may choose to work on: "more than" and "less than"; reading and understanding prices on cans and other items for purchase; learn the cents and dollar signs and that the same amount is written two different ways (4 c and $.04); knowing if you have enough money to make a purchase; knowing that if you don't have the exact amount but have more, you can buy the item and will get change; knowing that the price will always be higher at the check out stand because of added tax.

    By the time the student has mastered the above concepts, he should be able to transfer this learning to: finding specific pages in books or hymnals; knowing the meaning of first, second, third, last, none, all, some, single, double, couple, triple, etc. ; will 39 come before or after 17?; greater than and less than; rounding off to the nearest 10; etc.

Temperature - Teach thermometers. Make sure they know that most people don't wear a bathing suit in 40 degree weather. (Polar Bear Club?!) Every morning go to the thermometer, read it and discuss the weather forecast of the night before.

Calculator - Face facts. Children with math difficulties won't use their memorized facts when grown. They'll use a calculator. And why shouldn't they? When you balance your check book, don't you? I do.

    The list could go on. We take these math skills for granted, but they all must be learned. Enjoy teaching your child where he is and progressing to where he needs to be. Then some day, he may "rise up and call you blessed."