I do not have them, the right words.

I have the boys on a summer school schedule, one that we follow fairly consistently. We do some store-bought, grade-level appropriate workbooks in the morning after breakfast. We have free time/time to run errands after that. After lunch they do Moby Max, a math program on the computer that tests them and places them at their individual level as well as Imagine Learning (an online reading program) and they read out loud to me for 20 minutes each. We also do some science and art. On Fridays we go on field trips to museums or to the Botanical Gardens.

Tomorrow is Tuesday. On Tuesdays our mornings are wonky as we bought the summer pack of super cheap movie theater tickets and our day to see the movie for the week is Tuesday. Cody, always the planner, asked me if he could start on his workbook tonight so as to be prepared for tomorrow.

I said yes and made sure I was near the kitchen table so as to help him if need be. The first section of his workbook was multiplication. Math is hard for Cody. School in general is hard for Cody, but math is a struggle. We worked through several problems together but my sweet boy doesn’t even have his combinations that make ten memorized so multiplication of double digit number is grueling, nonsensical.

And then it happened. Cody, who is usually very positive and optimistic, started to tear up. “Momma”, he told me “Mrs. W. always came and took me out of class to work on addition and subtraction while the rest of my class did multiplication. I did not get a chance to learn this. And no one even asked me, they just took me away! I want to work on multiplication flash cards tomorrow. I am still counting on my fingers and the rest of my class just knows their multiplication tables. I don’t feel ready for fourth grade!”

It was awful. Awful. Here I am a mom and a teacher and I want with all my heart to help him be successful and I don’t know how.

I did not have the right words. I talked to him about my weakness in spelling. I talked about how everyone has strengths and struggles. I asked him what we could do, how we could work together to help him feel ready for fourth grade. I told him I was proud of him. And then I told him to go get ready for bed.

That is when I went outside, crouched down in our side yard and cried.

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I am an elementary school teacher, a former microbiologist, a mom to a herd of two boys, and a grilled cheese sandwich and beer connoisseur.

Oh. Oh, how I wish I could do anything more than type useless words … but I am hoping there is something helpful not yet seeable about to help. I hope this deeply.

Not useless Debora, not at all. Sometimes it is good just to hear others are out there, reading my words, and simply there for me. Thank you.

Although they may not have seemed it at the time, the words you said sound pretty right to me. We wish we could fix everything for them, turn what was hard into something easy but we can’t – what you showed him with your words though is that you’ll be there with him every step of the way.

Thank you for the thoughtful comment. It is so hard to watch him struggle, to feel frustrated and angry. I hate (hate, hate, hate) not being able to make it better for him.

I know that you will put your arm around Cody and you’ll both walk one metaphorical step after another together until you suddenly realise one day you’ve both climbed the mountain. Like you always do. 🙂 Hugs.

Oh Heather, you are so sweet! Thank you for your kind words.

Teach him this trick for his nine times tables, if you like. Bet his classmates won’t know it.

To multiply any number under 10 by nine, count on your fingers from the left and fold down that finger. E.g. if you want to multiply by 7, fold down the 7th finger from the left. Now look at what is left sticking up. 6 on the left of the folded finger, and 3 on the right. 63. TaDah. Now you don’t have to learn it. 😉

My son is fabulous at maths. Really. He has passed all his times tables tests way ahead of anyone else. And he doesn’t know them. I know this because I am his mother and mothers know these things! What he does is work them all out, just really really fast.

He sounds upset because he is trying to do something he wasn’t taught. And, with the best of intention, the teachers made it worse. So now you get to right that wrong. At least he WANTS to learn. And that is something major. Knowing the times tables is only a help. It is not the be all and end all. I NEVER learned mine. EVER. They have mostly sunk in by now, with repetitive use, but that’s not the point. I’m an engineer.

Maths is about understanding the concepts behind the numbers, NOT about the numbers themselves. Truly. And you can help with that, Momma, far more than any teacher can.

Weight things, measure things, ask how many cupcakes you’ll need if you all have three, how many knives will you need if granny comes to tea.

Oh, and I still count on my fingers.

I adore your comment! I even told Cody about it (although I modified it so he did not know I wrote a blog post about his struggles with math – he will learn about that in the years to come). I told him that smart people – engineers and doctors, builders and designers – still count on their fingers and got by without memorizing times tables but that they learned the true meaning behind the numbers.

I work with him to decompose numbers, to skip count by all kinds of numbers, to look at them as clumps of 100s or 10s. He loves to cook and so we do bust out the measuring cups and discuss fractions and how they fit together.

It helps, to write about my frustration, which is his frustration and my inability to “fix” it, as well as to read the thoughts others have about it.

Thank you for this. And, yes, I still count on my fingers too. (Although, I have to say, since switching careers from Microbiology to Elementary Teacher I have learned faster, smarter ways to do mental math. Teaching something really makes you learn it!)

Yes! And learning the meaning behind the numbers will see him in far better stead than those people who have been able to memorise times tables by rote. That will come for him. If he can understand how to deconstruct word problems into the maths – EVEN IF HE DOESN’T KNOW THE ANSWER – then he will be on to a winner. E.g. OK, I have a kg of flour, each batch of cupcakes takes 350g flour, how many batches can we make? How many eggs will we need, if each batch takes 2 eggs? Do we have enough eggs? How many cupcakes will we have, if each batch has 12 cupcakes? If there are 4 of us eating cupcakes, how many each will we have? If they go off after the third day, how many will we have to eat each day to eat them before they go off? Is that too many cupcakes? (‘Never’ is, of course, the correct answer here 😉 ) What is a reasonable number of cupcakes to eat each? So how many would we make in total, how many batches should we make and how much flour do we really need? And how much flour would we have left over, and what could we make with that?

That kind of thing. The times tables just helps with the working out of the answer. It doesn’t help AT ALL with the mental process that goes behind it; the ‘Well, I’d need to divide 1000 by 350. Don’t know what that is, but that’s how I’d get the answer.’

Glad I could help.

Oh, and playing cards and darts is useful, too. As well as being fun.

Your boys are so, so lucky to have you as their mom. Your words and your actions were absolutely right and I predict Cody will remember this moment.

Thank you for this. At the time my words felt hollow and unhelpful. I still don’t feel as if I have helped him with his frustration but I guess it is one of those things that cannot be “fixed” but instead talked about bit by bit over time and one hopes those words sink in and can become a resource of support when needed.

Reblogged this on Autism From the Trenches.

Thank you for the reblog! 🙂

It is so difficult when you feel like you can’t help them…Or like you missed something. I know you will find a way to give him the help he needs with multiplication.

Thank you. It is so tough to feel helpless with something like this. I will continue to work with him, using lots of different ways to present the material and hope we find a way that works best for him.