Homeschooling A Child With Dyscalculia: Why Is Math So Hard?

If you are homeschooling a child with dyscalculia, you may have already been asked this question by your child.

“Why is math so hard?”

When my son was in second grade, math was a big deal.

His class practiced timed tests every day (the same way I did 30 years earlier) as a way to increase math fluency.

The goal was simple – complete 100 basic, single digit equations in addition in five minutes. When you mastered that task, then the time decreased to three minutes. When you achieved that level of proficiency, you started all over with subtraction. Then multiplication. Then division.

(Total side note: I swear these tests increased and contributed to my math anxiety for years.)

Although we can argue all day long about the importance of these types of exercises for math fluency, please know, my son’s experience with them did not end when the timer went off.

No, the rule was that a student had to stay, Monday – Thursday, and finish the test before he or she could head out to recess. For most children, this meant an extra few minutes and they were out on the playground. For my son, it meant no recess. Four days out of five a week. For the entire school year.

Try as he may, he never got past 73 out of 100 basic addition problems – not just in the timed portion, but with his entire 17 minutes recess added. He just couldn’t master the recall necessary for all 100 problems.

At first, we blamed it on switching school districts. He went from a more progressive, conceptual based math program in first and the beginning of second grade to a more traditional, fluency based program mid-way through.

But, as time went on, it became clear that although my son was exceptionally gifted in many ways, the way he processed basic math was very, very different from the norm.

A year later, we discovered his learning differences included dyscalculia.

What Is Dyscalculia?


Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in math. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

Experts believe dyscalculia is just as common as dyslexia, but a lot less is known or understood about it. It can, and often does, co-occur with other learning differences including dyslexia, ADHD and executive function deficits.

Dyscalculia often looks different at different ages. Here are some of the signs and symptoms, by age group, that may indicate this learning difference:


  • Has trouble learning to count and may skip over numbers long after other children remember numbers in the right order.
  • Struggles to recognize patterns (i.e. smallest to largest or tallest to shortest).
  • Has trouble recognizing and retaining numbers (knowing that “4” means four).
  • Difficulty with the concept of counting. For example, when asked for a specific number of blocks, the child will give you an armful, rather than counting them out.

Grade School

  • Has difficulty learning and recalling basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6.
  • May still use fingers to count instead of using more advanced strategies, like mental math.
  • Struggles to identify  +, ‒ and other signs
  • Struggles with concepts related to math, such as greater than and less than.

Middle School

  • Has continued difficulty with place value.
  • Has trouble with fractions and with measuring things (i.e. when baking, etc.)
  • Struggles to keep score in games.
  • Has trouble writing numerals clearly or putting them in the correct column.

High School

  • Difficulty in applying math concepts to money (i.e. estimating the totals, making exact change and tipping).
  • Difficulties with interpreting graphs or charts.
  • Continued difficulty measuring things like ingredients in basic recipes.
  • Has trouble applying different approaches to the same math problem.


Accommodations For Homeschooling A Child With Dyscalculia

Math freaks out a lot of homeschooling moms. It is probably one of the number one questions I hear at homeschool conferences and conventions.

How will I teach math?

Add dyscalculia to the mix and it can be downright daunting.

The good news is that homeschooling a child with dyscalculia can be exactly the right approach to assist and accommodate your child’s needs.

Just take a look at the accommodations, typically recommended for children with specific learning disabilities in math –

Extra time on tests.

Provide frequent checks during classwork. It is frustrating for a student to finish an entire worksheet, only to be told that every answer is wrong and he’ll need to do it again. Instead, teachers should check after every few problems. This way, a child can learn from mistakes and feel bolstered by a sense of improvement.

List the steps for multi-step problems and algorithms. Post clearly numbered step-by-step instructions on the board, or give your student a copy she can keep at her desk.

Keep sample problems on the board.

Give students individual dry-erase boards to use at their desks.With this tool, students can complete one step of a problem at a time, erasing any mistakes they may make.

Use plenty of brightly colored, uncluttered reference charts and diagrams. Children with dyscalculia benefit from visual representations of math problems.

Whenever possible, allow calculator use.

Reduce the number of assigned problems. Assigning 10 problems, rather than a full page, is enough to assess a student’s understanding.

Play math games. (or even better – try Star Wars Math!)

All of these accommodations are easily provided in a home environment. Moreover, my child is more confident in using them because he is not comparing himself to others. He never has to feel any shame in accessing the accommodations he needs to be successful.

Please know, although I was compensated for my time in writing this post, we use and love CTCMath. I am sharing it with you in the hopes it helps you with your child as well.

Online Homeschool Math Lessons For Struggling Learners

One of the best choices that we made for both of my sons is using an online program for math. We have seen a significant improvement in his overall comfort level with math lessons as we have incorporated into online learning to his math education.

Math has always been the number one way to cause tears around here (for them and for me!) until we began using CTCMath.

For years, I looked for math options that would actually help my boy make progress. The problem is, most math programs are worksheet based and difficult for my son. What they need is multi-sensory learning , short lessons and a program that moves at their own pace.

CTCMath is a homeschool math curriculum which specializes in providing online video tutorials that take a multi-sensory approach to learning. Favorably reviewed in Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks and The Old Schoolhouse Crew Review, the lessons are short and concise to help your student break down concepts and appreciate math in a whole new way!

CTCMath really takes the stress out of math and allows our children to learn and progress in the way that works best with their learning needs.

Most importantly, it has the three elements I think are essential for my boys and for any child with learning differences –

  1. Multi-sensory learning
  2. Short lessons
  3. A program that moves at their own pace

If your child is struggling, CTCMath’s free online math tutorials are a great place to start.

(yes, this is my child doing math with a skateboard…)

These are just a few of the benefits of CTCMath we’ve seen in our family:

  • A dramatic lift in my sons’ confidence and attitude.
  • Lessons are short and to the point.
  • Being able to learn at their own speed.
  • In the video tutorials they can stop and rewind the teacher, as many times as they need to until they get it.
  • Improved math results using multi-sensory methods which ensure retention.
  • Detailed progress reports.
  • And a whole lot less stress when it’s math time!

Making the change to online homeschool math significantly reduced the struggles my son faces as a child with dyscalculia.

Try CTCMath For Free!

The Benefit Of Homeschooling A Child With Dyscalculia

Most importantly, homeschooling has allowed my son to complete his math education in a way that doesn’t punish him for his differences.  We spend substantially more time focused on his areas of strength rather than drilling him in his areas of struggle.

I am grateful for the opportunity to help him learn in a way that works best for his needs.

This matters more to me than any timed test anyway!

This post is part of an ongoing seriesHomeschooling The 3 D’s: Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia.

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One Comment

  1. Traci Miller says:

    Wonderful article. I am homeschooling my 13 yr old daughter with dyscalculia. We have been homeschooling since 4th grade. Recently I was told to take a break from “teaching” for a bit and give her assignments of things she already knows to build her confidence. I do worry about her as she gets older, but we just have to be patient.

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