10 Ways to Motivate a Reluctant Math Learner

As a homeschool mom, you likely have some subjects you prefer teaching over others, and it’s probably the same for your kids. Whether it is because of their ability or interest, most kids will be reluctant to do some of their schoolwork. If for your kids that subject is math, here are some ways to encourage and motivate them to not only do their best but to enjoy it and be successful!

HHM 10-Ways-to-Motivate-a-Reluctant-Math-Learner

    1. Be enthusiastic:


Your attitude will have a large impact on your child. If you are excited and enthusiastic about what they’re studying, it can help them to be more excited too. (Be careful though! If you are insincere, your kids will see right through it! Try to find ways to show genuine interest in the math you’re studying).

    1. Make it a game:


This doesn’t have to be elaborate, but turning something into a game can often make things more fun. Maybe give points for right answers and have a prize for reaching a certain number of points, or turn it into a race to beat the clock. To get them up and moving, try making it into a relay, or play some math Twister.

If your children like to play games on the computer, perhaps you could let them spend some of their math time playing an online game. There are tons of free games online, so try doing a quick search for whatever skill they’re working on, and you can probably find something.

    1. Take it outside:


Sometimes just being outside in the fresh air and warm sun can do wonders, no matter what subject you’re working on. Try taking your math work outside, or even using nature to work on math skills such as patterns, counting, measuring and more.

    1. Review something familiar:


Often when children are reluctant to do math it is because of a lack of confidence. Finding something to review that they feel comfortable with can be a great way to remind them that they are capable of doing math.

    1. Change things up:


If your child is struggling and not enjoying math, perhaps it’s time to take a break. Working on logic puzzles, brainteasers, or Sudoku (or Kidoku) can be a nice change of pace, while still giving their brains a workout.

Or maybe take a break and work on mental math skills. These Mental Math Challenges are great for reviewing facts while having fun!

    1. Play with a calculator:


A calculator is not just for computations! Grab a calculator to look for patterns or observe repeated addition or multiplication. If you have older kids, have them draw a graph of something on a piece of paper, and then see if they can find an equation whose graph closely matches what they drew.

    1. Play with money:


Using dimes and pennies to work out math problems is a great way to make the lesson hands-on, and it gives meaning to the numbers your child is working with. Money is especially helpful for working on subtraction with regrouping as it provides a visual for “borrowing” a ten.

    1. Make it relevant:


What do your children love? What are they passionate about? Use that to talk about math and create real life math problems. For example, my daughter loves making jewelry, so I make problems based on the cost of beads and supplies, and we work on patterns and symmetry.

Do your children love sports? Create problems about their favorite players. Whatever it is, try to find ways to make math more meaningful and relevant for them.

    1. Read Bedtime Math:


If doing math is stressful for your children and causing anxiety and tears, try stepping back and reading one of the Bedtime Math books or using the app. Simply talking about math in a laid back, non-threatening way can remind them that it can be fun and can help ease their frustrations.

    1. Remind them that mistakes are normal:


Finally, make sure your children know that mistakes are a good and normal part of the learning process and that they do not have to be anxious about getting it wrong. If your children seem reluctant because they are afraid to fail, take time to talk about why making mistakes is such a good thing and what they learn when they make a mistake.

When my kids begin to complain that things are “getting hard,” I remind them that they will never learn anything new if they aren’t being challenged. If you read the same ten words every day all year, you’ll never learn to read. The same is true in math.

I hope this list has given you some ideas to help your children if they are anxious, lacking confidence, or simply don’t feel motivated to do math. What other ideas would you add to this list?


Bethany is the mom behind the blog MathGeekMama, a website dedicated to helping parents and educators teach math in a way that is fun and engaging while building a strong conceptual understanding of mathematics. When she’s not playing with numbers, she’s exploring with her four little ones, drinking way too much coffee, or soaking up the chaos of everyday life. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can read more from Bethany at Math Geek Mama

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  1. I have a daughter who struggles with math precisely because she doesn’t want to give out an answer until she is absolutely sure that it is right. Memorizing math OUTSIDE has helped her quite a bit. We all get some fresh air, they get to run around do math and she develops more confidence. Fresh air works wonders!

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