My 13-year-old son has just entered 8th grade (standard 8th grade curriculum). In most classes he exceeds, but in his math class he struggling extremely hard with the homework.

He takes an incredibly large amount of time to complete his math homework. Even if he starts as soon as he gets home, he often takes up until 10 or 11 completing homework, and another 30 minutes going to bed.

His health is suffering considerably, and he is starting to develop insomnia. I have tried to help him with his homework as much as I can. But I have as hard a time understanding it as he does, so it’s not much help. I have discussed things with his teacher, and he goes to school early in the morning to get help with his work.

What can I do to help my son with his homework?

  • Hi and welcome to the site! Is your son studying pre-algebra? There is no set curriculum for the 8th grade; it varies by state and even by school district. Since someone is bound to ask, I'll ask, have you discussed this with his teacher yet? – anongoodnurse Sep 5 at 2:14
  • Math issues are often due to missing steps in prior years. Students that are able to "fake out" or shortcut a step that they really did not understand often discover that they are in over their head in pre-algebra, where the entire focus is showing the work. – pojo-guy Sep 28 at 6:07

I agree with anongoodnurse, but want to add some additional advice. It's mostly about other options to gather more information on what the root of the problem could be.

So he is struggling with math and takes very long to complete his homework.

1) Talk to his classmates' parents

You mention in your edit, that you talked to his teacher and he receives help. However, one possible problem might be that the math assignments are actually too hard. To find out how others do (and maybe struggle, too), it's good to also ask some other parents. Maybe it's a general problem that not only your son faces.

2) Rule out "structural" problems

There are several possible reasons why he may struggle with his math homework:

2.1) Does he know how to learn math? Does he learn it properly? Even learning needs to be learned. Things to consider are

  • Practice: Does he practice enough, especially basic concepts? In my experience, this is very important, because this way I understood it best. As they are basic, they are easier (boosting self-esteem) and needed for the higher concepts (if you are missing them, you will surely struggle and take too much time). You could ask teachers or parents for resources / math tasks or search the Internet.
  • Approach: How does he approach his homework? If he tries to solve it the wrong way or believes that it's more complicated than it actually is, it's easy to waste so much time. He may also approach it in the wrong order.
  • Basics: Does he know everything he needs to solve the math tasks? If not, does he have / know the necessary resources and uses (knows how to use) them properly? One step after another.

I'm not a parent myself, so take the following advice with a grain of salt, but from your decription, considering the impact this has on his health - I suggest you try to decrease the pressure put on him (I guess mostly by himself?). Maybe set him limits. Else, not only will his health suffer even more, it's also like a vicious cycle: if he is sleep-deprived and demoralized, all of the math tasks will be even harder for him to solve and take more time and increase the suffering...

Maybe that's something to discuss with his teacher, they can likely give you advice on what among the math tasks is most important and sensible steps on how to learn them. Perhaps, they can help develop some kind of schedule for him to follow to build up the necessary knowledge.

Maybe, in order to find out more about the "structural" issues I mentioned (and perhaps rule them out), it could be helpful to observe him while he does his homework. Maybe not too obvious, but when you try to do it together, let him start and go about it first and then see how he tackles the problem. This information might also be useful to the teacher.

As @WendyG stated, you should get in touch with the school, not only because he's having difficulty and they need to know that, but also, they may have helpful suggestions.

They may have students who are very good in math and who are willing to help your son with his math homework during study periods or after school. They may also have a list of math tutors who have successfully helped struggling students in the past. Or the teacher may be willing to do a little extra work in private to help your son.

Whatever they advise, you need to do this sooner rather than later, as it is likely that the further he falls behind, the harder it will be to catch up to his peers.

Depending on your investment in his education, there is another option: to study the subject yourself while he is getting the help he needs. When you have mastered the subject material, you can help him at home this year and next, say, if this is pre-algebra and you study algebra. There are many online options for studying math. Some cost money, others don't.

The learn-yourself option is really only for the most dedicated who don't want to rely on tutors for more than a short while. Know that if you haven't needed that level of math yet, you probably never will, so that's a downside. However, the upsides are that you are teaching your son by example how to help himself learn something, you will be able to help your son, and you will probably gain some confidence in your own abilities to learn and persevere in the face of something as intimidating as math.

  • you could also try learning together, I had a friend who home schooled, and that worked really well for her. – WendyG Sep 6 at 10:37
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    @WendyG - I also did that with my oldest for Algebra. But it takes up time, and is basically a repetition of class time, which is a downside in this case. It does work quite well, though! – anongoodnurse Sep 6 at 11:30

Try working through the Kahn Academy with him. Its a free on-line maths course (and other subjects, but it started with maths and its still its strongest subject). It lets you go at your own pace and takes you through things until you understand them.

It would help to know what math he is currently on to know how applicable this advise is -

If you can locate real world examples to the math he is struggling with you can subtly or directly use real world examples to make sense of the problems. Like explaining to a kid what 25% is. It helps to show them 4 quarters and a dollar.

Real world examples of every variety of math are all around us, and finding them may not even be that difficult. What can be difficult is figuring out how to structure those examples into exercises for someone who is just learning the subject. It might help to suggest to your kid that they are helping you by asking them basic questions as though you don't know the answer. Like - Hey, for the birthday party we need to order pizza. I think each pizza has 8 slices so how many do we need if there's 20 guests? Assume the per guest necessity is 3. You can write that in simplicity 20 * 3 / 8 or in a basic algebraic equation 8n / 3 >= 20. But knowing how to structure the question is dependent on what level of math they are focusing on.

I do this a lot with my girls. Plus, my wife has a masters in math and is a math specialist in k-12. We've seen tutoring work with some, but not everyone can sit down and be told. Some have to be shown and make a connection to the "why" - which is the age old question every kid asks about every subject in school - why do I need to know this?

If you need help engineering math questions, maybe the math for educators stack exchange site would be a good place to ask for help: https://matheducators.stackexchange.com/

Eighth grade is a significant grade when it comes to math, because it's often the grade that algebraic concepts begin to be taught full-force. He's likely in pre-algebra or algebra, and either way that's about when math goes from rote memorization to actually understanding concepts that are very different.

As such, in my experience, it's not uncommon for children to struggle around that time. It may well be that he's having trouble with the concepts for now, and there's something straightforward that he just needs in order to get it fully. It also may be that his previous education didn't set him up for success here; a lot of the ideas behind modern math education are intended to set a good groundwork for algebraic thinking, but schools implement them in different ways. It's very possible this is a temporary situation that will resolve itself once he makes a "leap" in thinking and gets the underlying concepts - don't ignore the problem assuming this will be true, but it may be.

Either way, talk to his teacher is always the first step; find out if there's something he's just missing. Also, talk to him; find out why he's spending so long on the homework. Is he just taking a long time to solve each problem individually? Or is he getting stuck on one or two and not having any idea how to continue? That happened to me from time to time, and I had to learn how to move on and come back later.

One other thing to consider: he might not have a very good math teacher, or perhaps better (more politely) put, he might have a teacher that isn't a good fit for his learning style. My sister had a really rough time with math in school because of a few teachers that didn't really mesh with her learning style. I would find out how the teacher approaches lessons, and see if that is hard for your son to understand - maybe even ask if he can video record a class, and watch it with him. Maybe he just needs to learn the concepts a different way; there might be another teacher at the school he could switch into, for example, or you could supplement with another resource.

I had two girls go through this, and the first thing to do is send an email to the teacher. Don't delay, start communications immediately so the teacher is aware right at the beginning of the school year: so important.

I learned that peer teaching didn't really help. Hit and miss.

Strict homework schedules failed too - and what I mean about this is my girls spent more time with the subjects they liked during "homework time". It didn't really help their math...

They have to wrap their heads around these concepts, they have to actually want to learn it, or be inclined to have an open mind about it. Restrictions do the opposite. I really tried to be positive in any way I could re math.

Something that helped was YouTube. I know, it sounds contrary, and you need to spend time getting your kid set up (so they don't stray), but there are tons of really good math tutorials for middle school kids on YouTube. We used this to supplement their homework, and it helped to have a 3rd party explain things in a different way.

But like others here, email the teacher pronto! And the teacher should know a ton of other sources. Sometimes kids need to learn in a special way, a different way than others, and that's perfectly OK, and sometimes a challenge in today's classroom. I wish you the best - it's still early, plenty of time to get going, no need to panic.

The advice from our school was to do a set time amount of homework on each subject, so 30 mins per subject at most.

If the homework can not be done in that time, then the school needs to be contacted and extra help organised.

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