Any Tips to Help 6 Year Old/first Grader with Math?

Updated on January 16, 2013
K.A. asks from Glendale, AZ
14 answers

Specifically, addition & subtraction and all the various ways to get to the same answer, ie: 8 + ? = 10, 11-1 + ?, etc.. DD is not getting this part of the math, unfortunately and needs a lot of work & help with it. I am admittedly short on patience, time (work full time), and creative teaching methods.

Help and thanks!!

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So What Happened?

Thank so much for the responses!

Yes, surprisingly enough, they are expected to know how to do equations like the ones listed in my original post, and it's a part of what they're graded on on their report cards. It's part of the weekly homework and has been for several months. On her first report card in Oct (2 months into school), DD had an "F" (basically failing to meet the standard in this category) and it was still an "F" on the recent report card that came home. The school does have an after school math program to help the kids that are struggling, which I think is great. DD is a great reader, which may not always translate to being great at math, which I totally get. The difference between Kinder and 1st has been a huge leap, to say the least!

I am glad to see that I'm not the only one who thinks it's somewhat advanced for a 6 year old...

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answers from Pittsburgh on

A family member teacher suggests always going to a number line for a visual for the basics.
Also, you can make "fact families" like:

Starfall website has good games for practice.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

The way you are describing the math combinations would be incomprehensible for the average 6yo. Kids that age need easy steps, and ideally, ONE kind of math operation at a time. Multiple pathways to get to the same result is a later understanding, which you can reach in small steps.

Try using simple items to show quantities, and start small. Start with maybe 4 pennies (bottle caps, poker chips, crayons, blocks, marbles, spoons, Cheerios, etc). Place them in different arrangements, and count them each way. Always 4, right? This will give some confidence that the answer will stay the same, and always matches a given quantity. Then have your daughter divide them into 2 groups in EVERY way she can. Each time, describe what you have: "Two twos is 4 pennies." "One and three is 4 pennies." "Three and one is 4 pennies." "Four and nothing is four pennies. Yay, we're doing math (arithmetic)!"

I would recommend you do ONLY the fours (or even the threes) on the first day, let her sleep on it, and repeat. Keep it light and fun. She may whiz through, or she may need to repeat the variations. When she's confident with that baby step, do the fives. She MAY be able to handle the next quantity up every day, or she may need some more time to internalize it. Some kids (and adults) suffer from innumeracy and can be fearful of numbers and math. For many of them, some work with concrete objects can make all the difference.

Once she seems comfortable and fairly accurate with adding small objects, introduce subtracting. You can also begin to use written numbers and see how she does with that – that additional layer of abstraction is intimidating for some children, and actually requires multiple brain areas to coordinate. Some children need more time with it.

You can keep adding in concrete demonstrations of what those quantities mean. Here's a really outstanding program that my husband developed to teach basic math concepts by pouring quantities of lentils (along with a free sample activity adapted from one of the lessons). We get lotsa love from home-schoolers who have used it:

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Have you head of counting bears? (Actually, they have ALL kinds of them.) He could use those. For the example you gave, he could have eight bears, and the count the additional amount he needs for 10. (Or takeaway for subtraction.) Those always helped me as a child, I remember them fondly. I bought my son's here: you can see all the different kinds they have.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Manipulatives. That's the ticket. The numbers themselves are too abstract. She needs concrete examples.

I'd use different colored beads or blocks or the like. Start with each thing being worth one. Then as she gets used to it, have a different color equal ten. (10 red ones equal 100.) Then after that makes sense, have another different color equal 5. (20 5's equals 100.) Don't do this all at one sitting. Keep going over the easiest of the concepts over and over and only go to the next harder concept once she has mastered the one before. It should take weeks or months.

Knowing what her class is doing will help. Don't go too much farther than her class.

After she is much more comfortable with basic concepts, introduce word problems using the math. If mommy makes cookies and makes a dozen cookies will there be enough cookies for 15 people to have one? That will open the discussion of what a dozen is, and then she will know that there aren't enough cookies for 15 people. (It's good to teach her that sometimes the answer is no.) Make up other types of questions, like how many people can have cookies if each get 4 cookies a piece. It's a good opening to higher level math for later. If she has trouble, cut out pictures of cookies and SHOW her how the math works. Make it fun.

I promise you that if you are short on patience, she will NOT want to work with you on this. Don't make her hate math, please. Nothing's worse than an impatient parent or tutor when it comes to math...


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Raleigh on

It has to be fun. I created a game to help with addition called "double dice" for my 1st grader. It's a lot like Yahtzee except much simpler.
You take two dice. Each person gets two rolls per round. The object being to get as high of a score as possible between the two rolls, with the highest score possible being 12. Ex. The child rolls both dice once. If he rolls a 2 and 5, he can decide to keep the 5 and try a roll on the 2 again for a possible higher score, or keep both, or roll both again. After the second roll, you are stuck with what you got even if its lower than the first round. Each turn you write down the the total of the dice after both rolls. After 6 rounds, you total all the rounds together for a final score. Whoever has the highest score wins! The fun part is you can get a "double dice" by rolling doubles on the first roll, then multiplying by two. So if I roll a double 3, the score is 6 times 2=12.
This game was great on reinforcing combinations of addition with the two dice. Also introduces multiplication with help. If he can't get the total of the two dice, he can count the dots. Pretty soon the combinations are second nature. It doesn't take long to play and is family fun. We've modified it now to use three dice. Anyway, hope this helps.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

What has the Teacher said?
Did you ask him/her?
My son is 6 and in 1st grade. His teacher, will send home extra tips and handouts on different ways to do it.
And she will also speak to the parent, IF there is a problem with the math comprehension.

In my son's grade level, they do do math like your son is doing.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My kids always seemed to understand better with manipulatives (small objects). You could use anything you have on hand - Cheerios, gummy bears, legos, etc. Being able to physically hold something and count it is much easier for a child that age than trying to imagine it in their heads. The other thing I do is make examples, and make it funny. For instance, "Jessica has 8 American Girl dolls. Stephanie has 10 American Girl dolls. Jessica wants to have as many American Girl dolls as Stephanie because she is spoiled. How many more American Girl dolls does Jessica need?" Somehow that is WAY more fun to solve for a 6 year old. (And then she can use her manipulatives to solve the problem!)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Use a number line! Draw a line straight across a piece of paper, and under evenly spaced marks write numbers up to 20 (or however high you want to go up, but don't go up too high). it will look similar to a ruler.

Ex.: 8 + ? = 10....have your child start at 8, and then count how many spaces it takes to get to 10.

@ 6 yrs, it will still take some time to get used to any kind of math, esp adding/subtracting. If your child isn't getting it, don't push it. For one thing, while adding/subtracting is the easiest of math equations, it is the most difficult to grasp only because kids are so used to whole numbers by that age, it will take some time for their brains to wrap around whole numbers broken down into parts or being added onto. Also, math will only get harder at each grade level for kids who aren't naturally good at math, so learn patience going over math NOW.

That's what I used to tell the parents of the 1st-4th graders I tutored.



answers from Chicago on

I agree with Ally....a number the ones they have on their desks at school. This should be something this first grader can use at school when you are not there too.



answers from San Francisco on

Hold on to your hat, because this is just the beginning. The way they teach math now is completely different from when I was in school (I'm 53) or even when my daughter was in school (she's 32).

I just went to a Family Math Night at GD's school and learned how to do some of their math because I absolutely could not help her with her homework. Once the instructor explained what they are doing and why, I was able to grasp it.

When they send home math homework, it's a worksheet. There are no detailed instructions on how to do it. I was so grateful for Family Math Night.

The only thing I can say is this is all new to her. Just keep trying to work on it and eventually it will click. Maybe you can get some flash cards and have her pick out all the addition facts that add up to a particular number so she can see them all laid out in front of her. Maybe it will make more sense to her if she SEES it.



answers from Los Angeles on

Play games with her! Seriously, that is the best way to learn. I am a Discovery Toys consultant and we have several math games that are great and can be adapted for kids of different ages. Math Mixer and Number Rings are both excellent and have helped my kindergartener a lot. Check out those and more at Once you get her playing, the skills will come easy and she'll realize it can actually be a lot of fun.


answers from Detroit on

Is this actual first grade math or something you throw together for her to learn? It just seems too much for first grade. Even a+b =c , b+a =c, c-a =b, c-b =a, which is way simpler than what you are trying to teach her, is already early algebra. I guess triangle math would work.

-\----------/ 6+4 =10 10-4 =6
--\--------/ 4+6 =10 10-6 =4

I agree with Dawn, manipulatives.

First grade should be focused on place values and simple arithmetic facts
I use the place value blocks with my first grader and dominoes for simple addition and subtraction. I also create tests from
When my eldest was in first grade I used beads. I had single ones and strung 10 beads for 10s, and 100 beads for 100s.



answers from Las Vegas on

I work with my 7 year old in a number of different ways. I use a number line and maker her count back and forth using the same number. So take 10 for instance. 2 + 8 = 10, 5 + 5 + 10, 1 + 9 = 10, then I sit her down and have her object count. She uses aliens from an old game. I also have her count/walk floor tiles.

Once she has that concept, you can have her use number boxes. My daughter calls them 10 squares or 5 squares. Draw out 5 boxes side by side. Now draw another 5 right below it, yet connected. That is a 10 square. Now draw another 10 square.

She can easily see if she crosses off 5 squares with an X and 5 squares with an O, she has 10. She can work it backwards for subtraction.

Keep working with her and eventually it will sink it.

I always tell my daughter, "Oh, it's really". She says she is not aloud to say it is easy in class (boast), so I make a game of it. After I say it is easy, I say, "Oh, were not suppose to say that".



answers from New York on

Visuals always help. I think 8 + ? = 10 is too advanced for a mid year 1st grader. Go back to basics. Grab a handful of a small object. If I have 8 pennies and you give me 2 more, how many do I have? If she needs to count all 10, then that's what she needs to do. Some kids can't grasp that you can start counting at 8.

When my daughter started with addition they came up with this crazy system of doubles, doubles +1, and doubles +2. All the doubles were memerized, so to add 4+6, you would first add 4+4 which you knew was 8, then 6 is 2 more than 4, so you add 8+2. My point is they try to make something simple, complicated. Find what system works best for your child.

Also, sometimes kids don't respond well to learning and doing homework with parents. She may do better with someone else, like an older sibling or grandparent.

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