The Day Math Brought Tears & Broken Pencils

That particular homeschool day did not start with tears or frustration.

The math lesson itself started uneventfully.  It was a normal day…until it wasn’t.

That morning started with the cats nudging me awake to feed them (not because they were out of food…my husband had put out some hard food for them.  They were wanting the soft cat food that I give them each morning.)  I got up, fed the cats their beloved soft food, grabbed a cup of coffee, and checked my email.  Boring!  Delightfully boring!!

My boys got up, ate breakfast, and did their chores.  Still ordinary!  We began school.  The boys were doing their independent assignments with an occasional question while I got dinner into the slow cooker and laundry started.  I put out the hard food for the cats which they ate as if they were starving before each cat found a nice place to nap for the next couple of hours.

Time to start the part of our day in which my boys need teacher-led instruction.

For us, that is predominantly math and science.  Almost every subject has individual topics that require more teacher involvement, but math and science are the two subjects that almost always require me to be hands-on with the boys.

We opened our math books, got our pencils and supplies ready, and I demonstrated the new math topic.  I don’t even remember what the exact lesson was about.  We were knee-deep into algebra at that point.  As I was demonstrating the math, everything seemed to still be blissfully normal.  The word demonstrating has the word “demon” in it for a reason.  It can be deceitful.  My boys would certainly agree.  Math problems always seem so easy when they are watching me do it.  Nodding heads.  No questions.
brentwoodhome essentials
The time came for the boys to do their independent practice.   Almost immediately began the chorus of, “I don’t understand.”  That’s why I’m here… to help you understand.  Where was he stuck?  Step 1!  I went back to the example explaining that their problem will have the exact same steps.  He got stuck again… on step 2.  After guiding them through the rest of the problem with leading questions, I asked them to work the second problem independently.

That’s when math brought tears!

broken pencils on an algebra book

One of my boys literally began to cry in frustration while the other one broke his pencil.  It was no exaggeration to say that they were overwhelmed with frustration.  Math should not cause tears.  I reminded them that they are homeschooled.  As homeschoolers, we don’t have to have everything figured out on a rigid time frame.  If we need to take two weeks to understand this one lesson, that’s okay.  We can take as much time as we need.

I had the boys stop where they were.  I asked them to put their math books away.  I knew that science would not be successful in their present state, so we skipped science for the day.  I had them work on subjects that were easy for them.  We cut the school day short (but still meeting state legal standards ;-)).

The next day, I began with the tear-inducing question.

Once it was time for teacher-led instruction, I wrote the very same problem that elicited tears on the previous day on the wipe-off board.  Who can tell me what to do first?  Amazingly, they knew.  They knew the next step, too.  Step by step, they told me how to complete the problem.  That’s when I told them that this was the same problem that brought them to tears just one day earlier.  Shock!  They were both able to complete the assignment without tears, without pencil-breaking, without frustration.  They had a few questions here and there, but they successfully completed the assignment.

What if it HAD actually taken two weeks?

That would have been okay, too.  I was grateful that it wasn’t necessary, though.

Sometimes, a mental fog sets in.  It’s perfectly fine to wait until the conditions improve.  This time, 24-math-free-hours did the trick.  Other times, reviewing easier content and building back up to the harder material is beneficial.  I am just grateful that homeschooling allows us the freedom to do whatever is necessary.  This is one of the reasons that I homeschool.


If you’re considering homeschooling, check out my Homeschool How-To for my recommendations on how and where to begin.

The Day Math Brought Tears & Broken Pencils

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About Trisha

Trisha Kilpatrick is a homeschooling mother of three. She has a degree in Education with a double major in Elementary and Special Education, but she is more proud of her countless hours of volunteer work in Children's Church. She believes that all children can learn and that, in life, simple is almost always best. *Affiliate links are used on this site. I may be compensated when you click on or buy from these links. If you have any questions, you can contact me at questions@trishadishes.com .

2 comments on “The Day Math Brought Tears & Broken Pencils

  1. It was so considerate that your boys had the same Math Fog at the exact same time. You sound like an amazing teacher and mom. 👍🏻

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