Question: I have a ten-year-old boy who has done very little formal academics. He is very creative by nature, devours books (although he did not “learn” to read until nine years old), draws continually, has an inventor’s mind (like his beloved daddy), can recite anything he has read from a book, is fascinated by history, but despises using the pencil! He is very obedient, and will do whatever I ask, but is growing to despise math because of the continuous demand for writing. We have done much mental math over the years, and I write plenty of word problems out on the board, and he will do them. But we began with Saxon 54 this year. When he sees me pull out the book, his face does these strange contortions! He will complete the pages and arrive at the correct answers, but he loathes it! Any suggestions? Is it time for him to just buckle down and do it?

Answer: It’s nice to know our boy is not alone – there are other boys who hate holding a pencil. Perhaps someone at a university should do a study to discover why. On second thought, that would only mean more taxes and more government programs – and we’d probably never find out the real reason. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Little boys are wired to jump, roll, and chatter. Perhaps they are uncomfortable holding the pencil “just so,” or maybe they are discouraged because their letters do not look “just like” in the books, or possibly just sitting completely still through all of this is beyond their control capabilities.

Your son sounds like a delightful laddie who is willing to please his mommy and daddy in most anything. Help him out with his weaknesses. A ten-year-old should be doing some writing every day, no matter how little, but you may allow him to do as much of the math orally as is reasonable. In another year or so, he will be ready to write out his math exercises without a hitch. In fact, he’d probably be embarrassed if you offered to do it for him. In other words, don’t make too much of a fuss. He’ll grow out of it.


  1. Dawne

    I have a ten-year old just like that! 🙂

    I wanted to mention both CLE math and Math-U-See. CLE is very similar to Saxon, as it uses an incremental method with constant spiral review — however, it is in workbooklet format, so the writing is more minimal. MUS is a manipulatives based program which has very little writing in comparison to other programs.

    I think buckling down coupled with a more minimal amount of writing is a good balance, and has worked well here. In other words, my pencil-phobic son must do his written work with a good attitude, and I do try to keep it minimal. 🙂

  2. helene

    I had a son who loved math, but did not like to read. He could read and read pretty well. He wanted everything read to him tho. One time he put a board game away becuz I would not read the instructions to him. He was that motivated and still would not read on his own if he didn’t HAVE to. He was probably 11 or 12. By 13 tho, I could assign bks to him for school to read. Somewhere in the that yr and a half he started picking up things and reading on his own, gaining fluency which led to increased proclivity to read, which gained fluency, etc. The same thing can happen in math. He won’t need you right next to him eventually.
    Your son will get to that place in written math too, I daresay. Remember math is based on arithmetic. Require mastery of the operations; not just addition and so forth but decimals, ratios, etc. That is sometimes a factor in frustration you might not notice till he attempts things on his own.


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