If my child was struggling at school

by KarenM on April 22, 2013 · 2 comments

In considering what to write in this blog, I asked myself, “With the knowledge I have now, what would I do if I were to suddenly discover that my Grade Four child was struggling at school?” In case this is helpful to you, here are the very first steps I would take.

I would need to discover what foundational information my child is missing.

For Math

The first test I would give my child would be a counting test. I would ask them to count to 100. I wouldn’t ask if they can count to 100 because they will all say, “yes”. When they count, I would be paying special attention to 11-19 and any mistakes that show up in a pattern. Mistakes are common. One student recently missed 34, 44, 54, etc. This is a tedious process so it’s important to be positive, patient and encouraging.

If they counted to 100 perfectly, over the next week I would get them to count by twos, fives, tens and, possibly, threes and fours. I would also ask questions like, “count from 7 to 16” or “count by twos from 12 to 26”, etc. Can they start and stop in the middle?

Wherever they make a mistake, encourage and thank them and wait until the next day. This gives you time to set up an exercise to practice counting. Make sure you have some “things” for them to count. I gave my son his favorite “sugar” cereal that I never allowed him to have. If he counted a handful of, say Fruit Loops, perfectly he could eat them. If he was having trouble with 13, for instance, I would give him 13 every day until he could do it perfectly, then I’d give him 14 for a few days while I discovered the next place he had trouble and repeat the exercise.

For Language Arts

We learn to read best by writing, so I would focus on their writing. I would begin by getting ahold of a rough draft of something they’ve written or get them to write something, anything they’re interested in. I would be looking for:

neatness and formation of letters

spelling errors

are the words spelled phonetically, or are they trying to spell everything from memory

how much of a struggle is it to get words on paper (Is there emotion – anger, frustration, tears, etc.?)

full or partial sentences

descriptive words

ideas or “just the facts”

Assuming we have to go back to the beginning, I would find all of the sounds they consistently spelled correctly. I’d end up with a list looking something like the sounds for these letters: f h l m n p r s t v y z. It would be common to find no short vowel sounds on the list (meaning they confuse the short vowel sounds). If this is the case, begin with “a for apple”. If they need a lesson, use a real apple and as they eat the apple have them practice “a apple” or “a says a for apple”. In the meantime, play a fun game each day making real and nonsense words with these few letters.


If your child picks up on any impatience or frustration from you they will react by feeling discouraged. However, your child’s confidence will improve quickly if you can be patient and encouraging.

Please feel free to respond here with your story or to ask questions, email me or call me at 778-430-3183.
For more information go to

Karen Swift Murdoch has tutoring offices in Victoria and Langford, BC.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather April 30, 2013 at 7:28 am

Thanks for the info and I’m sure many will benefit:)

Unfortunately, in my case, nothing was working. My daughter was 7 when she was tested and found to have low IQ,extremely low processing and unable to keep up in the class room or at home. She was at risk. Unfortunately, there were only band aides to get my daughter through school, but nothing would help her to thrive and someday be productive and happy as she was not able to take care of her needs. These children are what the school system labels they are in the grey area – too smart for the extra help but not smart enough to achieve anything in life. these kids are modified and simply passed through the school system and most find it difficult to keep jobs and live at risk in the community. I know as all my siblings have at least one of these type adult/children. fortunate for me, I found a program that I believe “cured” my daughter of her disabilities. she has been in Eaton Arrowsmith for almost 4 years now and I can honestly say that her quality of live is greatly improved. She is no longer at risk, she is thriving and I have a daughter now that will be able to act socially responsible, have boundaries, able to process information and go to higher learning if she wants to. she will not be one of the statistics that you hear about and I owe it all to the Arrowsmith program.

KarenM May 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I am so glad you found Eaton-Arrowsmith and that it was a good fit for your daughter. I checked it out and I was really impressed. Thank you for your response.

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