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Fourth-grade math: Why it’s hard for kids

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • If your child is struggling with math in fourth grade, you’re not alone.

  • In fourth grade, kids learn new and harder math concepts at a faster pace.

  • Teachers use math visuals and models, which is confusing for some kids.

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You thought your child had a handle on math. But when fourth grade started, your child started having trouble. What’s different about fourth-grade math? 

Read on to learn what fourth graders learn in math, why it’s often hard, and how you can help.

New and harder math concepts in fourth grade

If your child’s math homework looks different from what you expected, that’s not surprising. Kids are learning new, more difficult material. And they’re learning it in ways that may not look like what you remember from when you were in school.

In third grade, kids learn about multiplying and dividing numbers within 100. For example, multiplying single-digit numbers (6 × 9). Kids are also introduced to word problems and how to do mental math

The pace of learning speeds up in fourth grade, and the concepts are more complicated. Students spend a lot of time exploring math concepts like:

  • Multi-digit multiplication, like 26 × 10

  • Two- and three-digit division, like 144 ÷ 12

  • Working with and comparing fractions

In fourth grade, kids learn about new math concepts quickly, so they might not see right away how they’re connected. As a result, they may feel discouraged.

Plus, teachers want kids to understand math, not just get the right answer. They may ask kids to find different ways to solve problems, and want kids to focus on the process as much as the solution.

For example, if a problem is 26 × 10 = ___, it’s not enough to just answer 260. Fourth graders have to explain and show why the answer is 260. This is challenging, but showing work helps kids understand why math works the way it does.

Math visuals and models in fourth grade

Teachers use a lot of math visuals and models to help kids understand math. Kids typically see some of this “new math,” like bar models, in earlier grades. But it’s everywhere in fourth grade.

For example, for two- and three-digit multiplication problems, kids have to model the answer. They may be asked to use techniques like area models, box multiplication, equal sized groups, and arrays.

The purpose of these visual models is to help kids see how a problem can be solved in multiple ways. And that’s great for many students.

But some kids have a harder time with visual information. They may struggle to connect math symbols like + and × to a visual. And they may not see how these models can help them organize their work.

What to do if your child struggles with fourth-grade math

If your child is having a hard time with math in fourth grade, talk with your child’s teacher. The teacher can help you figure out where your child needs help.

Often, finding real-life examples can help. For instance, have your child practice fractions with foods like pizza. Ask questions like: How many slices are there in total? What would two slices of that whole look like as a fraction? 

You can practice multiplication the same way. For instance, point out the tiles on a floor. If the room is 10 tiles wide and 20 tiles long, help your child figure out how many tiles there are. This is just like an area model.

If your child is having a hard time with a specific math model, ask the teacher for an example to follow. You may even want to ask for step-by-step notes. When kids are stuck, another option is to see if there’s another way to show work. As long as kids understand a math concept, most teachers won’t require them to know every detail of a math model. 

Finally, try not to let fourth-grade math get your child — or you — down. It’s a lot to learn. And if it’s tough, it doesn’t mean either of you are bad at math. It may just mean that your child needs extra time or practice.

Learn more about why kids struggle in math — and why math is taught differently than it used to be.

Key Takeaways

  • Fourth graders learn why math works, not just how to get the right answer.

  • It’s common for kids to feel discouraged about fourth-grade math.

  • If you’ve noticed that your child is struggling with math, talk with the teacher.


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Share Fourth-grade math: Why it’s hard for kids

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
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  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom