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Second-Grade Math: Why It’s Hard for Kids

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Second-grade math can be especially tricky for kids.

  • Kids who were doing math on their fingers now have to do it in their heads.

  • Place value and two-digit operations require kids to think in new ways.

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Second grade is here, and your child is having trouble with math. Your child didn’t have any difficulty before. What’s going on?

Read on to learn why second-grade math is often hard for kids, and how you can help.

No More Counting on Fingers

If you notice something different about your second grader’s math problems, you’re not imagining it. Second-grade math is different from first-grade math.

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In first grade, most of the math kids do can be done on their fingers. Kids are adding or subtracting single digit numbers, like 8 + 5. And they’re getting more comfortable with math symbols, like the +, –, and = signs.

When second grade comes around, there’s a big jump in conceptual math. Kids have to start doing math in their heads. Things are less concrete, a trend that continues as kids get older.

For example, kids start working with place value. And they’re adding and subtracting two-digit numbers, like 18 + 25. For these problems, kids can’t use their fingers. Sometimes, they can use physical objects, like blocks, to solve problems. But eventually kids have to do the problems in their heads or with symbols on paper.

Explaining How You Got the Answer

Another big change that happens in second grade? Teachers start asking kids to show their work. Getting the right answer isn’t enough. Now, kids need to explain why it’s the right answer.

This is a huge challenge. Lots of kids who are skilled at math can solve a problem. But they may have a lot of trouble explaining how they got there.

When schools ask kids to show work in specific ways, it’s even harder. “New math” methods like number lines, ten-frames, and bar graphs can help kids develop understanding. But sometimes, kids get stumped when asked to use these methods.

Second-Grade Math: What to Do If Your Child Is Struggling

If your child is having a hard time with math in second grade, jot down some notes about what you’re seeing. Then you can talk to your child’s teacher. Together, you can figure out where your child needs help.

Often, simple tools can help. Graph paper is great for kids to line up math problems, especially ones with place value. Having a scratch pad handy can get your child into the habit of showing work.

Finally, don’t let struggles get your child down. A lot of kids struggle with second-grade math. It doesn’t mean they’re bad at math. It may just mean they need extra time or practice. Learn more about why kids struggle with math.

Key Takeaways

  • Math starts to get less concrete in second grade.

  • Schools expect second graders to show and explain their work.

  • If your child is struggling with math, take a few notes on what you’re seeing and then talk with the teacher.

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