Mastering Math: Supporting Your Child with Conceptual Understanding

Sometimes children are capable of completing math exercises and worksheets accurately without understanding the concepts behind their answers. Oftentimes, they may be able to arrive at the correct answer, but not truly understand the process and mathematical functions they are applying.

Children struggling with mathematical conceptual understanding need effective teaching strategies to help them learn the concepts beyond their computational accuracy. And you, as their parent, can help

The following excerpt from my book The ABCs of Learning Issues defines the specific issue of mathematical conceptual understanding and provides helpful strategies for both parents and teachers. This is the second article in a multi-part series that explores common learning issues in children.

Clinical Definition

Mathematical conceptual understanding is more than memorizing math facts and knowing how to calculate equations. Students with strong mathematical conceptual understanding have the ability to transfer their mathematical knowledge from one situation to another and apply known mathematical concepts in new contexts.

Educators’ Definition

Computational executions of basic math calculations are intact, but students lack the conceptual understanding of what is being presented.

What do these definitions mean?

Reduced conceptual understanding in math occurs when students do not understand why certain operations are performed in certain situations, and therefore, these students struggle to figure out which operation should be selected and used during the problem solving process.

Which behaviors may parents observe if their child demonstrates this learning issue?

  • Your child is capable of completing math exercises and worksheets accurately without understanding the concepts behind their answers.
  • They can accurately arrive at the correct answer without understanding the process. For example, they can add fractions without understanding what the fractions represent, or they can accurately compute 50 times 100 without understanding place values.

Which professionals can treat this learning issue?

  • Learning specialists
  • Math tutors
  • Classroom teachers

Which teaching strategies can be effective in school?

  • Use manipulatives to bridge an understanding between the abstract and the concrete.
  • Using a hands-on approach can help close the gap between mathematical reasoning, problem-solving, and accurate execution.
  • Use concrete examples to make strong connections.

Which strategies can help at home?

  • Create fun learning experiences where fractions can be taught when eating pie, cake, or pizza.
  • Bake cakes and teach dry and wet measurements in ounces, cups, pints, and quarts.
  • Place meaning behind decimals, percentages, and fractions.
  • Encourage real life applications at gas stations, such as estimating how many gallons to the mile as well as calculating change and tips.

Bridging the gap between home and school and promoting a common language between parents and educators is instrumental in helping every child – regardless of their disability – reach their full academic and social-emotional potential.


Dana Stahl, M.Ed. grew up with learning disabilities and became a learning specialist to help children with learning issues reach their social-emotional and academic potential. Stahl's practice, Educational Alternatives, LLC, focuses on educational advice, advocacy, and school placements. The ABCs of Learning Issues is available on Amazon.