Help! My Kid’s Numbers are Backwards

number reversalsDoes your child often write numbers backwards? No need to panic! Here’s how to handle number reversals in homeschool math.

My kids are chronic number-reversers. (You can see my daughter’s math paper from today for an example.) Thankfully, my son has finally gotten them straightened out, but it took until the end of second grade! The good news is that number reversals aren’t the end of the world, and there are a few simple things you can do that will help your kids get their numbers turned around.

Keep calm.

A huge benefit of homeschooling is that our kids have the same teacher year after year—us! We know what they learned in previous years and can see their long-term progress. But there’s a drawback to this, too: it can be immensely frustrating when you know you’ve taught your children proper number formation for years and they’re still not doing it correctly. (Starting with my son’s first scraggly preschool numbers, I taught him how to write numbers for FOUR YEARS. No wonder I felt ready to tear my hair out sometimes!) Try to take a deep breath and stay calm when you feel annoyed with your older student’s continued mistakes. Thankfully, reversed numbers are very small in the scheme of things.

Tape a card with the numbers to your child’s desk (or put the card on the kitchen table while she works.)

It’s much easier for kids to write numbers correctly if they have a visual model right in front of them. This does not have to be fancy—just write the numbers in order on an index card and tape it to your child’s desk. (If you want something cuter, my daughter loves this alphabet and number desk strip from Christian Light.) Encourage them to refer to the card whenever they’re writing numbers and aren’t sure of the direction.

Fix the handwriting AFTER you’ve discussed the math.

When correcting your child’s math work, focus on her mathematical thinking and not on the backwards numbers. First, discuss the assignment, compliment your child on the correct problems, and help her fix any mathematical mistakes. Then (and only then) address the reversals. For younger children, I just point out the flipped numbers and erase them one-by-one so that the child can try again. To encourage an older child to self-monitor, I prefer to tell the child how many numbers need to be fixed and then send him off to find and fix the reversed numbers.

Ultimately, the way kids write their numbers is a matter of handwriting, not math. Handwriting should never hold a child back from reaching his or her full potential in math. Eventually, your child will get the numbers straightened out—it may just take a little longer than we parents would like!

Happy Math!



6 thoughts on “Help! My Kid’s Numbers are Backwards”

  1. You may have addressed this elsewhere, but how do you feel about the parent (homeschooling) writing answers for math. I have a 5.5yo boy who is ok in writing, but his hand tires easily, much before his brain. If we’re doing 2 pages, I usually have him write one of them and I’ll scribe on the other.

  2. I think scribing for younger kids is a great way to help kids learn math to their full potential without being slowed down by their fine-motor skills. I often scribed for my son when he was five and six as well, and still scribe occasionally for my five-year-old daughter. Doing math orally is a great work-around, too.

    That’s wise to him do some of the writing before you write–I bet that will make it much easier for him to transition to doing all the writing down the road.

  3. Thanks a lot!! I’m new to homeschool this year with my oldest in kindergarten and I’ve been stressed about him constantly writing his numbers 2 3 and 7 backwards. We just figured out a little memory devise yesterday and when he has to think about it we say it’s a 3 not an E and that helps.

  4. Those mnemonics are great for helping kids get those number straightened out, even if it takes a while for them to become automatic at writing the numbers in the correct direction.

  5. Hi Kate, my 5 year old son hugely benefitted from your addition facts videos from youtube. I couldn’t find subtraction facts videos in youtube. Could you please help me finding subtraction facts videos/resources?

    • Glad to hear that he benefitted so much! I don’t have youtube videos for subtractions, but I do have several articles and a book out that help kids master the subtraction facts. Here’s the main subtraction page, with links to the other resources.

      Happy Math!


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