Recently I spoke with a parent who was concerned about their child who just started 6th grade pre-algebra. What she didn't understand, and I think what many parents do not understand is that a student that starts 6th grade pre-algebra, is missing out on 1-2 years of math that they would have received if they were students just 15 years ago. What does this really mean? This means that they are missing out on more time to master multiplication, fractions, percents working with number sentences, and many other topics that is quintessential in their future learning. This is a great loss. I know that many parents what to see their child get to Calculus and do well in Mathematics. But this isn't necessarily the best way, and it may prove to be counter-productive as well as your child may get to Calculus but may struggle along they way as they are missing time to master some basic skills.
Around 20 years ago when I was in 8th grade, I took Algebra 1, which was part of the accelerated program. This meant that as a freshman I started in Geometry Honors and ended my high school career as a senior in Calculus BC AP. So the norm at the time was this path. Now if a student starts pre-algebra in 6th grade, then they will be in Calculus by their junior year. The difference between a student now and a student when I was in school is that we had more time master skills. In my experience as a classroom teacher, I believe the most important thing to keep in mind is that the stronger the basic skills, the more successful your child will be. I have also seen many students that start off on the Prealgebra track, end up leaving math and finding that they know longer think they are good at math. I know some of these students would have been more more successful with at least 1 more year of middle math.
But now, here you are, with a child in 6th grade prealgebra, what do you do? Well, at the first sign of any difficulty, seeing the teacher is a great first step. Also, helping your child understand that as they get older, math does get harder but that does not mean they are not great math students, it just means that the higher the level, the more work, and sometimes you have to stumble to get there. If the time spent with the teacher proves to be insufficient, tutoring is the next best thing.