Math, the word that strikes fear in many a homeschool mother’s heart.
Why all this stress? Math is not an emergency.
Is it because we think that math is “hard” and that some people just weren’t made for math? Do we not understand it ourselves? Have we focused too much on the operation and not enough on the stories and history of math?
It’s probably a little of all these things, but I hope to open your mind about how to approach math with your kids.
I did fairly well with math and ended up as a Finance major in college, which is a lot of math. So far I’ve been surprised at how easily it comes back with a quick reintroduction.
I certainly didn’t hate math and always appreciated the fact there was a correct answer. The subjectiveness of English assignments drove me crazy!
My Homeschool Experience with Math
Over the years I owned almost every math curriculum out there. It started with Right Start which I purchased when my oldest was five. We got it out once and when I saw all the pieces and parts, I put it away. I had a five, four, and two year old and was pregnant with our fourth child, it just wasn’t going to work.
Since then, we’ve had Math U See, Teaching Textbooks, Saxon, Math Mammoth, and various math workbooks. Note we “had” them, not completed them.
My own experience, both as a child and a mom, taught me that most elementary math is just a repeating spiral of the same topics. Why should I waste my young children’s days laboring over useless worksheets?
So much of their play had a creative math element, why would I interrupt that natural exploration (that they weren’t even aware of) to fill it with rote, meaningless problems? They would set up shops, invent their own games, and play Monopoly for Kids as well as other games independently. They were using math skills on a regular basis without contrived input from me.
Our Math Evolution
A year or so ago, an unschooling mom recommended Learn Math Fast, and I was intrigued.
After reading and hearing many accounts of kids learning math quickly, once they have an interest or need to do so, this sounded like the system to help them get there.
So I dove deep and ordered the complete set.
How I Approach Math Now
It’s simple; I do the next thing.
My oldest buzzed through the first four books of Learn Math Fast as recommended by the author and is doing nicely.
Everyone else also started at book 1 and is proceeding at their own pace. When we hit a snag and need to slow down, I print off my trusty Math Mammoth Blue Series related to that topic, and we work through it. Math Mammoth is more visual, and that is sometimes needed to improve understanding.
So far, I’m pleased with this combination and don’t see myself changing. Combining the two just makes sense, it isn’t “grade-leveled” nor focused on an annual completion date. I may like this aspect the most. What does “5th-grade math” mean anyway?
What Math is Lacking
Growing up I never once learned where math came from, it was as if it just magically appeared. Maybe I heard a little about Pythagoras, but it was a footnote. I always wondered what mathematicians did all day, wasn’t it all figured out already?
Don’t you think your kids might appreciate math a little more if they knew it’s history?
My favorite documentary ever is The Story of One (that Amazon price is crazy, here it is on YouTube). We’ve watched it several times, and as my 11 year old looked over my shoulder as I was linking it, she said: “Oh, I love that movie”!
For the younger kids, we’ve enjoyed Donald in Mathmagic Land.
There are also books to give you a sense of math’s history; one is Mathematicians Are People, Too. I have some friends who dislike this book, but I think it does a pretty good job given that there aren’t a lot of choices when it comes to books covering math history. There is also a second volume.
Another book that I happened to find at a thrift store, that is wonderful, is The Wonderful World of Mathematics by Lancelot Hogben. This is not in print, but isn’t too expensive and is a great read aloud of mathematical history.
Math Isn’t an Emergency
As with most things, math isn’t an emergency, but so many seem to approach it with fear and trepidation. There is much hand wringing every year about the possibility of getting “behind.”
Relax. It will be okay.
Also, if they can finish geometry in three months, they completed geometry! Don’t get hung up on the school schedule. Math can go at your own pace, whether that be quick or slow.
As with everything, I think it’s best to make your life do the educating and math is no exception. Look for those everyday opportunities to make math meaningful and relevant, you need a good answer when they ask, “Why do we need to know this”!
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