I am moving away from traditional math education.
It didn’t serve me so well. If you’re curious as to why, this post covers why I homeschool math without a curriculum.
The post you are reading is going to go over what resources I use to homeschool math without a curriculum and what our math day looks like. This is a very recent change. Before, I used a more traditional approach to teaching math, but still I didn’t have a math curriculum. I’m just that kind of rebel.
I know it sounds scary putting down the math book. It’s much less scary if you really believe you are doing the right thing for your children. It’s also less scary if you are comfortable in math. If you are not I would recommend MEP (Mathematics Enhancement Programme). It’s written for the classroom and the website is so ugly, but the format is easy to teach and did I mention it’s free? It is. It’s what I use when I want a break from creating things.
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My goals for my children’s math education are:
- for my students to have positive feelings about math
- have a deep understanding on math topics
- be allowed the freedom to pursue tangents
- have enough tools to solve the problems they want to
As you can probably guess, my homeschool is somewhat student led.
What a Student-led Homeschool Lesson Looks Like
I pick the topic for the day. Sometimes I pick something they have expressed an interest in. Sometimes not.
I present the lesson, problem, activity to my students.
Here comes the student led part. While my students work on the activity, I gauge their interest. If it feels like pulling teeth to get any involvement from them, I switch gears, either presenting the lesson differently or scrapping it altogether and moving on. Over time, I have gotten really good at this. Good at knowing when to switch gears and being okay with letting it go.
We continue working until my students lose interest.
If they ask a random math question, I either answer it right then or (if it’s way off topic) write it down and answer it later. I have had to Google some of their questions.
What Kind of Activities?
There are several activities I use with my students. I don’t really keep track of which ones I’ve used or try and keep it balanced. I just use whichever one seems to fit our needs at the time.
A Math Project--I define math project as an interesting problem that takes multiple skills to solve. How big is your house? Who can make a paper air plane that is the lightest or flies the farthest? These are the absolute best thing you can have in your math classroom. It encourages students to use the skills they have learned and teaches them what math is all about. However, it can be challenging coming up with a problem. The most important part is that they find it interesting. Even if they need help solving the problem As long as they are engaged, they are learning.
Word Problems– Word problems are similar to math projects with one important distinction, word problems are someone else’s problem. How many ducks does Bob have? Writing word problems is easier than creating a math project. And it’s easier than you might think to add interest.
For an example on how I teach word problems go here.
Read Living Math Books–Living math books are written by people who love math; they often have a story line and are typically high interest. This is the most approachable idea on the list. I can do this when I’m sick and pregnant. There are so many great math books. We normally read a few pages during meal times. Some examples: Bedtime Math, Life of Fred, Each Orange Had 8 Slices.
Play Math Games–I always go for the ones that are going to be simple to play and that I can find a way for all of my children to interact with somehow. Mobi is a good example. My older two play the game and my younger two play with the tiles while I tell them the name of the numbers.
Solve Mental Math Problems–very helpful during rowdy dinners or when stuck in the van. Giving a problem to solve (7 x 5) or how many ways can you come up with 7 as your answer are both examples.
Math Puzzles–Sudoku, Ken Ken (I love these puzzles!), or others you find on the web. Print or copy them out and then leave lying on random surfaces. Or ask a kid who says they are bored “I wonder if you can solve this?” and see what happens.
Workbooks–Generally speaking, I don’t like worksheets. But sometimes my kids really like filling in the blanks. When they are in that mood it’s really useful to whip one out. Or if you just really don’t feel good. These are my favorite.
Organizing Your Lessons
I find it useful when I am thinking of what materials to leave around and which books to get from the library to think of a skill I would like them to learn or practice. Right now, we are learning multiplication.
And while we have a focus on multiplication, I am okay with deviating from it. When we played Mobi, I didn’t limit their game play to multiplication only.
Any time they ask a question, we explore it. Even if it means not working on what I had set out to work on. We have gone down a few rabbit holes unrelated to multiplication.
We are on week 4 of exploring multiplication. They still seem interested in the subject, so I will continue.
I don’t write lesson plans like I used to. Now, I gather materials, show them off and follow their lead. I don’t require that they get any particular thing done. I do, however, require a certain amount of time spent on math (2-3 hours a week). After I show them the activity for the day, it’s up to them where to take it.
Teaching Multiple Age Groups
Despite having 4 children, I have 2 age groups. The result of not teaching my oldest for a few years and my third child being behind and my fourth child being ahead. It’s rather convenient really. At this point, I am planning resources for my older two, my younger two sit with us and I try and involve them at their skill level or when the older two are occupied.
So, my older two are filling in their multiplication table (I swear I didn’t make them and that it was something they were interested in doing), my youngest is cutting paper (because it is her life mission to cut all large paper into tiny scraps). I take some of the scraps and have Faith (5) count them while Joy (2) copies her sister.
My 5 year old and 2 year old are not really in the same place in their understanding. But they are learning the same things: what are numbers, what do we do with them,… It’s easy to make the activity harder for Faith and easier for Joy.
Same goes with my 8 and 6 year old, although they are pretty close in their mathematical ability. Whoever is ahead will take the other with them.
At some points in the lesson, I’m not even a part of it. Ben asks a question, Grace answers. The answer gives Ben another idea and they both work it out.
There’s no way this would happen if they each had their own problems they were working on.
Where is the Best Place to Start?
What if you are feeling interested in ditching your curriculum? Where do you start? I would start with what you are most excited about or interested in. For a long time, we just read living math books and did worksheet pages because that’s all I could handle.
I’m feeling better now and starting to branch out. I wrote a few story problems and have plans on a math project.
If it all feels too overwhelming, start small. Pick a book to read at dinner. Solve problems in the car ride. Download my intro to multiplication unit and try it out. Summer is right around the corner, experiment then when you feel there is less pressure.
Maybe you will find math is not that scary and might even be fun!