But it’s easy to get sidetracked. Standards cry out to us, “They should be learning this.” Well-meaning adults question if our child is learning. And there’s always that worry in the back of our minds—what if I am not doing enough.
All of this fear and doubt can suck the life right out of any subject. Maybe you know what I am talking about. Maybe math in your homeschool is dry and painful. How do you bring it to life?
Make Math Real
My 3 year old is learning to count right now. Why does she want to count? She has a curiosity that must be quenched. How many cookies did Mommy give me? Is it the same number of cookies she gave my sister? Counting is real to her, it helps her answer questions.
But counting is easy. Making it real is easy. Did you know that other things can be taught just as easily? People need addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to help them answer questions. The trick is getting a child to care. That’s where making math real comes in.
Before you teach the next skill (or review one you have already taught) ask yourself, is there some way I can make this problem real?
- There’s a mess of markers on the floor. I am going to pick up 5. You pick up the last 5. How many markers did we pick up?
- If you know there are ten on the floor–I am going to pick up 2 markers. There are 10 on the floor. How many will you need to pick up?
- There are 40 Lego here. If we split them between the four of us, how many will we each get?
- Everyone grab 10 Lego. Let’s put them all in a pile, how many are in the pile.
By making the problem relevant to them, we spark curiosity. By using actual objects, we not only make the problem real, but we give them a built in way to check their thinking. Maybe the child in the first problem thinks that there will be 11 markers. After we clean them up, we can count to find out and he would see his mistake.
No pressure. Self correcting. Exploration.
Know Your Child
I am in the beginning of this step. I don’t know how my children want/need to learn math. But I have been paying attention to how they spend their free time and using that knowledge.
Grace (7) wants to solve people problems. She spends a lot of time play-acting scenarios. Fairness is very important to her. She hates timed games (too much pressure) and she fears being wrong so refuses to do anything that looks too much like a worksheet. The problems that work well for her include characters or helping solve someone’s problem.
For example: Little Red Riding Hood is on her way to Grandma’s house. She is skip-counting by 5’s to help her get there faster than the wolf but she can’t remember what comes after 15! Can you help her get to grandma’s house? If I put this problem on a worksheet with blank boxes, she would refuse. However, if I made a Little Red Riding Hood puppet with steps for her to jump on, she would be all over that. Another example would be this chick post.
Ben (5) on the other hand, is an active learner. He wants to jump, climb, or run. If he can’t do those things, he wants to be building. Lego is very popular in this house. To get Ben to skip-count, I might have him do jumping jacks while we count or cover the numbers on a 100’s chart as we say them with counters.
Faith (3) is really into coloring. She has no problem sitting down and coloring for an hour. I know, weird. She might end up being a traditional worksheet girl.
If you know how your child thinks and what they are interested in, you can tailor their math work to reflect that. Skip years of tantrums and learn what your child likes and how they think.
Follow Your Child’s Pace
It’s tempting to get stressed by the amount a child is supposed to learn in a year and feel like you have to go fast. Resist that temptation, even if you are behind. The only result will be stress and probably less learning. It’s okay to go slow. It’s okay to spend weeks in addition if that’s what your child is interested in.
On the other hand, it’s also okay to skip some things. If division is really stressing your child, skip it and come back later. They may not be interested or they may not be ready. It’s okay to follow their lead.
With Grace, she learns really quickly. I show her something and she’s got it. I assume that she is ready to move on to something else. After all, if she understands it, why wait around. But she wants to linger. She wants to do the same kind of problem over and over from different angles. It probably helps that she likes things that are comfortable and doesn’t like trying new things. But that’s okay. I can keep working on addition with her because she wants to. Like a good book, there’s always something new to discover.
Not only can you follow your child’s pace through the subject matter, but you can also let them decide how long they spend doing the work. I don’t mean actually asking them, “How long do you want to work on math today?” I mean paying attention to them while they are working. If they are starting to get frustrated, it might be time to quit and try again later. Stress and learning do not go together.
When my children are frustrated, it usually means that we need a snack or running break. Normally, taking a break and coming back later is all that is needed. I have tabled some assignments to give me time to think about what could make the assignment possible for my child.
Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
Children are very perceptive. If you act like math is scary or impossible for you to understand, your children are going to pick up on that. At some point they may decide that they too, are not “math people”.
It’s okay to not know the answers. It’s okay to ask for help. It will show your child that (no matter how old a person is) learning is more important than knowing.
If your child hates math, you are not alone. Take a break, try a few of these tips and hopefully, you will see improvement.
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