There’s this huge misconception about learning math. Everyone sees math as linear. You learn to count, then add, then subtract…on and on. You can’t skip anything or you’re child will be behind and have holes in their education.
The truth is, everything is interconnected and learning is kinda messy. This video agrees with me.
Think about the math curriculum that you have looked through. Most, if not all, is taught linearly. A segment on addition, a segment on subtraction…
There are consequences to teaching math this way. These consequences are the reason that I do not use a math curriculum in my homeschool. It sounds scary, doesn’t it? Teaching (gulp) math without a guide. The biggest fear I have is that my children will be behind or missing information or deficient in some way.
Fears must be dealt with before anyone can appreciate the benefits of making your own math curriculum. I would like to address the fear first and then explain the benefits second.
Behind who? Why are public schools used as the golden standard for homeschoolers? For me, I feel the need to prove that I made the right choice to homeschool my children. If I can say, “Well, they’re on grade level”, then maybe I will get less flack from people who believe I’m scarring my children.
There are a couple of things that comfort me. One comes from my experience as a middle school math teacher. I had 8th graders who didn’t know how to add fractions, divide double digit numbers, and would you like to guess at how many had the multiplication table memorized. And yet all of these children were “on grade level”.
On the other side of the coin, I saw a handful (every year) of children that were behind at the beginning of the year and suddenly something would click and they would catch up. So, I know from experience that the age a child is doesn’t mean that’s were they are academically. And that even very behind children can make up years of missing knowledge.
“Being behind” but moving forward, that’s okay with me.
The other comfort I have is that public schools have a completely different set of goals than I do. Whether they say it or not, their goals are skills based. Can this child add, multiply. Their goals are not understanding based. Does this child understand what multiplication is? It’s not the schools fault, how else are you supposed to teach 180 students a year (that’s how many I had each year).
So, public schools have a skills mastery goal. Math curriculum meets that goal.
I on the other hand, have different goals.
My Goals For My Children’s Math Education
Don’t misunderstand me. I do want my children to know basic math skills. But that is not my focus. I also want them to: have a deep understanding on math topics, be allowed the freedom to pursue tangents, and have a true understanding of what math is.
What is Math?
Let’s start with what math isn’t.
Math isn’t’ filling out worksheet after worksheet, or answering problem after problem (I’m thinking of Saxon Math right now and shuddering).
Math isn’t memorizing something for some reason you don’t understand.
Math isn’t learning something because it could be useful someday.
Math isn’t a checklist to get through or a class to finish and then never use again.
Math is not scary and not boring!
Math is exploring. How big is my house? How much bigger is my new house from my old house?
Math is about tools to solve our natural curiosity. If I want to know how big my house is, I might need to learn about measurement, multiplication, drawing to scale…
Math is fun!
Why I Homeschool Math Without a Curriculum
How can anyone love math when their only experience of it is drudgery? Would a person grow to love cooking if their only experience was cutting carrots? And what if they never saw what happened to the cut carrots? They might ask,
“Why am I cutting carrots?”
“Once you’re good at cutting carrots, you can learn to cut tomatoes.”
“Umm, why would I want to learn to cut tomatoes?”
“So you can learn to cut the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing.”
This is what happens when you teach math linearly. We learn addition so that we can multiply. We give students all of these tools and never (or rarely) ask them to use them.
Another example: What if children had to study a manual for years before they were ever allowed to play football? No playing catch, no practices, and certainly no games. Not until each child had that manual memorized. How many children would be interested in playing football?
No wonder most students hate math. It’s one meaningless task to another harder meaningless task.
Have I convinced you yet? Let’s see how others who have been taught math with a traditional curriculum feel about math.
How Does America Feel About Math?
Let’s start with you (even if your not American, you can still play). Do you love math? Think back to your education in elementary. Middle school. High school. How much did you actually understand? Did you understand what you were doing? or why? Did you ever feel curious about what the answer was going to be?
Google “math meme” and you will see something interesting, and maybe a little disturbing. More than half of the ones I scanned were negative. Math is: hard, boring, pointless. Of the ones that could be construed as positive, many were of the, “math is hard, but we need it. So, suck it up and do it”, variety.
Americans hate math. Americans are afraid of math. Maybe there is something wrong with the way Americans are being taught math.
Teaching math linearly (one unrelated topic after another) results in students who, at best, tolerate math. Using curriculum does not ensure that a child will not have holes or missing concepts as an adult.
I may fail at making sure my children know everything they need in math and that there are no “holes” in their education. But I will not fail to show them the wonder of math and let their curiosity be a part of our lessons.
If I’m Not Using Curriculum, How Will I Teach Math?
I can’t wait to share with you what you can do instead. But I haven’t written it yet, so you will have to wait until next week.
Also read: To Use Math Worksheets or Not
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