We’ve had a maths breakthrough! How do I know?
- The children have been asking to do maths first.
- C (8) sceptically asked me in the middle of a recent lesson we were both enjoying, “is this really maths, mummy?”
- My confidence in my children’s ability to reach their maths potential (and my ability to get them there) has skyrocketed!
Where we were before
When they were at school, both C (8) and J (nearly 7) enjoyed maths and were top of their respective classes. This was a good starting point, but as a new homeschooler it only increased the pressure I put on myself to nurture their talents at home! I never doubted their mathematical ability; what I did question was my ability to sustain and develop their passion for the subject.
I think my biggest enemy was that spectre that looms over most homeschoolers in our weak moments: fear of leaving gaps in our children’s education. This fear seems to strike frequently when it comes to maths, so perhaps it’s not surprising that many of us devote huge amounts of energy to finding the “perfect” maths curriculum.
But here’s what I’ve found: for my children, most maths curricula probably work just fine for a while. And then … well, they just get bored of doing the same thing day in day out (or at least the same sort of thing in the same sort of way). And boredom is definitely not a good learning state!
The book that was the key
Then, thanks to the lovely folks over at the Secular Homeschool forum, I discovered Primary Grade Math Challenge. This is a book of word problems aimed at gifted maths students (grades 1st – 4th). Each chapter introduces a theme (such as completing a number series, or counting change) and then has four sets of questions ranging from “level 1” to “genius”.
It may not sound very exciting so far, but sitting with each of my children in turn as they work through the questions has given me is an incredible insight into how their minds work and what their strengths and weaknesses are, in ways no math curriculum has ever done. Meanwhile my puzzle-loving children love figuring out the answers and seeing how many levels they can complete in each unit.
Another bonus is as they work through the questions, C and J become increasingly motivated to learn more sophisticated problem-solving strategies. Instead of “Why do we have to learn this [abstract concept]?”, it’s “Please teach me a way of doing this!” *
*Ok, I exaggerate a teensy bit – we may not be quite there yet – but I can see the day coming. 😀
Last Thursday I had to quell my inner frustration when we opened a chapter of Primary Grade Math Challenge dealing with fractions, and C groaned “I hate fractions!” Where in the world had my mathematically gifted daughter picked up this absurd notion? Fifteen minutes later, Primary Grade Math Challenge had worked its magic on us both. C was happily adding together sixteenths, quarters and eighths, and converting improper fractions to mixed numbers. Meanwhile I had figured out that she hadn’t “hated” fractions because they were difficult, but because she was bored of colouring in segments of polygons and pie in her previous (grade level) maths curricula! (It makes me wonder what other misunderstandings lurk at the foundation of our homeschool!)
Up until now I’ve continued to pick out a few sections of Math Mammoth (grade 2) for C to do once or twice a week, but writing this post has helped me let go of that, unless there’s something specific she needs to work on. She doesn’t need to practise place value or rounding to the nearest hundred, and I don’t want to bore her into “hating” any other mathematical concept. Yes, C and J need to master their number facts, know their multiplication tables and learn about different types of triangles, but they can acquire all those skills in day-to-day life (eg by baking and budgeting), by playing games, and from living maths books. One of the things I like about Math Mammoth is that you can buy material on a specific topic if you don’t need the complete curriculum. I’ve got my eye on the multiplication and division worksheets collection to help C and J master those operations when they reach that point (which given the way Primary Grade Math Challenge is going, probably isn’t far off).
Life Of Fred
Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our beloved Life Of Fred. These books are not cheap but – oh – they are good! Once I had found a UK supplier (thank you Conquest Books) I splashed out on the first four elementary level books, which C whizzed through, and I’ve since bought the complete set. (I figure they’re good quality non-consumables so should I should be able to get some of my investment back by re-selling at some point – if we can ever bear to part with them!) My reluctant reader J, meanwhile, is happy to alternate reading aloud paragraphs with me for chapter after chapter – I don’t think he notices he’s even reading, let alone learning maths! Seriously, I can’t recommend these books enough if you want to your kids to associate maths with laughter and generally feeling good.
I’m so happy to have found what works for us (for now!). I know this exact approach won’t work for every family or every child, but if you’re on the verge of jumping off-curriculum with your mathematically-able child – come on in, the water’s just fine!