In England, maths is the second most hated subject in schools, second only to science.
Most homeschooled kids I know love science. Why? Because they learn science in a fun, hands-on way that bears little resemblance to the dry textbook science of most schools.
But I’ve heard of more than a few homeschooled children who dislike maths. Which begs the question – why don’t homeschooling parents share the joys of maths with their children in the same way they do science?
The answer, sadly, is because of how most adults were taught maths. Whether they hated maths or excelled at it, most people have no idea what real mathematics is.
I know I didn’t. I was one of those kids who enjoyed maths at school because I was lucky enough to have a good memory. That, combined with a competitive streak, got me A’s through to age eighteen. At that point I quit maths and ran for the hills, amazed I’d managed to make it through to the end without anyone finding out that I hadn’t a clue what all those symbols actually meant.
It wasn’t until three years into homeschooling my kids that I began to get a glimpse of what maths really is. I’m still at the start of this journey of discovery so I’m certainly no expert, but I’d love to share with you some of what I’ve learned so far.
I can’t imagine any child who knows what real maths is finding it boring.
Maths is the art of making patterns
Maths is not about memorising a bunch of dry facts and procedures. Memorisation may have its place, just as learning vocabulary does. But it bears no more relation to real mathematics than a list of French verbs has to the lifetime works of Victor Hugo.
Just like music and painting, maths is an art – the art of making patterns with ideas.
Real maths is a fascinating process of creative discovery.
And what child doesn’t enjoy engaging their curiosity as they play with ideas?
To fall in love with maths, your child has to know what maths really is. And you can’t show them unless you know what maths really is.
The good news is, you can start to think like a mathematician in just twenty minutes. After that you can just jump in and learn alongside your kids.
Learn how to think like a mathematician in 20 minutes
A Mathematician’s Lament
Read A Mathematician’s Lament (links to a free 25 page PDF). The twenty minutes it will take you to read might be the best homeschool investment you ever make.
After you’ve read A Mathematician’s Lament, read at least one of these books:
Let’s Play Math
Let’s Play Math: How Homeschooling Families Can Learn Math Together, and Enjoy It! Read this first if you’re keen to get started doing real maths with your kids, especially if they are elementary age.
What’s Math Got to Do With It?
Jo Boaler, a maths professor at Stanford University, has conducted extensive, long-term research into how children learn maths. The approach she outlines in this book teaches all children to think and problem-solve – even those who think they’re maths failures who could never enjoy maths.
How to help your child fall in love with maths
After you’ve read these, I guarantee you’ll be excited to share what you’ve learned with your children. You may be a little overwhelmed about where to start, but don’t worry, there are plenty of options.
And really, it doesn’t matter what part of maths your child falls in love with first. Just jump in – or if you’re an organised type, make a one month plan of fun maths activities, and get stuck in.
Many parents integrate maths play-days into their homeschool schedule alongside their regular curriculum. If your curriculum is working, this can be a good approach. All children will benefit from the opportunity to play with real mathematical ideas, even if they love their curriculum.
But if your child hates maths, don’t be afraid to ditch the curriculum – at least for a while – and jump into mathematical fun. You don’t even have to call it maths.
Our living maths experiment
My own kids have always been mathematically able, but neither got on well with traditional curricula. We tried Singapore Math and Math Mammoth. Each worked for a while but didn’t last. It was frustrating at the time, but I’m grateful now for my kids’ honesty – without it, I might never have discovered the joy of real maths.
We’d always read maths stories and done a few hands-on activities, but too often these got pushed aside as “extras” when we were trying to get through the curriculum.
Then, six months ago, we began a one-term living maths experiment, which worked so well we’ve made the change permanent.
What about tests and exams?
“This is all very well,” you might be saying, “but my child won’t be able to get a job or into college if she can’t pass maths. How is all this playing with patterns going to help her pass her exams?”
In answer to that question, consider this story of two girls, Lilly and Katy.
Lilly is twelve years old. Her mother knows how much pleasure playing a musical instrument can bring, so she surrounds Lilly with beautiful music and encourages her to take up an instrument.
Lilly chooses violin, and soon enjoys playing simple tunes. Her enjoyment inspires her to play more often. As her love of music grows, Lilly decides she wants to learn about time signatures and note values, key signatures and scales – all the while learning to play more and more complex works.
Lilly enjoys her music so much that she even begins to compose her own little pieces, transcribing the notes onto staff paper and transposing the songs into different keys to share with her musician friends.
Katy is eight years old. Her mother, Tracey, has been told how good it is for children to learn music. And she knows that it will be useful for Katy’s future to pass her musical theory exams at age sixteen.
So Tracey has Katy get out her staff paper each day and copy notes from a book, making sure she gets her clefs and key signatures right. Tracey reminds Katy how important it is to neatly fill in her quarter-notes and get all her stems pointing the right way.
Katy is told that once she has a thorough grounding in music notation and theory and has passed her music theory exams, she will be allowed to listen to and play music – perhaps when she is at college.
Katy grows to hate this boring subject called music, and to Tracey’s frustration begins to dawdle longer and longer over her work, preferring instead to stare out of the window and hum tunes to herself.
What would you advise?
What if Katy’s mother were to ask you for advice. Tracey is in despair, saying that Katy hates music, cries through her lessons and begs to be allowed to stop them. “It’s obvious she just doesn’t have a music brain,” says Tracey. “But how will she ever pass her music exams if she doesn’t keep working at it?”
How would you respond?
Which girl will pass the exam?
Which girl do you think will do best in her musical theory exam at age sixteen? Katy, who has spent eight years learning dry musical theory – which she has come to hate – but has never heard a melody?
Or Lilly, who spent four years making and enjoying real music, and who was inspired to learn its technical language along the way to enhance her enjoyment even more?
If children are allowed to experience the creative art that real maths is, everything else will fall into place much more easily.
Once you’re in on the secret of what maths really is, you’ll begin to notice opportunities for maths play everywhere.
Let’s Play Math is a great place to start finding concrete activities to do with your children.
Before long you’ll be solving puzzles, playing games, crafting intricate geometric shapes, reading biographies of great mathematicians, cracking codes, learning from videos, getting acquainted with the maths section of the library and generally having lots of fun while you develop your mathematical muscles.
Here are just a couple of ideas to get you started.
Let’s Play Math – the blog by Denise Gaskins, the author of the Let’s Play Math book
My Living Maths posts here at Navigating By Joy
Talking Math With Your Kids – how to talk with your children about numbers, shapes and other mathematical ideas in daily life
All these blogs contain links to other real maths activities. Enjoy the rabbit trail!
There are so many to choose from, but here is a diverse selection of my favourites that will appeal to all ages:
The Sir Cumference series (not just for younger kids – middle-school children will appreciate these too)
Enjoy your maths adventure. Begin here right now 😉
For more views on homeschooling maths, check out:
Highhill Education – Math Curriculum Not Required
Hammock Tracks – Math, Tears and Frustration – Not the Perfect Arithmetic Trinity
One Magnificent Obsession – When Math Brings Tears
Barefoot Hippie Girl – Learning Flexibility Via Math
Every Bed of Roses – Math is a Problem – Now What?
I’m appreciatively linking up here: