Math For The Uninspired Child

Meg doing school work

I am going to do an experiment.  It is with one of my children.  Scary?  Oh, not really.  After, I guess I would say, 8 years of homeschooling, I have now seen (and read many, many testimonials) that whether you do formal, regimented school at home or not, the children are going to learn.  Period.  They are made that way, with a curiosity toward whatever direction God has planned for them. We just need to, very purposely, lead and guide them along the way.

We have definitely had a few “gap” years

In the homeschooling arena there is a term called “a gap year.”  Homeschoolers like this term.  It sort of gives us an excuse for not doing such a great job when other major life events take place and it alleviates our guilt.

Almost anyone, who has had a gap year, can tell you that during that year you are feeling guilt about being distracted and not schooling as much, but you have no choice because you have either had a new baby, adopted one, moved, changed jobs, had a death or terminal illness in the family, etc.  Yet, somehow, miraculously, after that gap year, you look at that child and she or he was about where they would have been HAD YOU BEEN SCHOOLING THEM!

I have read story after story about this and experienced it several times myself.  We have had quite a few major life events in the past few years:

  • We had our 3rd baby (a boy) in March, 2003 (At that time we had 5 and 2 year old girls.)
  • 2 months later, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer (we live in the same town with both sets of our parents.)
  • We moved to a new house and renovated it in 2004 (thinking it was our forever house.)
  • Near the end of 2004, my husband moved his attorney practice from a larger law firm to his own operation.
  • My father died in May of 2005.
  • We moved to another new house (my parents house – the one I grew up in) and renovated it in November of 2005.  (Hopefully, that will be our last move.)
  • My husband’s father had a long illness in 2006 and died that October.
  • We traveled to Russia twice in 2007 bringing home our 4th child that September.
  • And the first year of a new child’s life in a family can be a gap year too!

School?  What’s School?

Hmmm.  You are probably wondering if we have ever done school! : )  Yes.  Sometimes, very sporadically.  But my point is, they learn.  And the bigger point is, they are intimately involved in the major changes that happen in their families’ lives.  I think being near their grandfathers during those terminal illnesses was much more important for their character and compassion than math facts.

How Important Is Academics?

My husband and I both come from very academically-oriented families.  My father and my husband’s mother were medical doctors.  One of my grandfathers had a PHD and one was an MD, as were two great-grandfathers.  And my husband is an attorney with a Masters in Public Administration.  We do believe that certain academics will be important for our children.

BUT…

We will continue to say that academics is a far 2nd place after teaching character and work ethic.  And that character and work ethic have to be continuously fostered, day in and day out.  I’m not saying we have perfected this AT ALL.  It is a continuous learning process for both my husband and me, figuring out which child needs what kind of guidance at what point.

Unfortunately,

schools put academics and sports first for the major part of a child’s day.  Day in and day out.  Their hands are tied by government regulations and so they seem to have no options.  On top of that, it is really the parent’s job to teach character and work ethic, but many, maybe most, don’t do it.  And so you wind up with the state of our nation.  But I will stop myself from continuing down that rabbit trail right now.

Back To My Little School

The idea of unschooling is a little too radical for me.  I like to have some structure, but also be open to all possibilities and ideas, and not tied to a workbook or assignments decided on at the beginning of the year.  I start out with a plan for the year involving math, reading, writing, add some history and geography, and the rest just comes with life.  If things aren’t working for a child or for me, we change it.

The Experiment

My 2nd precious daughter is not fond of math.  She is a social butterfly.

With friends at our childrens museum.

meg and lil

She is smart.  She is silly. She loves to play.

IMG_0724

She is very girly.  She loves babies and dolls.

meg and doll

And she is a wonderful big sis.

meg and luke 2

I love her propensities as I love each of my children’s gifts, personalities, and quirks.  She is 8 years old.  If we followed the public school age guidelines, she would be in 3rd grade, but she has a late birthday (May) so she could easily be in 2nd grade.

She was reading at 5

I did not teach her.  I read to her, she watched some wonderful reading videos about letters and phonics and somehow she figured it out.

An Aside About Reading

By the way, I am a big believer in the fact that, reading is a developmental skill, not a school subject.  We are not going to force toilet training or walking or bike riding, so forcing reading is only going to create a child who hates to read.  There are a multitude of stories of children (more boys than girls) who did not read until they were 10, 12 or 14, but when they did, they were reading at an adult level within 3 months or so.  The previous years they were probably developing skills necessary for their calling in life.

My 6 year old boy, 1st grade this year, has absolutely no interest in learning to read right now.  I know he will at some point.  I will just do fun things with him along those lines until he is inspired.

Anyway, my little girl DOES NOT like to do math

It is a struggle for her, though she does pretty well at it.  She just doesn’t like it AT ALL.  And that can make a mama frustrated when trying to teach it.  Last year for 1st grade math, we did Alpha Omega Life Pacs and then switched over to Singapore Math.  (I really like Singapore.)  So this year we would normally progress to 2nd grade math with her.

But.  Here Is My New Idea.

I think it is very exciting.  If you are, at all, in a similar situation, you must read this article.  (The link is below this excerpt.)  Here are the first couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite.  It is the most profound school-type article I have ever read in all my years of homeschooling.  It started in 1929.

STORY OF AN EXPERIMENT

In the spring of 1929 the late Frank D. Boynton, superintendent of schools at Ithaca, New York, and president of the Department of Superintendence, sent to a number of his friends and brother superintendents an article on a modern public-school program. His thesis was that we are constantly being asked to add new subjects to the curriculum [safety instruction, health instruction, thrift instruction, and the like], but that no one ever suggests that we eliminate anything. His paper closed with a challenge which seemed to say, “I defy you to show me how we can cut out any of this material.” One thinks, of course, of McAndrew’s famous simile that the American elementary school curriculum is like the attic of the Jones’ house. The Joneses moved into this house fifty years ago and have never thrown anything away.

I waited a month and then I wrote Boynton an eight-page letter, telling him what, in my opinion, could be eliminated from our present curriculum. I quote two paragraphs:

“In the first place, it seems to me that we waste much time in the elementary schools, wrestling with stuff that ought to be omitted or postponed until the children are in need of studying it. If I had my way, I would omit arithmetic from the first six grades. I would allow the children to practice making change with imitation money, if you wish, but outside of making change, where does an eleven-year-old child ever have to use arithmetic?”

“I feel that it is all nonsense to take eight years to get children through the ordinary arithmetic assignment of the elementary schools. What possible needs has a ten-year-old child for a knowledge of long division? The whole subject of arithmetic could be postponed until the seventh year of school, and it could be mastered in two years’ study by any normal child.”

Having written the letter, I decided that if this was my real belief, then I was falling down on the job if I failed to put it into practice. At this time I had been superintendent in Manchester for five years, and I had already been greatly criticized because I had dropped practically all of the arithmetic out of the curriculum for the first two grades and the lower half of the third. In 1924 the enrollment in the first grade was 20 percent greater than the enrollment in the second, because, roughly, one-fifth of the children could not meet the arithmetic requirements for promotion into the second grade and so were forced to repeat the year. By 1929 the enrollment of the first grade was no greater than that of the third.

Meanwhile, I was distressed at the inability of the average child in our grades to use the English language. If the children had original ideas, they were very helpless about translating them into English which could be understood. I went into a certain eighth-grade room one day and was accompanied by a stenographer who took down, verbatim, the answers given me by the children. I was trying to get the children to tell me, in their own words, that if you have two fractions with the same numerator, the one with the smaller denominator is the larger. I quote typical answers……

Click here to read the rest of the article.

What follows in that article is his fascinating experiment.  He develops a plan for math for elementary school that is specific verbal discussions, here and there, throughout the day.  Not a formal subject.  He gives a plan for what to do at each grade level in elementary school.

So, I am going to follow his plan this year with my 8 year old girl and probably my 6 year old boy too.  I will let you know how it goes.  I predict it will be completely successful.  And my thoughts for anyone else out there with these types of problems?  The atmosphere of your home is of utmost importance.  If you or your children are stressed out about school and it shows, do less.  As a good friend of mine says, “More is not always better.  It is just more.”

Have A Great School Year and Godspeed!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “Math For The Uninspired Child

  1. I wholeheartedly agree! My children were all using Horizons, and they began HATING it; especially my oldest. We borrowed Math-U-See from a neighbor on the recommendation of a friend. The response from my oldest nearly brought me to tears. She said, “I understand it mommy. I GET what you have been trying to teach me.” Wow! I was blown away! Just throwing that in should she ask for specific math in the future.

    Have you heard of Dorothy & Raymond Moore? I agree wholeheartedly with their philosophy which is Better Late Than Never (also one of their book titles).

    My youngest is a boy. At 7, he’s just begun to really want to read. And that’s okay by me. He can recite math facts verbally, but has yet to comprehend the concept when looking at the math facts…and that’s okay. He WILL get it; just as his sisters eventually did. It will be in HIS timing, though, not in mine.

    Kudos to you for being willing to do what it takes to help your children learn.

    Amy

    • Amy – You sound like a fantastic mom! I will remember that about Math-U-See. And yes, the Moores are my favorite. I refer to them in another HS post. Might be the first one “Home Education, Are you Interested?” Godspeed to you and your babies!

  2. Great post. Smile. I enjoyed it. Our children our a precious treasure with blueprints designed by God for their lives. Isn’t it fun to walk through the plan and figure out little steps, one at a time? THIS IS PARENT TRAINING! And our children will flourish and not only survive, but thrive. :) Love the Sabrina quote. More isn’t better, YAHOO!
    J

  3. Ohh, I love homeschool experiments. Once I get through my 50 comment challenge today I am coming back to read the rest of the article. Very fascinating. I was planning on doing a reading experiment with one of my sons this year. Not sure if I am up to the challenge though!
    Toni

  4. I just found your blog… I had faked learning math all through school (K-11 at public, private, and prep). My parents homeschooled me my senior year (!) and found out my secret. I would test well but had no retention. By the end of that year I had completed a calculus course and was studying Euclidian Geometry for fun with my Dad. She’ll be fine. And besides, I use some basic algebra along with additions, etc. in real life, but that’s it!

  5. Loved your post. How timely a reminder for me as we start our “official” school year next week. Such truth in “more is not always better- sometimes it is just more” I work daily to simplify a hectic life. Lots of prayer. Your blog is inspiring! Traci
    ( My kids love Math-U-See )

  6. Jen – YES! It is so fun to figure out all the steps.
    Toni – Would love to hear about your reading experiment and I totally enjoy your tweets on twitter!
    Jennifer O. – Wow! Great encouragement from your testimony. Thanks!
    Traci – Thank you! I too work daily to simplify!! And you are about the 15th person in the last few months to talk about MathUSee. Maybe after this experiment, I will look at that.

  7. I was once a social butterfly. I didn’t like to do math or any “homework” for that matter. Instead we played. This was a long time ago (I’m nearly 37 now) and my sister and I played all kinds of games to avoid homework. We used paper money to buy groceries for our doll babies. We had to set up a store and price the items then take turns being the cashier and making change. We had old checkbooks from my mom and we had to write “void” on each check before we could play with them. We used calculators to figure the tax so the check was written for the correct amount. We had to work jobs to earn our paper money so we set up an office in the living room and filled out IRS forms our mom picked up from the library. We took turns writing out paychecks and depositing them at the pretend bank. Then we had to create budgets to make sure our money would buy everything we needed to raise the doll babies. When we grew tired of playing to avoid doing math homework, we’d start baking or cooking in the kitchen. We’d figure how many cookies 1 recipe would make then determine how many each kid would receive and whether it was enough or not. If it wasn’t enough we’d double or even triple the recipe figuring the proper measurements needed. We too were uninterested in math and somehow living our pretend lives we managed to learn it anyway.

    When I was a teenager I noticed all my other friends in public school were doing math homework and I thought I’d better get a move on and learn some math so my mom handed me a set of Key Curriculum workbooks. They were created for students to teach themselves, very clearly explained and THIN! It didn’t take long to get through a booklet once I’d started but I wondered how they compared to my friends’ thick text books. A friend of mine was failing Algebra so I looked over her book, understood what she was supposed to do and taught her the way I’d learned from those thin workbooks. My confidence came when she started making A’s after I spent time sharing with her, what I’d learned on my own.

    I agree with your daughter, math is no fun. I say let her play!