Sometimes teaching can be frustrating. Kids can seem to be actively trying not to learn what we are trying to teach them. Handwriting, for instance, is a very frustrating thing for me to teach. I gave up on trying to teach it, because I became such a grumpy bear when I tried. I started buying Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting workbooks, and I tell the kids to follow the directions and make their writing look like what is on the page.
It works out pretty well. All of my older kids write well enough that people can read their writing. And some of them actually have beautiful handwriting. They can if they want to. Some of them don’t care much about it. And that’s ok, too. I always say, “As long as it’s legible, that’s good enough.”
Now another subject that I find difficult to teach is Math. I don’t lose patience as much as I used to when explaining concepts that they have difficulty with, but I kind of do the same thing with Math as I do with Handwriting. I let somebody else teach it. I’ve been using CTC Math for the last year. It is working well for 3 or 4 of my kids. They don’t do it as consistently as they should, so that’s why I’m not sure about the 4th one.
The reason I’m writing about this is that I saw a mom on a Facebook forum who was complaining about her child not understanding “borrowing” in Math. She was extremely frustrated with this child and thinking about sending him/her to public school. I could tell from the language she used that she didn’t really understand the concept of “borrowing” herself. I can see how this would lead to a lot of frustration on her part and on the part of her child.
I think a mother in this situation should learn how to teach this concept by gaining an understanding of the concept of 10’s and 1’s herself. She should learn about manipulatives that she can use in teaching Math. In short, she needs to educate herself.
If you, as a homeschool mom, find a topic that is difficult for your child, and you really don’t understand it yourself or can’t get across to your child the meaning or how to do it, then you should find someone else who can.
Repeating the same words over and over or making the child do the same problem over and over or sit there until they have come up with the right answer is not profitable to either one of you.
Don’t be proud or ashamed or anything else!
Just find some videos online that explain it or ask your husband or friends or look for Math websites. Do something to get a different explanation of how to do it. For the sake of your child and your relationship, try something different.
Math is one of those subjects that has been very difficult for me to find the right curriculum for each child. You may have to try different ones for each child. Really pray about it, check out reviews of curriculum, observe your child and see how they learn easiest and best, and ask other homeschoolers about the curriculum they use.
But, please, whatever you do, don’t let your relationship with your child be destroyed or harmed by the inability of your child to understand a Math concept or to remember a process.
They may not even be able to do it your way. They may have to figure out their own way to do it. Let them do it. This is not a test! This is not public school. It’s not one size fits all.
Keep the main thing the main thing.
Your relationship with your child will always be more important than their Math progress. Or any other academic accomplishment.
Math has always been my weakest subject. I took Advanced Math in high school, but it was VERY challenging. My dad wanted me to be an engineer, so I took classes that would prepare me for that, but when I really thought about it during my Senior year, I realized that I would be a miserable engineer – in all respects of the word “miserable”.
I even made good grades in Math, but the amount of work and time it took, and the level of difficulty and stress it put on me showed me that I would not be happy as an engineer or in any occupation that involved lots of Math.
But enough about me.
What about you?
Are you Math-challenged, too?
What do we do about Math in homeschooling when it is such a difficult subject for us?
I have found some things that have worked for us.
(I am also still searching for good resources for some of my kids because they are all different, and some of them are actually good at Math and enjoy it! 🙂 )
I will share what I have done through the years, and what we are doing now to try to keep Math instruction matched up with what each kid needs.
I teach the basics of counting, 1-to-1 correspondence, addition and subtraction, and such beginning Math concepts, through real-life activities. When a child shows that he understands these concepts I get him his first Math workbook. I get workbooks from Walmart or wherever they sell the School Zone books or other books like that. A new, important concept I have learned about teaching Math is to stress that Math shows us the awesome power of God to hold all things together in the universe so that the operations and Math facts that we have discovered are always true all the time. 1+1 always equals 2, because God holds all things constant, and He keeps even quantities from changing. If you want to learn more about teaching Math biblically, go to Christian Perspective website.
I get workbooks that are right at their level. I don’t try to stretch them because I don’t have the time or energy to try to make them understand something that they’re not ready to learn yet.
I have them go page by page through the book. The books are good at presenting the concepts in a way that my children have been able to understand without any help from me, for the most part.
They work through the books on their own, and I check from time to time to see where they’re at. They know to come to me if they get stuck on something. I check their work every week or every couple of days. The goal is to check it every day and give them feedback right away, but realistically, I don’t get to it every day.
As they get older, I try to get a feel for their Math ability and interest level. I look around for books or online curriculum or computer programs that match the learning style of that child.
In the past, we have used Math-U-See, A Beka (only for Shawn in First and Second Grade because someone gave us the books), Teaching Textbooks, some regular Math books like public schools use, some other software, some Critical Thinking books for my Math lover, and lots of manipulatives. They have also played Math games on the computer like Math Blaster and Clue Finders.
Recently, we have started using Khan Academy online Math classes. It is free, and it has a reward system, and it keeps track of progress, and it does a good job of teaching new concepts. So I have two of my older students working through the Pre-algebra and Algebra courses using Khan Academy.
As you can see, we have used lots of different Math curricula using different teaching styles. We have had some of the books given to us, some of it I won in giveaways online, and a lot of it is not consumable so I can use it for more than one child. We have not really spent too much money on curriculum, in general, through the years, even though we have so many children. The Lord always provides.
I do periodic checks with each child to see where they are, and to make sure that they are making progress and not stuck. I ask them how the program is working for them, if they like it, if it is easy for them to use, if they like the way it teaches, the way it is laid out, etc.
Many times along the way, I have done mini-lessons with a child who is struggling with a particular skill or concept.
The post I wrote about “Teaching Math When It’s Not Your First Language” showed how the Spirit led us to approach Algebra in the case of one of my older children. She learned so much in a short period of time that I was shocked. She learned the basics of Algebra in about an hour. She is proceeding quite well with Khan Academy and has learned higher Math concepts in a quick and easy way. I sit with her sometimes and explain some things while the online teacher is teaching in the video. If she has problems, she comes to me and asks me to do this. She has learned about exponents, in much depth, and is moving on to simplifying radicals, also known as square roots and other roots of numbers.
Now another of my students is using Khan Academy, too. It seems to be working well for both of them.
Another mini-lesson that I wanted to share, so that you can see how the Holy Spirit will lead you even in something as seemingly insignificant or unspiritual as Math, involved teaching about fractions.
My son came to me and said that he was having trouble understanding operations with fractions. He was trying to learn them from his Math-U-See book.
I suddenly thought of the way that a socket set is used for tightening and loosening different sizes of nuts, bolts and other fasteners. They are marked based on the fraction of the 1 inch socket, which is 1 inch in diameter. So we brought the socket set in and looked closely at how they were marked and compared them to each other. We saw the relationships between the sizes of the 3/4″ and the 1/2″ and the 5/8″ and the 7/16″, etc. We looked at how we could add some of them together to equal another fraction.
When I showed him a whole list of equivalent fractions, I saw a light come on.
I wrote 1/2 = 2/4 = 3/6 = 4/8 = 5/10 and then he kept it going on. He continued with 6/12 = 7/14 = 8/16 = 9/18 = 10/20. And he was very excited about it!
Then we did some work with adding and subtracting fractions.
It seemed to be a breakthrough in his understanding of fractions. He learned Fractions in about an hour!
Now they’re not such a mystery to him.
To recap, here are some ways to teach Math to multiple students in an individualized way that capitalizes on their learning styles:
Teach the basics as young ones show readiness.
Make sure to teach them that Math works because God holds the universe together perfectly and consistently, and it’s because of Him that we can quantify and write laws and devise operations and symbols that stand for operations with numbers and they are always true no matter what, throughout the ages.
Get a basic Math book for counting, one-to-one correspondence, beginning addition up to 10 or 12 and either teach subtraction after addition or simultaneously (whatever seems to make sense to the child).
The first book I usually get is a First grade level book.
Match the books or materials to the learning style of each student.
As they get older, let the kids help make the decision and communicate with you about the type of curriculum they like the best and learn from the best.
Teach mini-lessons along the way as needed. Use real-life materials and situations to help him understand a difficult concept or one he’s struggling with.
Stay in touch with them about their progress. Set a goal for how many times a week you intend to check their work. Try to keep them moving along through their book or program. Make sure that they know to come to you if they get stuck.
If you don’t have a good understanding of Math yourself, find something online that will help explain or find a person who could act as a tutor. One of your older children might be able to help with this.
Here are two really good links that show how you can teach Math in real-life ways. Wait until the child really wants or needs to know it.
This is a very interesting TED video:
This is a really good blog post about teaching all the Math a kid will need in 20 hours all together:
The reason I gave this post this title is that Math has always been my weakest subject. It has been the most difficult subject for me to teach. I have actually tutored Algebra several times, because I understand how difficult it is for beginning learners to understand the concepts of balancing equations, using variables and solving for x, because it was so hard for me when I was first learning. I don’t think I was ready to learn Algebra when I was forced to try to learn it in 7th grade. But God sent a friend of my parents to speak a word in season to me. He was a Math whiz whose occupation was surveying. He went through some of the problems in my book with me, and some words from his explanations made sense to me in a way that the words of my teacher at school had never made sense. The light came on, the door was unlocked, and from then on I was able to figure out every principle and problem that was presented to me in the higher Math classes that I took. It usually took some time and lots of work, but I was able to figure them out.
But Math has not been my favorite subject to teach my children. I actually really enjoy the manipulatives that help young children to get some experience with Math ideas and can be used to help even older children picture the operations that they are learning about. And I really enjoy puzzles and patterns that can be found in numbers. But my favorite subjects are Language Arts and History. So after I have taught my children Math up to adding and subtracting and multiplying and dividing, I usually try to find a curriculum that each child can go through on their own since I spend so much time on the Language Arts and History.
When I taught my oldest child Algebra, I eased him into it with a video by Standard Deviants that covered the basics of Algebra. Then I had him go through a workbook that used Algebra Tiles called Working With Algebra Tiles published by Didax.
Then I found a workbook for him that taught Algebra in a way that emphasized real-life application of Algebra since I knew that he prefers to know why he is learning something. He wants to learn things that he will use in real life. We used the book, Real World Algebra.
He was able to work through this book on his own with very little help from me.
Well, along comes the next child that wants to learn Algebra. I wanted to ease her into it, too. I had just recently heard about Hands-On Equations. I wanted to let her “see” how solving equations works. So I went to their website here, and let her watch the demonstration videos. She saw how they demonstrated with manipulatives how to balance equations, and I explained some things as they were going through it. I had watched the videos myself ahead of time. I am really impressed with these manipulatives and techniques. I would buy them if I could. But all my student needed was to see them in action a few times, and she got it.
Then we went to the website at Khanacademy.org and figured out how to get her started on the Algebra track there. She has been learning Algebra on her own ever since. Every once in a while she needs my help with something that she is having trouble with, but for the most part, she is able to do it by herself.
All of this was for free. I would like to get the Hands-On Equations manipulatives for future students. I think that getting to play with them and move the objects around with their own hands will help them to understand better, but this student was very ready and able to learn just from watching others manipulate them.
I have some other little tips to share later on that help make Math instruction easier and more interesting and enjoyable. Sometimes I get ideas for ways to teach concepts while I’m trying to explain concepts such as fractions that are hard to understand without having something to handle with your own hands and see with your own eyes. One of these ideas involved my husband’s socket set. I will be sharing about this later.
I told you earlier that I would let the kids have a period of play with the pattern blocks I bought them. Well, now it’s time to do some work with them!
We have been using a book called Pattern Block Book by Sandra Clarkson, published by Didax. I bought it from Rainbow Resources. I print out copies for each of my four youngest kids. They do the activities, and we explore the properties of the different shapes together.
They have played and made pictures and designs with them so much that the activities have been very easy – even for Abby (4). They are getting some good practice with spatial awareness and even some basic understanding of fractions.
They sometimes have to figure out how to use the same blocks to make a different picture. They moved their blocks to make a chick out of a rooster in one activity! It probably should have gone the other way.
They had to figure out which shape was missing after they used the blocks they were told to use. They had to look at a shape on a page and copy it with blocks. And in another activity they had to turn the paper over and build the shape again without looking at it.
Here Emma is showing that she is not feeling too well. She had a runny nose and sore throat the last couple of days, but she is feeling much better today, Praise the Lord!
Here Abby is showing that she feels fine, although she seemed to be harder hit by whatever virus came through than Emma actually was. Abby is also demonstrating how much she loves cheese balls by the orange powder all around her mouth!
Emma wanted to take some pictures, so I actually got my picture taken for once!
All of these activities were extremely simple for Fiona, Little Miss Artist. She couldn’t resist making some pictures just for fun along the way.