Math . . . the Subject that need not be Dreaded
Math is logic. Like anything, some children might do well earlier than later but an official curriculum need not be used earlier in order to later understand and enjoy math. In fact, there is so much you can do in the elementary years that will enhance later understanding and appreciation of math, that even for children who are interested and capable of early math practice and advancement, if you avail yourself of all the natural occasions there is for math practice, you may not have time for an official curriculum because you are busy with activities that will enrich later study of math while making it fun for them now, which in itself enriches math later because they won’t hate math by the time they are doing a more serious study of it (count how many words are in this sentence.) Wouldn’t that be nice? If math was considered fun. Here are some resources to keep you busy . . .
My first must read recommendation is the Lockhart’s Lament written by Paul Lockhart. It helped me set the right tone for math in our home.
This Harvard University Press article briefly addresses another caution about math, in addition to a video of Paul Lockhart demonstrating a mathematical phenomenon that can easily be done by children old enough to draw. Phenomenon like these are the fun quirks of math that you can seek out and point out to your children. Play with math. Ask questions about the world that mathematicians seek to answer with their formulas and proofs. Help your kids see it as beautiful and creative.
Watch videos about how zero and one were discovered. Even if they don’t fully understand the videos, they will see how humans created ways to understand the world, expressing their observations through numerals and that even numbers have limitations in their ability to accurately describe reality. For instance, once your child understands decimals, try to demonstrate how you can never really arrive at the number 1.
My favorite math youtuber is viHart. ViHart has a lot of fun videos about math . . . math in music, Fibonacci, Moebius strip, binary, . . ..
Our first introduction to ViHart was her Mobius strip story.
A great way to blend math and art is to have your kids take pictures of nature and discuss Fibonacci. Here are some of Anna’s nature photos . . .
I call my approach to early math education gameschooling. In addition to playing restaurant where real cash is exchanged and cooking and baking where real food is made, math becomes real with real world applications in game play because it helps them with what matters in their world in that moment . . . beating their mom.
The most frequently used math-specific games in our home were:
Speed is a multiplication game. Here is a youtube video demonstrating the game. There is an affiliate link under the video
Math Dice - You can purchase this game but don’t need to . . . it is actually just a 12-face dice and five regular dice. You roll the 12-face dice twice, multiply those two numbers. That is your goal number. Then you roll the five dice and players race to come up with a combination closest to that goal number as possible. Depending on the desire and skill of the players, you can play it as a race or allow a certain amount of time for players to work out solutions and then after that time period, explain their combination.
So if you roll a 9 and 5 on the 12-face dice, you multiply those two numbers to get 45, which is the goal number. If you roll a 5 and 4 and 4 and 2 and 6 on the other dice, you can do 5x4x4 equaling 80. Divide that by 2 and add 6 equaling 46. The next player has to beat that number which means they have to come up with a combination that is 45. You can also play it such that the number can’t be less than or greater than the goal number. If you are teaching orders of operations, you could require the players to write out the order of operations accurately in order to win that round. When students learn squares and cubes . . . those operations can be used as well.
If you wish to purchase the game, here is an affiliate link:
Mancala is one of the oldest games still being played today. It has many math applications and encourages strategic thinking in approachable simplicity. You can play with natural items, create your own, or purchase the actual game for easy storage. Here is an affiliate link:
Settlers of Catan - This game was helpful to teach my kids probability because the numbers on the game board had dots to indicate the probability of the number being rolled and in placing your settlement, you attempted to get these higher rolled plots. Also, when you roll a seven, the robber is played. You can either explain why the robber is played on a seven and why the numbers 6 and 8 have the most dots . . . or when they are old enough, you can help them reason through why. After they grasp the concept of probability, help your kids understand how probability plays in future games. This Washington Post article can help.
A game that introduces a question that mathematicians have sought to solve and your kids might ask is Set. This article explains why Set is interesting to mathematicians.
For thorough instruction in math, Khan Academy is free on the internet. If you want to have a list of required mastery in each grade, the website IXL is $130 per year for a family membership. IXL is mainly a testing site although it does give explanations when the student answers incorrectly.
The other math series that I purchased but only used the elementary series was Life of Fred. The book features Fred, a very young math prodigy/professor. It is a playful math curriculum and I would have loved to have used it longer. At the time I was homeschooling, they were not as well known as the more prominent resources . . . I mention them here in case that hasn’t changed.
For Algebra and above, we used an assortment of math curriculum as well as delegated to community college, public school, and private school.
Your child will decide ultimately if they wish to understand algebra and calculus so that is not a burden you should take on as a parent. Your only role is to ensure they have the opportunity to learn those subjects; you can’t make them learn them.
As a parent, you know that basic math is relevant and necessary so it is your responsibility to ensure they know it well by the time they graduate. This is easily done through game play as well as earning their own money. These skills often unfold naturally in a child’s life when they are given room to see math as part of every other subject and life experience, and not just a discipline relegated to workbooks. The best time to introduce this seamlessness is early.
Be mindful that there are busybodies who dislike this approach. The most unpleasant and difficult part of homeschooling was ignoring people whose opinions on this was textbook . . . literally. Teaching your children to play and create and be whimsical with math is never wasted time. Your child only has the first ten years of their life to experience this before the pressure begins to build. Be the dome that creates space so they can be playful with math and see how it is relevant in real world experiences . . . yes, games . . . in the early years.
(And I didn’t forget chess but you are already know about chess.)
If you have resources you love . . . I would love more suggestions in the comments.