So many people love the idea of unschooling and are even tempted to give it a go, but often there is one huge stumbling block… maths. Very few parents seem to be confident that their children will learn all the maths they need to know, without being prodded along by some kind of intentional instruction.
Many homeschoolers who decide to unschool make a compromise. They might say something like, “We unschool everything except maths. My children do a couple of workbook pages each day, and then I’m happy to let them explore their interests.”
So what does our family do when it comes to maths?
I really believe children will learn maths as they discover a need for it. They will learn a lot of basic maths just from their everyday life experiences. Higher maths can be learnt when children decide for themselves they want to learn it, or they realise there is a particular reason they should learn it.
But this doesn’t mean I never mention maths to my children.
I enrich my children’s environments by bringing art and music into our home. I read books to them about other cultures and times in history. We share literature, poetry and plays. I invite them to watch all kinds of documentaries with me. I take them on walks and outings. We explore museums and galleries. I strew science resources…
So why shouldn’t I enrich their environment with some interesting maths experiences?
This is how I go about it… I find something mathematical which I think my girls might possibly enjoy, then I say…
“Hey! Would you like to watch this video?”
“Anyone interested in listening to this?”
“I’ve found a new way to add up quickly. Do you want to see?”
“Shall we see if there’s an interesting maths Gizmo we can play about with?”
“I found some maths apps. Do you want to have a look?”
“We could do some paper folding together…”
“Shall we play this game?”
I never say, “Do you want to do some maths?” The answer would probably be “No thanks, Mum.”
My girls all love maths. They even consider themselves maths-magicians. It never used to be this way. We tried workbooks and online structured maths courses, and then when my daughters started saying, “I hate maths. I’m no good at it,” I backed off, and rethought my strategy.
These days I’m always on the look-out for mathematical resources I can tempt my girls with. I look for bite-sized pieces of maths, and they devour them enthusiastically. Most days I visit my mental list of maths resources and choose something to strew. Here are a few websites, apps and books I regularly dip into…
The Murderous Maths books
Explore Learning’s maths gizmos
The Dragonbox Algebra app
The Key Stage Fun Squeebles maths apps
Bill Handley’s books such as Speed Maths for Kids, Teaching Children Tables
Numberphile video website
Books and videos from Arvind Gupta’s website.
This last resource is overflowing with free resources. There are loads of free PDF books and lots of instructions for making toys from trash. Many of these toys teach mathematical concepts. (These sites are also wonderful resources for science!) There are also numerous instructional videos to watch.
I’m reading my emails. There’s one from Brainpop.
“Hey girls! Brainpop has a new game. It’s called The Carpenter’s Cut. Anyone want to play it with me?”
Gemma-Rose snuggles up beside me on the sofa and we’re soon working out what we have to do.
“We have to cut these planks of wood into different lengths.” There’s a list of different sized pieces we have to end up with.
Gemma-Rose starts ‘sawing’ and we finish level 1 without a problem. Level 2 and 3 are simple too. Then things get more difficult. Eventually, we find ourselves on a level where we are presented with 3 planks of wood, each 50 inches long (we translate that into cms). We need to cut these planks into a long list of smaller pieces. We fail on our first try. We cut all the planks and are left with a 2 cm piece and a 4 cm piece. We can’t glue them together to make the required 6 cm piece which is still on our list. We are going to have to start again, making our cuts in different places. Two attempts later we still haven’t solved the puzzle, and I have run out of time.
“I need to pick up Imogen from town,” I tell Gemma-Rose.
“I’ll keep working on this game while you’re gone,” she replies.
When I return home, Gemma-Rose greets me at the door. “I finished that level, Mum! I copied down all the cuts so you could see how I did it.” I am impressed.
Later, I grab my homeschool records book and write:
The Carpenter’s Cut game
Problem solving skills
Measuring: length, centimetres
I am thinking about division…
Maybe tomorrow I could suggest a Brainpop movie about division. I’m sure there’s some suitable Gizmos too. I am about to suggest this but I stop. There needs to be a balance between building on a skill and killing interest dead, with an overload of information. I have discovered that bite-sized pieces of maths work much better than larger chunks. There’s plenty of time. We can watch that Brainpop movie (if Gemma-Rose wants to) later in the week. I have another idea…
“I found some instructions and a video which show us how to make a flexigon,” I say. “Perhaps tomorrow we can make flexigons together.” Flexigons? What are they? Both Sophie and Gemma-Rose look interested.
Today we learnt about division. Tomorrow we will have a geometry adventure. Who knows what maths we will explore after that.
Not sure about letting go of maths? You could try sparking an interest in maths by enriching your children’s mathematical environment. Strew bite-sized pieces of unschool maths. Your children might end up learning a whole lot. They could turn into maths-magicians.
And if they don’t, I still believe children will learn all the maths they need to know, even without our intervention.