Unschool Maths and Uncomfortable Ideas

Some ideas might make us feel uncomfortable. We push them to the back of our minds, not wanting to consider them. This is how I used to feel about unschooling maths.

We used to be unschoolers who unschooled everything except for maths. (Should we really have called ourselves unschoolers?) There were a few reasons I didn’t want to consider the idea of letting go of control of maths. For example, having my kids do some structured maths each day was rather convenient. It looked good in my homeschool records book. When our authorised person came to visit at registration time, she could see my children were learning maths as required. Yes, having formal maths notes made everything easy.

For a long time, I deceived myself. “My children love maths,” I would say whenever I wanted to justify what we were doing. I assumed they loved maths. They didn’t complain. They did what was expected. Everyone was happy.

Then one day my daughter Sophie said, “I hate maths. I’m no good at it.”

The uncomfortable idea of unschooling maths started nagging at me from the back of my mind. In the end, I had to turn around and face it.

In this week’s podcast, episode 98, I talk about our unschool maths story. I share a few blog posts, discussing the ideas in them:

  • If our kids don’t have formal maths notes to show, what can we put in our homeschool records books?
  • Is it okay to strew maths like we would science or history?
  • Is there a problem with some maths games?
  • Is there a problem with real life maths resources?
  • Can we call ourselves unschoolers if we don’t unschool maths?

I also revisit last week’s podcast episode, to talk more about:

  • Those times when life feels overwhelming
  • How we can help each other when someone isn’t coping
  • Empathy and misbehaviour
  • Our weight loss and fitness adventure

Show Notes

Blog Posts

When New Ideas Make Us Feel Uncomfortable

Let’s Talk Maths

The Problem with Disguising Maths Practice as Fun

Real Life Maths Resources: Some Thoughts and Links

Can We Say We’re Unschoolers if We Require Maths?


Stolen Paintings and Real Life Maths

Unschool Maths: Why and How

Podcast Music

Twombly by Podington Bear(CC BY-NC 3.0)

I’d love to hear your unschool maths thoughts and experiences. And will you listen to this week’s episode and then stop by and answer my big important question? I hope you will!

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    • Annie
    • June 11, 2017

    In the US, some states require tests that need to be passed at a certain level… Math and English. I trust that my daughter would learn what she needs for life but not sure how she can learn the artificial and unnatural math that is required on the tests… Graphing, odd shapes, angles, solving algebra problems… Presented outside of real life circumstances…. If they don’t pass the tests then they will not be able to keep homeschooling. Kids are forced back into school. When asking veteran unschoolers about this, they are usually not in a restrictive state and I get “I’m not familiar with the regulations” (suggesting that what I know to be true is not, but it is) and that I should talk to other unschoolers in my state about what they do. So far, it seems the choices are to outright lie or cheat on the testing or to require formal math instruction and just unschool the rest… This means unschooling doesn’t work in restrictive states in the most strict definition. Short of moving to a different state which can’t happen, I’m forced to risk lying (and if caught look like I’m doing something wrong / neglecting my kids and facing serious consequences) or force math down my kids’ throats.

    1. Reply


      Having to fulfil homeschooling requirements can be a big worry, can’t it? And things are especially difficult for you because of the testing. I might sometimes complain about having to keep records and tick off boxes, but at least we don’t have the added burden of testing. We are very fortunate.

      Maybe some of us are guilty of not considering other people’s situations. We assume everyone has the same freedom as us. Or at least, we assume there must be an easy way around the problem. It doesn’t always work out that way.

      It sounds like you don’t want to lie or cheat so that you can gain your freedom. I wouldn’t want to either. I could cheat with my record keeping but I don’t. I just try and present everything my girls learn in the best way possible. I put a lot of effort into the presentation of my records. I wonder what my kids would think of me if I did cheat. I don’t like the idea of not being a good example.

      Maybe there are times when our kids have to do formal maths and English out of need: The need to fulfil requirements and continue as homeschoolers. It’s not a matter of failing to trust your kids. It has more to do with complying with the law. But maybe instead of forcing these subjects onto them in a you-have-to-do-this kind of way, is it possible to enlist your kids’ cooperation? Do they understand why they have to do it? Are they willing to study the subjects formally in order to gain freedom in other areas? Could you find interesting ways to present maths and English to your kids so that they see their relevance and beauty? Perhaps you could record all the maths and English that they do naturally and then fill in the gaps with various activities.

      I sometimes browse our school syllabus and then I look for resources that will cover the skills my girls are supposed to learn. I offer the resources but they are free to refuse them. Because we don’t have to worry about testing, this works for us. I have fulfilled my obligation by providing my children with the opportunity to learn what’s in the syllabus, but it’s up to my kids to cooperate and learn. We can’t force kids to learn. I think the education department recognises this. But, of course, learning for a test is different.

      Yesterday, someone posted this natural math link on my Facebook page:


      Maybe some of the suggestions are helpful.

      I hope you are able to find an appropriate way to cover the required subjects so that you can continue unschooling. Even when we can’t do things quite as we’d like, life can still be good.

      Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s been good to chat!

      1. Reply


        My friend Lucinda has written a lot of maths and English posts on her blog Navigating by Joy. She discusses lots of interesting resources and her approach to helping her children learn these subjects. I think her children will be taking the formal school exams when they get to the appropriate age. (I hope I’ve got that right!) Anyway, I’ll add a couple of links in case you’d like to take a look at Lucinda’s blog:



        • Annie
        • June 14, 2017

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thorough response! The links are helpful too.

        1. Reply


          You’re welcome! It’s always good to chat and share ideas!

  1. Reply

    I enjoyed this very much, thank you for being my loom buddy again 🙂

    1. Reply


      I like the thought of being your loom buddy! Thank you for letting me keep you company while you were weaving!

    • venisa
    • June 18, 2017

    Wonderful podcast Sue! I am also trying to lose a few pounds and although I don’t enter my calories or have digital reminders if I stay within my limits I look forward to weighing myself every night. I know some people say that you shouldn’t weigh yourself so much but I find it really inspiring! As far as math goes, I really need to have this repeated again and again. I guess because what you are saying is so different from what I hear from most friends and acquaintances. The whole podcast really spoke to me. I liked the part about the real world maths book and how it was fun when it was a puzzle to be worked out but tiresome when it was part of a bunch of manufactured problems. I have been working on letting go enough to have interests myself that I can share with my kids and it has been the best thing! So, thank you for the inspiration tonight. I have been busy so I am behind on your podcasts. It’s like podcast Christmas!

    1. Reply


      It’s hard to do something different from other people around us, isn’t it? I think this is especially true when it comes to maths. For some reason, maths seems so hard to let go of. But when we observe our kids and how they learn best, unschooling maths makes complete sense.

      Podcast Christmas? I like that! You make my podcasts sound like something special. Thank you!

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