To be honest I can’t tell if my kids hate math or whether they just really struggle but either way I learnt late in our homeschool journey how to help them.
The best way to hate math is to make it irrelevant. The best way to enjoy math is to make it real.
I’m a language based person; even though math wasn’t hard, and I did well at school, my natural strength is language. Oddly enough it has been as I compared how I taught language based subjects with how I taught math subjects that has given me some keys and understanding of how we make our kids hate math.
- When teaching our children to read and write we learn the skill and then use the skill to learn. With math it is always about learning the skill – and practicing the skill with repetitive worksheets. There seems to be no practical application for that skill.
- Children learn by using stories – stories create context, paint images that build connection and understanding. With math though we give sentences that don’t reflect our kids’ reality – it is just drill, no context, no connection to reality – just workbooks and silly problems.
- When teaching our children to read and write, once they had the skills it was integrated into other spheres of learning. With math we keep math lessons isolated from any other sphere of study.
I understand why we do this. We see math as a school subject, where we need to do it sequentially and added to that we have this sense if we fail our kids at math we have failed. So out of fear we give our kids the workbooks and say too bad, kiddo, everyone has to do it!
But my kids hate math.
They aren’t learning anyway.
They are driven by hate not driven by a love of learning.
My kids hate math!
I had to find a way to make math practical, relevant and integrated it into life.
Another key to me relaxing with math and helping my kids engage more was to understand that there was a language of math, that math was bigger than the four operations and the number line. Math includes:
- Number and Algebra – this is about numbers and using numbers to solve problems.
- Measurement and Geometry – this is about understanding size, shape, position and movement of two and three dimensional objects. Students need to be able to describe, compare, evaluate, plan and construct with shapes/objects.
- Statistics and Probability – this is about collecting and using information, thinking about likelihood and probabilities, making informed assessment and decisions.
The math programme we were using (and still are) is heavily numbers based. And this makes sense – all math, including measurement, geometry, statistics are based on our number system. But for a child who hates math for whatever reason just drilling on the number facts side of math is confirming in their mind how pointless and horrible math really is.
Math is really the language of solving problems – but real life problems. We need to find a way where we can teach the foundations of number and the principles in applying number to our life problems without overwhelming and boring our children.
Teaching Math without the hate:
- Math U See – this gives us understanding of math. We work through this quickly and don’t do all the exercises. The kids watch the dvd to learn the lesson, they do one page of exercises, if they get 80% they move on the next day to the review page, if they get 80% they move on the next day to the test, if they get 80% they are finished that unit. This means we can get through one lesson in a week, of 3 days of study, leaving a 4th day in case they don’t get 80% and we have to spend more time on it. They can do this amount of work in 30minutes. If they struggle and it is stretching out I would slow our math down, not increase the amount of time. It doesn’t matter if we take 2 weeks to complete a lesson. The goal is to learn, not complete the book in a set time. I keep this math time to no longer than 30minutes.
- Living Math: We would spend a second 30minutes working on ‘living math’. I liked a series of books called “Math Start” which has a picture book telling a story where a math concept is used – and I had the teachers manual, which gave us activities to do later to engage with the concept. These books are written for grade 1-3 levels, but I found them just as doable in upper primary level, especially if they covered the topics that your kids need to learn. I am more interested in the content and information needed then I am in the grade level written on the cover. There are also a huge number of standalone books that are great stories – that teach math!
What about Highschool Math?
This idea of living math is even more relevant in highschool. My kids are not going to be engineers and doctors – careers that need high level math; so teaching that level of math was not my goal. My goal is to have my kids functioning in life – and that includes using math. If kids are not enjoying math by the time they are in highschool they really start to push back against the relevance of it all.
I have moved to an Australian course called “Living Math – edited by Mark O’Brien”. These workbooks give all sorts of practical life skills problems, presented in a spiral approach which means they get presented with concepts but improve and dig deeper with each book. They are learning to use time, money, statistics, fractions, averages, measurement, angles, and math operations (+ – x \) to solve real life problems such as shopping, travelling, earning money, managing their time etc.
When we use a living math approach there is more need for me to be involved. The living math resources are not written in lesson format with clear instruction and then exercises, that takes away the very nature of being about life! Both the Math Start and Living Maths resources I’ve used do have instruction but sometimes still need me to explain and talk about it with the kids. When we have any gaps of understanding we’ve reverted back to the instruction of Math U See, or Khan Academy – we quickly gain understanding and then move on with our real life exercises.
The very odd thing is that all three of my students who have finished their schooling have a better understanding of math and its application now that they have finished their homeschooling years. When they come across something that they don’t know they have used Khan Academy or dug into the books on our shelves to learn it.
I love this because it tells me that they are life-long learners, that they have a desire to know more and they know how to find the answers to their problems. This needs to become our goal with math, just like it is with other subjects – we won’t be able to teach them everything, they will have gaps, but hopefully they will understand the basics and be able to learn what they need as life goes on – without the hate!!
Over to you:
What has worked for you in helping your kids move away from a hatred of math? Love to hear your comments…
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