Day 20 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Maths is like exercise – boring but beneficial or can it really be something anyone can be taught to love?

The kids and I had an awesome morning today, visiting our first ‘proper’ homeschooling family in Bahrain. By proper I mean a family that homeschools kids older than 5! They are delightful and we learned a lot from them. They do however do things in a more structured way than I think I will but I can see that, with four kids, the more structured way is probably the one way to get things done at all!

N (I haven’t asked her permission yet to use her name) and I talked a little bit about teaching Maths. She felt that it’s OK to say Maths is boring but that it’s like exercise, you need to do it and when you do it, you will benefit and ultimately feel good. This is a really interesting analogy I thought. N uses Kumon books which are incredibly dry but provide a structured, incremental approach to learning Maths that the kids can tend to do with little supervision. Since they do a lot of things together as a family, it definitely seemed OK to find a Maths resource that they can do alone. And as a parent, it would certainly be very comforted to see all the worksheets completed and feel that the concepts are being learned thoroughly as the kids progress. I am very tempted by the possibility of feeling that sense of peace!

But I have two reservations. The first is that some people have complained that programmes like Kumon or Saxon prepare you to do Maths (i.e. computation) very well but not to understand Maths well and that you can’t do Maths outside their system, especially if tacking ‘real life’ Maths problem. Furthermore, I was shocked by just how dry the Kumon books are. And apparently Saxon isn’t much better, which is another Maths resource I had considered. I have been using the ‘Carol Vordeman’s Maths Made Easy’ books for the last couple of weeks. They are very nicely designed BUT I have never had to try and teach Maths from them. They are excellent to use as an adjunct to school work but on their own they may not be enough now that I’m homeschooling and certainly jump from topic to topic; venn diagrams to time problems to subtraction etc…

Is there a difference between N and my teaching philosophies? I doubt it. I’m sure she’d love to be able to show her kids how fun Maths is and get them to want to do Maths as much as they want to play a video game or, perhaps more realistically, snuggle down and have a great story read to them. But how do you do this? I agree with N that the way school tries, and I have seen them try quite hard, doesn’t work. Edward was left cold by a special Maths day, even with his teacher beautifully dressed as a mysterious Maths Wizard and the chance to go around the different kiosks in the playground trying to solve different problems. Perhaps I am holding out for the impossible and should just follow N’s more experienced and realistic homeschooling Maths path? But the little voice inside me is asking me to try harder to find something different for Edward.

I just plugged in ‘how to get kids to like maths homeschooling’ in Google and there looks like lots of interesting ideas. was a link I clicked on. There was the following quote on the homepage which I thought was fun, although certainly won’t be sharing with Edward, and haven’t authenticated myself, “The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.” — St. Augustine” She promises the following, “In trying to get our children to like math, we make a mistake in thinking we need to make it easy.  Watch your child playing ball – he runs and reaches and sweats – and he loves it. These pages will be filled with ways to change your child’s experiences in math for the better – but if he – or you – hate math, begin there.   There are good reasons.  It’s hard.  It can be tedious.  Sometimes it may seem dull and disconnected.  True enough.  But there’s more.  Stay and we’ll show you.” I will have to stay another day, but it sounds promising.

There are also some nice, common sense tips on One of the points made on this page is that a major reason for Maths phobia/anxiety is when kids start falling behind in class and don’t do well on tests. Well, that’s a great, great benefit of homeschooling.  There’s no falling behind anyone else and there’s time and attention to make sure kids thoroughly understand every concept before moving on. And although I didn’t love Maths, because I was badly taught at my expensive private school, I am enjoying doing it with Edward and look forward to learning it all anew, with fresh eyes and attitude.

I just read this link and it has really given me food for thought! This family tried a variety of Maths resources over the years. Usefully for the reader, each kid had different Maths attitudes and needs. I’d love to try something more tangible with Edward. The Saxon programme does use manipulatives in the early years. My dear Maths teacher friend highly recommended tangrams which I’d never heard of before. I wish there were the Maths equivalent of Mad Libs! I also really believe in trying to use Maths in everyday life. I have been racking my brain about how to do this and the old ‘build a bird house’ trick came to mind. I suggested it to my son, who I didn’t think would be in the slightest bit interested, never having shown much interest in birds before, but he is totally psyched about. It just goes to show, you never know with kids and just have to introduce them to as many interesting options as possible. The glitch is, neither my husband (who’s always travelling anyway) nor I are ‘handy’. So, we’ll have to turn to the community, in a time-honoured homeschooling way, and see if somebody would not just build us a bird house but let Edward watch and, ideally, help.

By the way, Edward loves Mad Libs so much, again, I would never have guessed it, that after suffering from a bump today he said he’d like to do one with me to ‘cheer him up’! ‘What? A ‘parts of speech’ game to cheer you up,’ I thought to myself! But instead said, ‘Great! What a good idea!’ But since I had to cook lunch, I couldn’t really do it with him and so watched with interest as he proceeded to do one all by himself and subsequently roared with laughter, to my absolute delight. Who would have thought that parts of speech could cheer up a bumped boy! And who would have thought that he’d happily do one all by himself when it’s only the third one he’d ever seen in his life and he didn’t have much knowledge of parts of speeches a couple of days ago! Yipee!

If you’re wondering how my 3 year old daughter Petra has been doing the last few weeks. Great! I think she really likes having Edward at home. We certainly don’t feel we have to hit the malls anymore just to get out of the house on occasion, so that’s good for the bank balance since you always seem to end up buying something, even if it’s only an ice-cream! I think having him home and watching what he’s doing is very stimulating for her. She had the best morning today, dressing up with N’s daughter. They are like ‘two peas in a pod’, as N described them with their princess dresses and pink Barbie bus. But they also raced around madly outside with the older kids and Petra was back to the train set when we got home!

Please always feel free to post comments on any of the days you read, however old they are. Your views are valuable and it’s always good to have debate. If you’re busy but enjoyed that day’s blog, please do press the ‘Like’ button at the end of the post. It would be much appreciated as it helps encourage more people to read homeschoolinginthemiddleeast! Any comments about Maths teaching is especially appreciated and suggestions about resources warmly welcome!


About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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One Response to Day 20 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Maths is like exercise – boring but beneficial or can it really be something anyone can be taught to love?

  1. Jade says:

    Hey Penny – A fun way that you can use maths in everyday life is to have E. cook with you. Baking cookies, making mac and cheese, and even a PB&J … excellent for exploring fractions, volume, and even chemical versus mechanical reactions in science. Have E. help you measure ingredients, talk about what happens before, during and after, have E. predict what he thinks will happen and then discuss why it really did happen. Have E. use words, numbers and pictures to describe his thinking. When you are out and about or even around the house, play the shapes versus solids game. Ask the kids to find a square then find a cube … have them explain how the two are related and how the two are different … e.g. the cube is made out of a net of six squares. Make 3 Dimensional shapes using toothpicks and marshmallows etc. Alas … more to share with you, but I have to change a dirty nappy. Oh, and last thought … I am not a fan of Kumon books for all the reasons you described above. If you want something similiar to mad libs for math, they have math crossword puzzles, suduko and brain teasers. Maybe not lol funny, but certainly great when E. figures it out and then stumps you for the next week (I’ve learned from experience that J. loves this and it makes him want to learn/try more so that he can impress me, while simultaneously driving me bonkers because I can’t figure it out … the sacrifices we make for our kids 😉

What do you think? Please do let me know. I would love to hear your opinion!

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