I have been thinking about Maths quite a bit lately – should my kids be taught Maths in some kind of formal way? If so, how? Edward covered a lot of Maths basics before he left school at age 7 to homeschool (the best day of our lives!) so it’s kind of easier to think about building on that than having the entire responsibility for my daughter’s numeracy resting on my shoulders. However, I do feel bad that Edward’s mental arithmetic is deteriorating, he’s forgetting the skills he learned at school. I feel sad about that because in my everyday life I wish my mental arithmetic was better. It is a really useful skill although only for fairly basic Maths. But then I read articles like these http://homeschooling.penelopetrunk.com/2012/08/16/5-reasons-why-you-dont-need-to-teach-math/ that make me relax (well, for five minutes anyway! Know that feeling?!).
Since Edward left school, he’s only been using ‘Life of Fred’ Maths books a few times a week. Although it’s something he sits at a desk for, not very ‘unschooling’, he doesn’t mind (he’d choose to play instead, but he doesn’t protest when I ask him to do it). I think it’s pretty fun and I enjoy those 30 minutes with him talking about Maths. I hated Maths at school. I had ghastly teachers so doing Maths with him has been a revelation to me, I enjoy it so much! That’s in part just because I’m spending some concentrated time with him, that’s always going to be fun, but I like the Maths part too.
I really didn’t know where to start with Maths with Petra (who just turned 4). We talk about numbers, count and I made sure she associated numbers with actual things but then I was a bit stumped. I have written many times about my acute lack of homeschooling imagination so all the great ways other people having to teaching Maths ‘in real life’ challenged me to say the least! Recently, I read a post on a great blog I follow, ‘Letters from Nebby’ http://lettersfromnebby.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/life-of-fred-math/ that discussed her use of ‘Life of Fred’ and another, quite different programme, ‘Math-U-See’. I like Nebby’s approach to homeschooling so I bought the MUS programme for both Edward and Petra (thanks to the very generous help of an American friend with the shipping to Bahrain! Thank you!) Today, I watched the DVD about how to teach the ‘Primer’ stage – a child’s first introduction to Maths via MUS. I am so excited! I think Petra and I will have so much fun. I love all the manipulatives. I am so pleased I bought it and for the best reason – yes, it will assuage my guilt regarding if/how I’m dealing with the Maths question but much more importantly I think it’s going to be a fun thing to do together! I genuinely feel like it’s going to be as fun as a craft or anything else we could do together stuck at home in the heat of Bahrain or soon to be slightly worse heat of Dubai. I am not comparing MUS to walks in the woods or fascinating museums or anything like that. I’m not totally crazy! I’d much rather do that and would probably choose it over any Maths program but since that’s not on offer, this genuinely looks like fun. Hopefully, Edward will find it fun too, as long as it’s not too reminiscent of school. Fortunately, Petra doesn’t have that baggage.
Despite an interest in the kids learning Maths, I don’t want to get carried away. Penelope Trunk’s blog (which I linked to earlier), talked about a fascinating article in the NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/opinion/how-to-fix-our-math-education.html?_r=1 advocating that kids learn Applied Maths instead. I think this is a FANTASTIC idea and when we get the Maths basics down, I would like to have the courage to move away from MUS, ‘Life of Fred’ and anything else and see if we can find a way to pursue this course of learning instead. I think it could be much harder to find a way to do it, it might, gulp, require more imagination on my behalf, or perhaps a good tutor from somewhere in the community if their Dad is still busy in a couple of years time and can’t do it (because he’s very able to do so) but I think it would be great avenue to pursue, as long a pressure of looming SATs or something doesn’t ruin it. The homeschooling jury seems to be out on whether kids need high grades on traditional tests to get into good Universities (http://homeschooling.penelopetrunk.com/2012/04/27/top-universities-want-you-to-homeschool/)but I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, when we know what the kids might want to do, and whether we have to squeeze ourselves into a traditional box for a couple of years for the kids to pursue their dreams or not.
In the meantime, I am so happy to be excited about doing Maths with the kids, whatever approach we use, and that has got to rub off on them. I will keep it fun. I will keep it real. What’s the best way you do that, especially if you are a bit imagination-challenged like me in this respect?!
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