Unschooling Math

Two of my greatest concerns when we began this homeschooling adventure were, “What about friends?” (Please note I said “friends” and not “socialization.” But that is commentary for another post.) and “How will they learn math?”  See, I’m a word person.  Reading, Grammar, Writing, Researching… all of these things came easily to me in and out of school so I am inclined to believe that they are not difficult.  It’s simple for me to trust that my children will naturally develop these skills.  But math?!  Even though I finished high school with a B average in Algebra 3 and Trigonometry, the years of struggle and multiple failures that came before convinced me that math was too hard.  And so I worried.  Should I unschool everything else but find some worksheets for the math?  HA!  Worksheets, schmerksheets.  Starting about two months ago, Sister began peppering me with math questions.

“Mama, is 4 an even or an odd number?”

“Mama, is 1 an even or an odd number?”

“Mama, is 7 an even or an odd number?”

“Mama, is 13 an even or an odd number?”

“Mama, is 16 an even or an odd number?”

“Mama, 27 is an odd number.

“Mama, is 100 an even or an odd number?

“Mama, is 1000 an even or an odd number?

“Mama, is 1000000 an even or an odd number?

“Mama, zero is an even number.

It’s been amazing to watch really.  The whole idea of worksheets is that they force one to repeat the exercises over and over until they are learned but I found that Sister had a natural repeat mechanism – as I imagine most children do.  The list above is just a small sampling.  At first the questions were few – a couple each day or so.  Then came periods of 10 to 15 questions at a time.  They were often ones that she’d asked before and I found myself resisting the urge to say, “Don’t you remember?”  Obviously she didn’t or she wouldn’t have asked.  So I simply answered the questions as they came and over time the difficulty level progessed and there were fewer repeats.  Every once in a while she would quit the questions and give me a summary of her knowledge through a series of statements.  Then there wouldn’t be any questions for a while.  When they did return the focus would be different.  Perhaps looking at the nuances of a previous concept,  or tackling a new direction altogether.

“Mama, what does 2 and 2 make?” – 4 – “That’s even.”

“Mama, what does 6 and 6 make?” – 12 – “That’s even.”

“Mama, what does 3 and 3 make?” – 6 – “That’s even.”

“Mama, what does 7 and 7 make?” – 14 – “That’s even.”

“Mama, what does 3 and 3 and 3 make?  – 9 – “Hmm, that’s odd.”

Last night we added 100 and 100 together by candlelight.  Sister got a hankering to know after she was already tucked in bed.  This time she didn’t just want the answer.  She wanted to know how one came to the answer.  So in the flickering light I wrote the equation out and we worked through it together. 

“Mama, I don’t think that’s right.  It should equal 1000.”

We worked it again.

“Mama, I still don’t think that’s right.  I think I need to go to sleep.”

And I let her because the last few weeks have taught me that she will “get it” when she’s ready.  I don’t have to force it.  Now that I’ve become attuned to the learning of numbers I see it happening with Brother too.  He is not so direct as to ask questions but he counts constantly.  Each time he finishes I half expect to hear a thunderclap in the tradition of Sesame Street’s Count von Count.  His counting has reminded me math is everywhere … it’s kind of hard not to learn it.

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2 thoughts on “Unschooling Math

  1. You know, that’s one of the main reasons I’ve told myself I could never homeschool – math. And, well, everything else. It’s amazing that I have all this schooling behind me, but I don’t feel confident enough to “teach” it.

    I think it’s wonderful that they’re motivated to learn about math. I bet they don’t have the same kind of anxiety so many people have about the subject.

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