Facing Your Fears: The Math Monster

Contributed by Jennie Marable

Since deciding to homeschool, I’ve been spending an awful lot of time hanging around community centers. Some days it’s the worst, and some days I am overcome with gratitude to live in a city with such rich and accessible offerings. My kids, four year old twins, have been taking a gymnastics class at a nearby center, and they love it and I love it. The teacher is fun and easygoing, but she insists on courtesy, and taking turns, and she also gently makes sure her charges are following directions. There is a lot of waiting your turn and sharing–skills that mean more to me than tumbling and cartwheels– though there is plenty of physical fun for everyone.

We have signed up for three consecutive sessions, and I have enjoyed watching the dynamic of the class shift–each group of kids comprising a distinct organism– and observing the other mothers as they observe their kids, or their Iphones. This has been the first 4-6 year old class we’ve enrolled in, so the conversation on the sidelines turns quickly to school–where are they going, where will they go? When asked, I’ve caught myself being cagey, suddenly, about our plans. To date, I’ve been forthcoming about our intention to homeschool, but I’ve qualified it with “when we get to that point,” even though between me, myself and I, school was officially in session.

Lately, hedging about homeschooling to strangers has led to internal questions about my own commitment, and from there, abilities, and so on, until I whip myself into a perfect whirlpool of despair. So, I resolved to say it loud and say it proud, because it’s happening, and it’s good, and nothing is perfect, and what do I care what the lady wearing blue Uggs thinks about how I educate my kids? So. We are homeschoolers, homeschooling. Present tense.

This week, one of the class moms struck up a conversation with me by way of a compliment–she noted that the twins were very good at counting and keeping track of numbers. This surprised me because I hadn’t really noticed. I think about teaching math a lot, but don’t ever feel like I’m doing it–in fact I feel like I’m avoiding it because I WILL RUIN THEM. When it comes to math I am a disaster, scarred by my own struggles with the subject and possessed of an unshakeable belief in my lack of numeracy.

But here’s the thing. The twins are good with numbers. Because I’VE worked with them at it, and because I’VE kept my terrors to myself. And here’s the other thing. Sometimes learning things as an adult is harder, and sometimes it’s easier. And being around two eager learners has rubbed off on me. They want to know, and because they want to know, I want to know. And if I don’t know, I’m motivated to stay up late and figure it out, so in the morning we can talk about it over pancakes. And so, a stranger asked me if she could pick my brain about teaching math to her kid–who is in school–because she is so unhappy with the way things are going already and she doesn’t know where to begin. Guess what she does for a living? She’s a CPA. Take that, every math teacher that gave up on me ever…

My point? Being responsible for teaching my kids everything is onerous. And overwhelming. And feels presumptuous, at very least. But also joyful. And challenging. And liberating– because I have no choice but to let go of everything I think I know, and everything I think I don’t, and to begin at the beginning, so I can help them learn everything THEY think they need to know.

Anyway. My kids can count up to one hundred, and they understand the value of numbers into the twenties. They are wrestling with the notion of zero and infinity. One twin can do some very simple multiplication. The other is pretty good with the concept of fractions. I checked out some math curriculums and hated them all, but I am very open to suggestions, so please reply if you are working with something your kids love. We will definitely try Khan Academy when they start using a computer, but that’s probably going to be awhile. Since somebody asked, and if you’re interested too, here’s a brief overview of what we’ve been doing, math-wise:

What we always do.
What we always do.

Read, read, and read some more. Because there are fabulous, amazing, captivating books about numbers. There are lots of opportunities for seeing numbers at work–page numbers, chapter numbers, the different ways of expressing numbers in a written work. We also read a lot of poetry and I’ve started teaching the twins to count stanzas or rhyming words.

Making things.
Making things.

Mass production lends itself to counting. Making lists, counting materials, measuring, the possibilities are endless

Games that are not math games.
Games that are not math games.

There are all kinds of math games out there, and we’ve tried a few and usually the twins have caught a whiff of pedantry, which they dislike. They love playing War and they love Jenga, and they LOVE those stupid plastic beadboards, however, and the results have been just as good. They count, and think about numbers, and understand they (the numbers) are a part of the world–a way of seeing the world.

Gardening.
Gardening.

So much math, and so much of it tactile, and so engaging for little learners. How much water, how many times? Cost of materials vs. yield. How many days to germinate? How much can we plant in the space we have? Dividing, adding, and subtracting! Shapes, sizes, ratios–and that’s all before harvest time!

Go forth and count.
Go forth and count.

Get out there! How many bubbles can you catch? How many miles to the park? What’s a mile anyway? Steps til the top of the mountain? Minutes til picnic lunch? How many times can a person complain about the cold in a 45 minute interval?–all teachable moments. The world is full of numbers, and of things to count.

Building toys.
Building toys.

These wooden blocks and good old Legos have made concepts like mass and volume, circumference and area easy to grasp. And I can now say the word Geometry without hyperventilating.

And my favorite.
And my favorite.

Cooking is kind of the Holy Grail of homeschool, I’ve found. It’s got everything–history, geography, culture, languages, and of course, a whole bunch of math.

Remember the play’s the thing–their play. It’s how they learn at a young age. You can do it!

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2 comments

    • Thanks, Annie! I worry about this subject more than the others, I think, and I know I’m not alone. I’m old enough that it was still ok for teachers to say to me, “well, girls aren’t/don’t need to be good at math”!! So I’ve carried so much weird math baggage that I’m finally unloading, I think. I will check out Jamie’s post.

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