Unschooling Math

As I’ve said before the key thing about unschooling is the adults getting used to how it works and feeling comfortable with it. Or at least that’s what it feels like to me lately. Math is the one subject that makes us feel a little bit uncertain. But when the choice is argue about workbooks or let it go, we’ve decided on let it go. Luckily, I’m not the only one who has this anxiety about unschooling math. Willa has been musing about it for a bit lately, too. And she’s come up with some good resources. (She has another blog here which, somewhat confusingly, has the same name but a different focus.)

The reason I’m writing about it right now, though, is because I have one of those funny stories that makes you realize it will be okay if you just let go. This morning when I was eating my breakfast (Tigger and her dad had already finished theirs and she was in the living room spinning) I noticed the following on a piece of paper 800 000 000 / 30 000 000 = 26 with a bunch of the zeros struck out and whatnot. So when Tigger walked in the room I asked, jokingly, whether she had been doing math at breakfast. Yes, she said. So I joked about whether that was a good idea. Her response was that if they were going to talk about big numbers on the radio, it was. Apparently, there was something on the radio about a new science and technology museum that would cost $800 million so they got talking about how much money that is per person in Canada and figured it out (using 30 million as a good approximation of the population of Canada). Her dad showed her the thing about cancelling in the zeros so that the division is really 80/3.

When they have a use for it, they will work it out. We had been working on division and multiplication and she had clearly understood the concepts but she doesn’t want to learn her times tables or do endless pages of drills. So there you are.

On a side note, I also decided to go check out the Homeschool Math blog which I’ve neglected for a while. I found a great link to resources for using literature to teach math. Tigger thinks the history of math sounds more interesting than math and we ordered Mathematicians are People Too from the library today along with several of the books in the Sir Cumference series. Math might make it into the rotation of voracious reading.


6 thoughts on “Unschooling Math

  1. aha! I suggest data analysis. Real-life analyses of real-life data on Tigger-interesting phenomena.

    But then I would suggest such a thing wouldn’t I 😉 But you’re on the right track – times-tables are realistically a not-so-critical skill (what are calculators for after all..). But figuring out patterns and trends and conceptual relationships? Much closer to “critical”.


  2. It wasn’t until my older ones were entering tennage years that I realized how much math is part of daily life. All 3 of the older ones are exceptionally good at math, not because of this curriculum or that curriculum, but because they saw us doing it in every day life.

    All of them do math in their head and it wouldn’t occur to them to use a pencil and paper for arithematic (although they can do it on paper).


  3. School made me hate math. I was in my mid-20’s before I discovered I was good at it — bad at arithmetic, but great with math concepts. I admire what you’re doing.

    I read an article in the last year about doing more to teach the concepts, the surprising relationships between numbers, instead of focusing on drills and times tables and the like. If I can find it, I’ll send you a link.


  4. I’ve probably told you this but I was hopeless at algebra. I thought I was no good at math, but it turned out I just needed to do it in a non-abstract way. Once the numbers MEAN something, I’m golden. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of Xes and crooked lines. Ugh.

    Sounds great to me. My coworker’s daughter did a lot of surveying of her friends–that turned out to be a lot of fun, and probably contributed a good deal more to general critical thinking skills than, you know, long division.


  5. Since the weather is so nice and we’re coming to the end of our formal studies for the year, I decided to put away the Singapore workbooks and left the MathUSee video and blocks out. The kids think they’re playing lol.

    I’ve also had good luck with “Family Math” by Stenmark et al. and also the Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks games. And cooking and baking and farming and building — hard to do any of those without math…


  6. An unschooled HE boy of our acquaintance didn’t do a single maths book until he came to do his GCSEs, which he passed with A*. He did the same with his A levels, which included maths, physics and IT. He is now studying IT and maths at one of the top universities in the UK where he is predicted a first.

    Absolutely NO formal maths training until he was 15 does not appear to have held him back.


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