I am always intrigued by studies that point to the one subject where many American children, homeschooled or not, struggle: mathematics. I have read that, especially in the case of homeschoolers, the struggle is often not with math concepts, but computation—in other words, speed.
Enter my children. Funny, given my love for math, I assumed that I’d have at least one child who shared my excitement over solving for x, but as of now, all three seem to be in loathing rather than in love. (Well, loathing might be strong, but they definitely don’t run for their math studies).
Take my youngest, as one example. She’s just begun this week learning how to borrow, as in take-one-from-the-tens’-column-and-add-the-ten-to-whatever-is-in-the-ones’-column.
When she saw the page, she immediately noticed that she was being asked to do something that was different. She is also currently preoccupied with multiplication, or “times,” as she calls it. Thus, everything in math that is different to her, she thinks it’s “times.” “They want me to do times,” she wails, then goes into a whine about it would be soooo hard, and woe is my life, etc. We went through the concept a few times (the curriculum, Horizons, had introduced the concept in pieces for several days), and by the third problem, she had it. That’s that quick grasp of a concept. Now comes the part that disturbs me far more than slow understanding: she gets bored, or maybe just tired, and the distractions come. I’m glad we’re using Horizons, where several concepts are introduced at once. With most curriculums, children learn one concept to the point of mastery, then the next, then the next…
We once used Making Math Meaningful with the older two children. It was word problem heavy, which I loved because, well, that makes math meaningful. It wasn’t drill intensive; I had the revelation with my oldest that drills had taught her the mechanics of how to complete a math problem, but she had no clue of what she was doing or why. Our first year of homeschool I spent re-teaching much of what she’d been “taught” in school.
Making Math Meaningful didn’t prepare our kids well for higher level mathematics, however, and I hated the way that particular curriculum taught multiplication. I learned all of my facts by memorization, up to 12×12; MMM suggested learning the facts of 0-5 and then using those to expand upon all the other facts. Thus, 7×8 becomes 5×8 + 2×8—not a bad method, but different (read uncomfortable) for me, and seemingly more time-consuming. Our son still doesn’t have the command of his higher facts that I would like; he adds extremely fast at the higher levels. We drill on these occasionally, but it occurs to me that he might not ever “get” them as I’d like. As a bit of an aside, one of the homeschooling groups we participated in would often joke about the “math police,” as we called them—an imaginary phantom that would come to the door and punish us for being poor math teachers.
When we switched the older two to Teaching Textbooks, we had much better success in terms of understanding, and especially in the area of independent learning. I think, though, that part of the dilemma with building speed is that homeschooling, by its very nature, doesn’t rush a child to complete anything in a given time. We must create those artificial deadlines. In our home, we’ve used Calcu-ladder to allow the kids an opportunity to build speed in computation. But recently, Calcu-ladder went to a CD format, meaning that I have to think ahead of time of when I want the kids to complete drills, determine which drill (a somewhat time-consuming search through the CD), then print the materials so that they’re ready in time. Another digression, but bear with me: does anyone else think we lost something significant as home educators in all of the e-text information that is now available? The other day, I needed to print out lapbook materials for my oldest, but I needed a color cartridge. By the time I bought the cartridge, she’d moved to a new chapter. So now, do I make her go back so that the lapbook is complete, or do I live with the gap and move forward? I’ll contemplate that one over our break.
So we move forward. I love to think that slow and steady wins the race, but as the oldest takes more of the pre-college exams, I know better. At least, I should say, slow and steady won’t win that particular race. I’m curious, though: how are your kids doing with math concepts? How about speed?
Finally, this is a recent shot of my youngest learning to tie her shoes.
I love two things about this picture. The first is the way she looks over her glasses, like a much older woman. In truth, she’s not learned to keep her fingers off the lens, so her glasses are often smudged such that she sees better not looking through them. The second thing I love about this picture is her intensity. She is determined to master tying shoes. One day I may see that same look with math, or if not, I’ll be okay with the reason why.