Susan, a homeschooling mother, hated math. She always had. She said this in front of her children. As a result, Susan’s children hated math. They consistently scored below grade level on standardized tests. Quite often, they did not get through their math curriculum because they chose to skip math whenever possible. Eventually, all of the children were enrolled in a Christian school because Susan lacked confidence in teaching the higher math subjects.
An avid reader, Susan could teach history, literature, and science, with ease and confidence. But because she did not have a solid foundation in math, she never felt confident. And so, she never passed confidence in math on to her children.
Maybe you’ve felt like Susan in the past. Maybe you feel like her now. I’m writing to tell you, “You can do this!” You can teach math through high school. Being home with you is the best place for your son or daughter, whether he or she is a math-lover or not. And for the higher math classes, teaching one-on-one is absolutely the best way to do it. Home is best for math. In the balance of my article, I want to give you a few rules for teaching math in the homeschool so that you and your children can gain “math confidence.”
How to Homeschool When You Hate Math
Rule #1: Fake it.
Our friend Susan never hesitated to tell her children how much she hated math. If you do this, your child will think, “If Mommy hates math, then I should hate it too.” Starting today, in your home, the words “I hate math” should never come out of your mouth. Fake it. Smile, and say, “We can do this!”
You need to act like math is no big deal. You need to pretend that you’re enjoying it. Attitude is everything where math is concerned. If you have an I-can-do-this attitude, eventually you will start to believe it. There is a reason that “Fake it” is rule #1. Having a positive attitude makes the rest of math easier, and having a positive attitude will influence your children’s attitudes. Not only will you begin to believe that you can do math, but your children will believe it too. We all want our children to believe that they can conquer anything. By having a good math attitude, you are well on your way to having children who are confident in math.
Rule #2: See math everywhere.
Years ago I made the comment that every career our children would ever have would involve math. Ever since then, our sons have tried to stump me. We’ll be walking through the grocery store and one of our sons will shout out “Factory worker!” I’ll respond: “They have quotas to fill, so that’s counting. They have to eliminate shoddy work or a poor product, so they are subtracting while counting. They get a paycheck! So they have to do math to make sure they are being paid the correct amount.”
Think about it: every job requires at least a little bit of math, even if it is just on payday. You have to deal with numbers no matter what you do. Math is everywhere. Start looking for it. Point out the math involved in each and every day to your children.
I count everything. When I walk down a flight of steps, I count them. Start counting aloud with your children.
We make our boys figure out percentage discounts when they’re shopping. If something is on sale for 25% off, they have to know what the new price will be before they can buy it. We make them figure out tax too. In our state, we pay 6% on non-essentials. They have to know the total cost of an item plus the tax before paying for that item.
We also play “guess the total” at restaurants. When we go out to eat, Daddy covers up the ticket and everyone tries to estimate the total ticket. We estimate what each order costs, plus drinks and tax, and give our guess on the total bill.
I use algebra almost daily. Any time you have something you want to know but have only a few components with which to get your answer, you’ve got a variable and the need to do an algebra problem. My husband used a pretty complex geometry calculation to figure out how to shoot from his tree stand while hunting. Although you may not use the higher maths on an everyday basis, we can all agree that you do use math every day, even if you are just counting something.
Rule #3: Get help.
I’ve had the privilege of serving on the TOS Homeschool Review Crew for two years. The Crew has reviewed a lot of math resources and curricula. An abundance of math helps are available to a homeschooling family, and those helps do not come only in the form of curriculum. There are also video services that offer online instruction about the topic with which you need help. And there are websites that focus on just one area of math, such as multiplication. You can check out all the math reviews by reading through the blog entries for the Homeschool Crew at HomeschoolBlogger.com/homeschoolcrew.
Get help from your curriculum. If you really struggle to teach these higher math concepts, you will definitely want to buy the teacher’s guide for your child’s math curriculum. Most teacher’s guides are scripted to tell you exactly how to instruct the student, and many come with videos. This may be an excellent investment for you if you struggle with math.
Get help from your homeschool community. There are high school co-ops in our area where parents pay tuition for their child to take a class. The class is taught by another homeschooling mother. The students meet once a week for instruction and are given a week’s worth of assignments. This may be a great option for you if you are struggling to teach algebra, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus. If there isn’t something like this available in your area, think about starting a co-op! Get together with a few other moms and find out what each of your strengths is. Then, let each mother teach her strengths. There’s bound to be one mom in your group who loves math.
Rule #4: Keep it relevant.
If your son or daughter is never going to need the higher maths, don’t do them. I find fault with public high schools that are requiring the majority of their students to take calculus. Concentrate on business or practical math, and skip the higher maths if your child won’t be using those in his or her chosen field. Every child should have to take business math, regardless of his career path.
Another type of math you could study for a year is budgeting for the home. This would include setting up and maintaining a budget, balancing the checkbook, doing taxes, and paying bills. This is a skill that none of our public-schooled counterparts are learning, and every 18-year-old should know how to do these tasks efficiently and accurately!
Rule #5: Do it every day.
You may be tempted to skip math, especially if you and your student struggle. Resist temptation, and be sure to review your math every single day. The reason those math texts have thirty review lessons at the beginning of the book is that so much information is forgotten when students have the summer away from their textbooks. Math needs to be practiced every day.
Rule #6: You are in charge!
If you don’t like the way a subject is presented, change it. If you think a math resource gives too many problems, do every other one. If you think your child already has mastered a particular math skill, test him and move on. We have skipped the beginning of almost every math book we’ve ever used. We school year-round, so there is no need for the review that most curricula include at the beginning of their texts. You’re in charge! You decide what is required and how much to complete in a day, a week, or a year.
You can do this! You can teach math! God has equipped you to teach your children at home. Stay positive. Make math part of every day and teach it every day. Get help. Do what works. You are in charge! You can teach all levels of math at home, where they belong.
Here’s a few more ideas to help make math fun:
Lori Lynn Lydell lives with her husband and two sons in rural Central Pennsylvania. When not homeschooling the boys or working for TOS as the Assistant to the Director of Operations, she enjoys knitting and crochet, playing the piano, cooking, and reading. The Lydells have a full house, with three dogs, one cat, and one Madagascar hissing cockroach! You can find her at www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/lorilynn.
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Spring 2011.
Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com to view a full-length sample copy of the print magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at Publisher@TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.
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