Math always came easily to me, but I hated it anyway. Figuring out worksheet after worksheet of math problems was tedious. Memorizing the times tables was stupid. Word problems were embarrassingly written. And boring. I also had some frustrating experiences with math teachers in school. My 4th grade math teacher could only teach the material one specific way, so if I didn’t understand it the way she explained it, she’d just repeat herself until I gave up asking.
Asking my parents for help was a minefield. My mother wasn’t confident about her math skills, so she deferred to my father, who got his bachelor’s degree in mathematics. You’d think that would be helpful, but no. My dad would show me one way to do it, and then I’d lose points for not showing my work the way the teacher wanted.
Despite slogging my way through trigonometry and calculus in high school, I am much less mathematically literate as I’d like to be.
Fortunately, my Little Boy is only 4. My long dead knowledge of derivatives and probability can remain lost in time for now. Like everything else in our unschooling, we like to work in layers. Like a cake. But made of math.
Layer one is the foundation. We just work math into the conversation whenever we can. When we’re cooking, we discuss the shapes of things, measurements, cooking times and recipe yields. How many cookies does the recipe make? How many servings in the banana bread? If the recipe makes 8 servings, and we eat 3, how many are left for future meals? When we’re shopping, we discuss prices, add and subtract items, check prices and compare them, talk about sales and percentages, and refer back to our budget. He doesn’t get all this yet, but it builds a familiarity with numbers and prevents him from feeling anxious and fearful of math.
The second layer involves the more traditional school type stuff. Books are a big deal with us, of course, and I get math books with exercises, problems and games, but I also look for math themed storybooks and easy readers. The stories we just read at bedtime as he chooses, and we work the school-y books during the day when he says, “Let’s do math!” (which happens once or twice a week) I also have dollar store math workbooks available. Little Boy finds workbooks kind of boring, so I pay him a dollar on completion of a workbook, a dollar he may spend however he likes on our next excursion to the Dollar Store. His interest in doing workbooks waxes and wanes. At this point I don’t push anything.
The frosting layer of our math cake is of course, the games. We play math games all the time. One of our favorites is War. Divide the deck of cards into two piles. Then each pile battles the other pile one card at a time, high cards win. We play aces low (since it’s kind of the deck’s “one”). When we’ve battled through our whole pile, we count the cards we’ve won. Whoever has the most cards won the war! This is a favorite game for Little Boy and I to play at breakfast while we eat our oatmeal.
Another game we love is Pass the Pigs. We tossed aside the traditional rules and scoring and made up our own game. A dot and a blank side = 0, two dots or two blank sides = 1, a standing pig = 2, a pig on its back =3, and a pig on its snout = 4. We take turns and the first one to 10 points wins. Another fun breakfast game.
We also love singing math songs. The Leap Frog company makes DVDs about learning to read and do math. Little Boy will watch those while he draws, then the rest of the week I hear him singing the songs to himself when he plays. My favorite math songs are from They Might Be Giants. I confess I’m not a fan of their grownup work, but the kids’ songs I LOVE. We get the 123 one from the library, or we just watch them on YouTube now and then. The songs are great, because he repeats the lesson over and over again as he sings and plays. I’ll leave you with just one more. It’s from the TMBG “Here Come the 123s”, and it’s how Little Boy learned the days of the week. It’s also kind of my theme song.