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Friday, December 11, 2015

Mathful Parent: fostering child's love of math in creative ways

teaching math, child development, homeschooling

The old question of “can I teach my kids mathematics?” that haunts many homeschooling moms never bothered me as much as “am I going to hate teaching mathematics?”  All through the school years and beyond I loathed math with every fiber of my soul. Since I was a business major in college I had to take a fair amount of math classes - statistics as a data science, college algebra, finite mathematics, calculus - I loathed them all.  I have a remarkable ability to make myself do what I don't want to do with the same level of perfectionism I apply to other areas of my life.  It was “A” or bust.  

Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University

When I first started developing lesson plans for my kids, I realized how little mathematics I actually knew.  I was always studying to get an 'A,' it never occurred to me to study mathematics to learn something.  I memorized a lot of formulas, geometric diagrams, and algebraic expressions.  I did a lot of exercises of the “do this and this and you get the answer” variety.  Once the coveted grade was in my pocket everything I memorized flew right out of my head.  So the first thing I needed to do was educate myself.  What is mathematics?  Can I find something that is fun about it? I got books.  Lots of them.  Love and Math, Mathematics: the science of patterns, Mathematics for the Nonmathematician, A Mind for Numbers: how to excel at math and science, Wonder of Numbers to name just a few.  These were all exciting books that I read late into the night.  Unexpectedly, I fell in love with the subject.  I wanted to learn more.  And I believe the best teachers are the ones who are eager to learn more about their own subject.  

math is important

I already knew I wanted to teach mathematics in the way that was completely different from the way I was taught it, but how should I teach it?  I looked into getting the most fun curriculum I could find.  Of course, you don't know what fun is until you get many different things and try them.  That's how I ended up with Singapore math, Math.U. See, Hooked on Math, Math Made Easy, Oak meadow curriculum, and a whole bunch of seemingly fun workbooks from School Zone Publishing Company to DK Math and everything in between.  (And that's why we have a library plus a bookcase (or two) in every room of the house). 

Oak meadow, a Waldorf style curriculum, was very nice.  Numbers 0 through 10 were learned through stories.  The four processes of mathematics were learned through stories.  They were very good stories, but after three years we realized that we were not moving fast enough for my son's desires and abilities.  

I decided to make a list of the concepts I wanted my kids to know and try to come up with the most fun exercises I could come up with to teach these concepts.  To assist me in making the list I used Common Core Standards.  It forced me to redefine what exactly I wanted my kids to learn.  No, I didn’t want my kids to count to 100 by a certain age mark, but yes I wanted my kids to develop a number sense.  It was not about teaching my kids to memorize that “3” is used to describe a collection of three trucks “1-2-3, three trucks, dear,” it was more important to me to teach them to recognize the pattern of “three-ness” because mathematics is a science of patterns.  Most importantly, I wanted my kids to think and to develop their own reasoning, rather than memorize a bunch of stuff related to math. 

What I like to think of myself now is a mathful parent.  According to dictionary “artful” means “skillful or clever in adapting means to ends” and "done with artistic skill."  So then a mathful parent is a resourceful adult who fosters child’s love of math in creative ways, concentrates on process-oriented math activities, manufactures positive learning experiences, takes advantages of learning opportunities, and blends facts with fun in unexpected and delightful ways.  This truly reflects the essence of my approach to mathematics.  I might not remember much in the way of formulas, but hey, I only have to be one lesson ahead of my kids.  The most important thing is my enthusiasm about teaching math, willingness to be flexible and a whole lot of daily creativity.  

love of math, math in early years, child development

What I came to learn along the way is that any parent can be a good math teacher.  If I could make a journey from “loathing” to “love,” then anybody can.  I had to do a lot of reading and thinking to arrive at this point where I like math and I am excited about teaching it.  I want to save you some time and energy by sharing our exciting math ideas with you, from decomposition with LEGOs to our favorite math literature.  In the very least I can provide encouragement and support.  Do you want to be a mathful parent?

  Coming up:
  • Decomposition with LEGOs
  • How to create math environment 
  • Counting Book for Toddlers (best selection for mathful parents)
  • Math books for Elementary Grades
  • Simple ways to fill your family life with Math (a guide to mathful parents)
  • 5 Nature-based math projects for Kids
  • How to incorporate math into daily play 
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