I thought it was the unspoken, four letter word of homeschooling. The request to get out the math book brought protests of "No...not maaath!!!" and internally, I also was thinking "No....not maaath!!!" I wasn't sure what the problem was. The script was all there - so I had to be teaching it right...right? She was certainly more than smart enough to do math. I was familiar with identifying learning disabilities and new that wasn't the issue either. So why did it elicit such a response? Was it me? Was it the curriculum? Was it homeschooling? I was baffled and it began a year long quest to figure out the answer to the question - How do I teach Math and have my daughter (and myself) love it?
Fast forward to this year and we LOVE math! We went from being behind in math because I had such a hard time convincing my daughter to participate without behaviors (ok -that was me - LOL), changing math curriculums multiple times trying to find the right one -to finally being where we should be and loving it. I am going to share my journey, because I suspect that I'm not the only parent out there who has struggled with this particular subject in homeschooling! I hope that our journey can encourage someone else that may be struggling with math too.
Each day I dreaded opening the math book. I knew it would end in a battle with my daughter. There were bad attitudes and frustration each day surrounding math. It became clear that each curriculum we tried, did not speak to my child's style of learning (or mine). Since I wasn't comfortable teaching math at that point, I lacked the ability to see math outside of the box. I felt like I had to present it just the way they said in the book but that didn't usually engage my daughter. She was frustrated and angry by the end and I was frustrated too.
I spoke to my husband and decided to "step back" and re-evaluate what we were doing and develop some goals and then talk with some respected friends and mentors and pray for guidance.
So what were my goals with math? Did I just want my daughter to learn to memorize facts and understand the lesson presented and get through the "workbook" or did I want her to actually see something more in math? Did I even see more in math then numbers, operations, formulas...? I looked back to my own education and realized that I had learned myself, to dislike math at an early age. I had to consider what I wanted my daughter to feel about math when she was my age. I wanted her to LOVE math, but how do I get her to love math when I hated it so? The first thing I had to do was think about what her learning style was and how she was most receptive to learning new concepts in math and then, evaluate the curriculum I was using against that. I also had to reset my own thinking and mind about math, so I set out to read books about math and God. I knew I needed to see that connection to God, but I just didn't have all the dots connected in my mind yet. Another goal was to make math seamless and a fluid part of our everyday life to create less resistance. So my husband suggested math every day, like brushing your teeth - just something you do - part of the routine of life. So my four goals I came up with upon prayer, consultation and reading were:
- A Biblical worldview on math and how to approach teaching it that way.
- Curriculum that met my daughter's visual, tactile, short attention spanned learning style.
- Curriculum that met my need to have things laid out clearly to teach.
- A systematic approach to make math seamless and a part of the daily routine.
A Biblical worldview on math and how to approach it that way, was what I searched for. I found a terrific, easy to understand book for the non-mathematician, to help me see the Biblical worldview in math. It's not as deep a read for the busy Mom as Mathematics: Is God Silent, but many shared/inspired ideas between them, the book entitled Beyond Numbers, tremendously helped me shift the way I saw math. This was a pivotal point for me. I now saw that math was a view into the mind of God, it showed the order with which God put the Universe into being and the sustaining power and principles for it's orderly and continued existence. Just seeing math as a glimpse into the mind of God, was very inspiring for me. I also utilized the Revealing Arithmetic textbook, which accompanies any curriculum, to help with framing each math concept I taught in a Biblical Worldview. You can read my previous review on these two books in detail here.
2. Searching for the Right Curriculum - A One Year Journey
My daughter who is probably smarter than me (shhhh....don't tell her), didn't like the Saxon curriculum we started with. She picked up on the concepts themselves quickly but found the large number of written problems and the extensive review, to be very frustrating and redundant. She was struggling with handwriting at the time and was in occupational therapy for it-so the extensive writing was a big turn off to her and became a barrier for her with this curriculum and we ended many of our lessons in tears and frustration. I could see that this just wasn't the right curriculum for my then 5 year old with grapho-motor struggles.
Next we moved on to Right Start Math. I really liked the idea of a conceptual math and there wasn't a lot of spiral review and almost NO handwriting involved. It offered an abacus to work with, which really spoke to my visual and tactile learner. However, after getting all the curriculum and starting out in Level B, I quickly realized that there were gaps (for me on using the abacus) and I really needed to start all the way back at Level A because I didn't understand some of what was going on and that left me unable to explain to her, what to do. I found that there was too much set up time involved the night before and it's teacher intensive, which by this point, my daughter was resistant to me teaching her math at all from our Saxon days and now my fumbling, pausing to look up a concept that they assumed I knew (because the assumption in the curriculum is that you have done book A, but I hadn't) and it just became unmanageable for me with tutoring and running wonderful wednesdays!
Then I picked up Abeka math. It had colorful pictures (visual) and seemed to not be steeped in spiral review. It was recommended to me at the local homeschooling store, and I was burned out at this point and figured it looked straight forward and simple enough, so why not?! Well, once we began using this curriculum, it felt kind of flat. There wasn't anything that grabbed my daughter and she expressed that it was "too simple" -so I ditched it, realizing this wasn't the right fit yet for us. At this point, I'm thinking "maybe private school is the way to go :)-".
I regrouped. I prayed. I sought wise counsel from mentors/friends and talked to my husband again. He expressed his frustration with it all. I sought out advice from friends I trust. I had a friend ask me some pointed questions about what was going wrong, what was a struggle with it all and what were some things that really helped my daughter learn. Once I voiced all those, she suggested Math U See. So....we began curriculum number four! I didn't want my daughter to have any gaps like I did in math, so in spite of her age/grade, I bought the Alpha book (starting at the beginning - I had learned my lesson with Rightstart!) and we just worked really quickly through it. I just wanted to make sure we both had a solid foundation in the way this curriculum taught concepts. They had a strong start in place value which we didn't cover very much and I didn't want her to miss any of that. She loved the videos and it took the pressure off our strained interactions over math together. The video became the mediating instructor between us and she immediately was more receptive to math again. Since we went back to the beginning, the concepts were super easy, so it rebuilt confidence and encouraged my daughter in her math skills once again. The lessons are quick, visual and well presented with the information they need and no unnecessary extras - perfect for my short attention spanned, visual learner. There wasn't tons of review, but there's enough to keep concepts fresh in her mind. The manipulative's were great for a tactile, visual learner as well -but the curriculum stands independent enough that you don't need them and we rarely use them now. This was the ticket for her! We finally landed on the right curriculum! We breezed through the books and are currently at her correct grade level for math (we did two grades in just over half a year, to catch ourselves up). I am learning a lot as well. I love that Math U See shows patterns in math, multiple ways to solve a problem to capture most learners and lots of short cuts. If I had been taught math by this method - I would have loved it!
3. A Curriculum Laid Out Clearly for Me
Saxon- I loved that it told me exactly what to say. I didn't love how long the lessons were, the amount of writing for my child and the extensive spiral review that frustrated my child. I felt that it was "the" curriculum to use because it's touted by CC and other Classical Homeschool families. I had to realize one size does not fit all and let go and move on to find what worked for my child, because after all - that is the point of homeschooling!
Right Start Math - this was just too teacher intensive for me with all that's on my plate, too much time preparing each night (on top of tutoring & wonderful wednesdays!), it was a whole new approach to teaching math that required me to start over from the beginning and not intuitive enough for a non-math mommy short on time, like me. I did like a lot of things about it and think it's an excellent math curriculum though. If I was in a different place with my time and had started at the beginning, it would have worked for us, I think.
Abeka Math - just not a good fit for either of us. Bright colorful pages but seemed to jump around on concepts for me and seemed too simple for my daughter. Again, just not a fit for both of us.
Math U See - I love this program. Short, direct, easy to understand math lessons via DVD that we watch together. Lesson sheets are not visually overwhelming, with too many problems on a page. Blocks are nice, but you can even do the program without (which now most of the time, we don't even need them). Review is there but not arduous. Since he is presenting the lesson, there is no conflict -you can't argue with a DVD! No program is perfect. However, this fit both our styles and took the tension between us in me teaching my daughter math, out of the equation. Math U See was a hit for our home!
4. A Systematic Approach to Making Math a Routine Part of our Days
My husband suggested that we make math a part of every day. So, on Saturdays and Sundays we do a quick review sheet of concepts already learned and it requires no intervention from us. She just sits down and does one sheet of review concepts. It might be a page of addition problems, subtraction, multiplication or word problems. It's easy stuff that just keeps the math in the forefront of our home.
We also have added a couple things that make math a little fun and provide a different perspective to concepts we are learning or illuminating concepts we might otherwise not explore on our own or with Math U See. Two books we are currently using are Math Art: Hands on Math Activities and Making Math Meaningful. These we don't do daily by any stretch, but they are great for weeks we're on break or longer days we have time to do extra stuff together.
Summary of Finding Your Child's Place in Math
So what did I learn at the end of that arduous year of M.A.T.H.? I learned to not be afraid to stop and start multiple times if need be, to find the right curriculum for your child's learning style AND your teaching style - because finding the right combination may take some time and now's the time to figure all that out when your children are young! I learned to step away from what everyone else may be touting as the "best thing going" for that particular subject, if it doesn't work for your child or you. I also learned that something seemingly difficult and unlikeable can become something you love, when you have found the right approach for your family. Most importantly, I learned that math is a beautiful view into the mind of God. It shows His design, His order, His sustaining force in our world. I also recognized that this is exactly why I homeschool classically - so I can figure out how my children learn and help them to reach their full potential, while I learn alongside of my children too. I would have said two years ago, that math wasn't my daughter's subject - now, I would say it is. She is very strong in math and I credit it to a lot of prayer, stepping back, seeking wise mentors who have gone before and ultimately, being willing to step out to find what was God's direction and calling for my child in this subject of study.
Today I still have a four letter word for math but now it's L.O.V.E.!