Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Math struggles

A friend on a list posted something like this:

"My 7yo struggles with math every single day. It takes us at least an hour and a half every day with her crying and we're still getting nowhere. I struggled the same way as a kid, and I'm not enjoying this."

Here's my response:

The great thing about homeschooling is that if what you're doing isn't working, you can do something else! Here are some of my thoughts. This is a subject I really care about. Math is really lots of fun! So if I get too passionate, forgive me. Take anything that works, and toss the rest. You know your family best.

I get that you're expecting a baby soon, and that keeping up with everything is starting to get overwhelming. Honestly, it's ok to just take a break, or at least relax your approach, until the baby is older and you're starting to come out of the baby fog. You could call it "extended spring break" or "unschooling" if you need to explain it to anyone (yourself included!)

7 is so young! I promise, you have plenty of time for her to learn what she'll need as an adult.

There's a fair bit of research that shows that emotional content affects learning. If what you're doing is hard on both of you, you're probably suffering needlessly. Things that have a positive emotional context tend to be remembered, with the positive emotions reinforcing the material. Negative emotions tend to be remembered too, associated with the material, and the material itself isn't remembered.

You say you struggled with math and still don't like it. I bet she picks up on this. She's a smart one. I think finding something you both enjoy, at least a little bit, could really help.

I have a B.S. in Engineering and a minor in mathematics. I loved math after about age 10. Before age 10/11 I was considered "remedial" but after I was "gifted". Both of these labels are wrong, made up to describe a child who doesn't meet the expectation of "average". Honestly, some kids just take longer to grow into themselves, and that is perfectly normal. She just might not be ready. Sometimes we get into our heads that we are "bad" at something, when really we just didn't meet another's arbitrary expectations. Unfortunately we can grow up believing someone else's inaccurate judgment of us.

So with all that in mind here are a few quick ideas to consider:

Set your curriculum aside for a bit. Take a break or try something else.

Play store, use play money to pay and make change. (My kids made up a game on their own where they cut pictures out of catalogs and then "sell" them to each other from their individual "store" and set up their own "house" or "town" using what they've purchased. )

Pennies are great manipulatives. Get some paper change rolls and roll the coins in your change jar. Give them to your favorite charity or use for a family treat.

Check out some books with math puzzles or math games from the library. We have math because it's useful and fun, work together to find out how it's useful and fun in your life.

Games - most games have an element of math in them, just play them! Have some fun! Try anything that uses dice, adds up points, has shapes, etc... Yatzee and Scrabble both use math. Legos, tiles, blocks, etc... all have innate mathematical relationships that help build math intuition.

Take a look at the book "Family Math" it has lots of games at different levels.

Check out Living Math for more ideas of how to "do" math, w/o boring work sheets.

There are so many ways to approach math, don't get stuck in something that isn't working for you.


Jimmie said...

I think you gave her some wonderful advice. I am a math phobic/hater, but I've always very purposely kept that from my child. [I have admitted that I struggled with understanding math in order to sympathize with her.]
I agree that attitude is critical. These early years of learning are so foundational!

April said...

Thanks for commenting Jimmie. I'm kinda tickled that someone I don't know read my blog! How goofy is that? :-)

Did I read correctly? You're in China?