by Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
I can’t even count how often I repeat myself to homeschooling parents about math. When we finish testing, parents most often ask me about math curriculum (second most popular topic is about reluctant reader strategies). And I say the same thing over and over like an echo. ALL MATH CURRICULUM DROP THE BALL. There is a ton of math curriculum options out there, but if you want your child to grow comfortable with their own inner mathematician, you have to do more. Well, in some ways you will be doing less. Less textbook work and more real life, out in the world math FUN!
I'll list a few ideas for you here, but if you need some ideas for a specific math skill, just email me. I've got a million of 'em! Check my resources page (by subject listing- Math) for more. You can do this, and even the most reluctant math kid can come to enjoy it!
The best strategy I know is to use games and activities to introduce the math concept. If you feel like you just can't let go of worksheets and textbooks, then use them after the introduction phase. Let's suppose your child needs to learn rounding. Talk about rounding. What it means, and how we know if we should round up or down. On your next trip in the car, play the rounding license plates game. The first 5 license plates you will round the number to the nearest 10. Then try rounding to the nearest 100. Take turns doing it. It will be fun and your kiddo will have the hang of it in no time. Then when you're at the grocery store, talk about rounding off prices. When should you round up or down. Then round the next 5 items you pick up to the nearest dollar. When it's your turn, throw in a few wrong answers (with a straight face) and see if your child catches you. Kids love to catch you making a mistake. When you're out walking the dog, you can play this game with house numbers. Round some of them to the nearest 10, then another batch to the nearest 100, and then some to the nearest 1000 (depending on the house numbers where you are). This is painless learning.
Ok, so that's all well and good for easy stuff like rounding. What about harder math topics? How about fractions? Now we pull out the dice. Just 2 dice will work fine. Sit at the table and take turns rolling the dice, when you roll your two numbers (say 5-2) you have to decide on your fraction. Will you use 5/2 or 2/5? You want to end up with the bigger number of your options. Then the other players roll and make their choices. Now, which of you has the bigger fraction? At first, before you've talked about common denominators, you can use a ruler as a number line to see whose fraction is bigger number. Each person finds where their fraction would be on the number line and you determine who’s is the biggest number. And whoever has the bigger fraction wins that round (a poker chip for the winner!) and that winner gets to decide if the biggest or smallest fraction will win the next time around. Talk about how fractions mean ‘part of something’. Half of a pizza, or one third of a cookie.
Later in the fractions lessons, you can try doubling a recipe. Or cutting a recipe in half. Cookies are a good one to start with. Everyone pays attention when there are cookies at stake. And if you mess up on the ingredients, the cookies suffer, so accurate doubling is important.
After you've introduced your topic and done activities like this, then talk about what the math would look like on paper and do a few worksheet problems, but once a child sighs and collapses in the chair like it's boring or too overwhelming- drop it for a bit. A bored child is paying only a tiny bit of attention to the issue and isn't really going to learn anything in this state. Pump up the interest level and learning happens easily!
A couple more easy ideas:
Human Calculator- On the driveway (with sidewalk chalk) draw a big calculator and call out math problems for your child to step on the numbers and the answer. You can do this indoors if you make a big calculator on the back of the plastic Twister mat (everybody has the game Twister, right? If you don't, check at garage sales or thrift stores- they aren’t hard to find).
The Price is Right- When you get home from a grocery shopping trip, set a few items on the table and add price tags to them (if they aren’t priced). Then ask your ‘contestants’ a few challenging questions. Like, “If I was purchasing these items and I gave you $20, what would my change be?” or “how many cans of soup could I buy for $10 without going over?” With older students you can get into sales tax, etc, but for starters just deal with the cost of each item you’ve selected.
The Tip on Tipping-The next time you’re out to eat and the bill is brought to the table, challenge your kids to calculate a 15% tip. The rules we used were- round up to the next dollar and then figure out 15%. If the kid was right (without any prompting from me) he got a dollar. If he was wrong, better luck next time.
Please take the time to make math interesting. Too many people are intimidated by math, and that's not a good thing. And if you're one of those people, this is your chance to find the fun in math with your child and get over the relationship with math that happened to you in school. See, homeschooling can even be therapeutic!