One of the BEST choices I made in our homeschool journey was to do math consistently. We started and stuck with a curriculum called Saxon Math. Only now, as I look back can I fully appreciate the strong foundation and mindset it instilled in all of us and I’m so grateful.
I’m going to make the case that embracing Math is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself and your children. It’s not just about understanding how to do it - it’s deeper than that. When you decide to work at understanding Math concepts and you commit to doing the work, you show your children how to be problem-solvers and that skill and mindset will serve them for all their days.
We want our children to be academically successful yet we often perpetuate the cultural norm that it’s cool and common to be bad at Math. When we look at our child’s Math lesson and joke that “it’s beyond me” or “I am NOT a Math person” we think we are being funny or humble. We are simply agreeing with everyone else that Math is a task to be endured; that it is NOT something worthy of our time and effort. But what we are doing without realizing it is showing our children that it’s okay to give up and not try to figure things out. We don’t do that with sports, so why do we allow it with Math?
The truth is, life does not let us get away with that! There are always going to be problems to solve and solutions to find. When we create a habit and model for our children the process of looking closely at a problem we don’t understand and taking time to use our minds to THINK and WONDER and PONDER and SOLVE a problem we are giving them an important LIFE SKILL!
If you’re not completely annoyed with me at this point (or even if you are), keep reading and I’ll show you how to embrace Math in your home and homeschool.
1) Examine your own mindset. Banish phrases like, “I’m no good at Math.” There’s a good chance you have your own old stories running in the back of your mind about Math, especially if you adopted a belief early in life that you weren’t good at it. If you FEEL inadequate or ashamed about Math, it’s because of the thoughts you are having about it. Really take a moment to write down what thoughts go through your mind when you think about Math. Once you examine your own thoughts, you can change them. You will also realize the power of those thoughts and be more motivated to make sure your children don’t cement negative thoughts in their own minds. Speak life. Do not say, “You are not a Math person.” Say instead, “You might not love Math, but you sure are good at it.” What you think about becomes reality and your attitude towards Math is contagious.
2) Start early* in age-appropriate ways to lay a firm foundation. Early competence breeds confidence and early confidence will fuel your kids when problems get more difficult. Here’s where Saxon Math really helped my children. In the K-3 grade levels, the daily lesson is heavy with routine, repetition and hands on activities.. It included the use of manipulatives which are very effective and fun for young children. I’ll admit, it was a lot of work for me as the teacher. Every day, I would fill out a little form with the daily exercises using money, counting, arithmetic, telling time and later word problems. I would sit and read the lesson with my child at that age because they weren’t yet reading themselves. It took effort and required that I plan a schedule of activities for the other children so I could focus on one at a time.
Only later did I experience the fruit of all that labor and consistency. Once my children could read on their own, they were able to complete their Math lessons on their own. They knew how to read a lesson and do the work because we had done it over and over again together. They also knew that I was invested in their Math success and would help them when they had a question. The habit of doing Math first, every day made it much easier to stay on track. Most of all, they had a firm foundation from all that practice. They knew their Math facts, so addition, subtraction, multiplication and division were easy and didn’t hold them back as their lessons got more complex. As a tutor now, I see often how painful Math is when these foundational pieces are not in place. It is difficult to learn Algebra if you don’t have your multiplication table memorized!
*A clarification about “starting early”: Toddlers can count cars or oranges - but only for FUN. If we radiate joy and wonder at learning, our toddlers and preschoolers will WANT to learn. Even still, no formal lessons are needed at all until age 6 or 7.
3) Make it fun and personal - allow Math to be relatable to every personality and giftedness. I understand that Math will not be every child’s first love, but there are so many ways to make it work for each person so please don’t let that be an excuse to hate it. My oldest daughter is an artist. She’s a day dreamer, a writer and a dancer. Math felt so uninteresting to her but I found ways to make it relatable. When she was little, she loved fairies and spent considerable time building fairy houses in the yard or drawing fairies so, when we came across a multiplication problem, I would say something like, “Oh these mathematicians! Sometimes they use so few words! Let’s pretend that you are hosting a party for 100 fairies. You can sit 10 fairies at each table. How many tables will you need to decorate for the party??” If I had a child that was baffled by long word problems, we would take the opposite approach. “Okay, this feels like way too many words - let’s simplify it by writing what they are saying in numbers and symbols. The word “of” means times, the word “is” stands for =,” etc… Find creative ways to make Math relatable to your kids by talking about it in terms that interest them - Do they love cars, trains, dance, or Marvel heroes? Talk about Math concepts in ways that make it real to your child. Making it fun and personal does NOT mean switching curriculum every 6 months because your child is still not enjoying Math. When you keep switching, you lose time and create holes in your student’s knowledge base. You create a mindset in which the teacher or the tool is blamed for not imparting knowledge well when it is actually the student’s job to take in knowledge and make it their own. So make the best decision possible to find a curriculum that works with your child’s learning style or special needs and then commit to staying the course. If you pick a high quality, well-designed program it WILL do the job if you do. Put your head down and do the work.
Making it fun and personal does NOT mean switching curriculum every 6 months because your child is still not enjoying Math.
4) Be consistent and create habits. Competency breeds confidence and early thoughts about one’s Math abilities stick. When you do these lessons regularly, it becomes less of a burden. We did Math at least 4 mornings a week. It does not work to do Math once or twice a week because concepts are easily forgotten if they are not practiced regularly. It slows progress and creates more moments and memories of NOT knowing how to do something. This is so important especially in grammar school because remembering how to do things and making a habit of working out problems builds character and grows competence. The more moments of success your child has early on, the more skilled your child will be and their confidence will determine their belief about their ability which, as we know, will determine how they feel about their own Math ability for a lifetime.
5) Always be a problem-solver - you don’t have to know all the answers, but you do need to be willing to be curious. Be willing to THINK and PONDER and try different solutions yourself in partnership with your child. Show them how to look back at the explanation in their Math book. Reread the lesson. Be a scholar! You are modeling for them how to solve their own problems later in their schooling and throughout all of life. If you reach an impasse, get help because you WANT to know the answer, not because you’ve given up. This is important. We shouldn’t google the solution or watch Khan Academy or hire a tutor because we have given up but because we WANT to understand.
Life will provide many opportunities to problem-solving either in our work or our homes. A toilet handle will need replacing, a sprinkler will break, a car battery will die, a schedule will need to be adjusted. A can-do mindset serves us for the rest of our lives and it is strengthened by early experiences as a problem-solver.
I’m proof of this concept, having learned many ways to care for a home over the years. I didn’t WANT to have to learn these skills, but I did. Did I feel overwhelmed by household tasks? Yes! Did I WANT to throw in the towel and get someone who was skilled or trained to do them for me? Yes! But I learned to calmly “work the problem” until I found a solution. In the end, it really wasn’t that bad. Math wisdom, my friends. Math wisdom.
I even created a FREE guide so others could learn from me: Fix-It Mama Household Basics.
You see, it’s not about whether you were going to need to use the Pythagorean Formula as an adult, it’s about appreciating the beauty of problem-solving and finding a bit of joy in struggling to reach a solution. So, have I convinced you to value Math more? I hope so. I hope you feel encouraged and a little bit inspired. If you haven’t been doing this, start slowly. Mind your mind and be really gracious with yourself and your children.
The best way to do Math in your homeschool is early and consistently, but it is very common for students to have missed this experience. If this is true for your student, it’s not too late!! We can adjust our thinking at any stage of life. If your student needs help finding some joy and competence in Math, I’m hosting a 4 week class for students who need some encouragement and support. It’s designed for Junior High students preparing to start Algebra.. The goal is to strengthen skills, encourage a love of Math and build confidence. You can read more about it and sign your student up here: Algebra Prep School. Maybe we should have a mom version so we can have fun with Math together. I’ll serve wine.