Last year, Sophie declared she hated maths. She would sigh deeply every time I logged her into her online maths course. I decided there had to be a better way to learn this subject. I decided to take the unschooling approach and let Sophie learn maths in her own time in her own way, encouraging her along with some clever strewing of interesting maths experiences. And it was going OK until the other day…
Gemma-Rose wanted to know how to add up decimal problems.
“Grab a piece of scrap paper and I’ll show you,” I offered and then added,“Would you like to try an example?” Gemma-Rose nodded and I wrote out several addition problems.
After completing these correctly, she asked, “Can I have some more please, Mum?”
I wrote out some more and then said, “I should have written these in an exercise book.”
Gemma-Rose’s eyes lit up. An exercise book? That sounded exciting. She'd never used one of those before. She slid off the sofa and headed to the bookshelf, returning with a brand new exercise book. I wrote out several maths problems for her… and then several more.
Sophie appeared. “I’ve been thinking, Mum… Charlotte has lots of interesting books she reads each day. I should have a collection of books too. Do we have any books on electricity?” I pointed to the big bookshelf in the family room and soon Sophie was happily browsing.
Suddenly there was a squeal of delight. “Look what I found!” she cried, holding up several old battered maths text books I’d used years ago with the older children. “Look Gemma-Rose! Here’s one for your age and I could use this one… Can I have an exercise book too please, Mum?”
This morning the girls pulled out those old maths text books. I could hear them talking.
“What do I do?” asked Gemma-Rose.
“You have to write the answers in the exercise book. You write down the number of the question and then the answer... and the date at the top of the page.”
Both girls flipped through the books until they found something they thought looked challenging but not too difficult. They both asked me for help a couple of times. Then it was marking time. “Do you think you could add ticks when I get them right, Mum?”
After about half an hour, Sophie said, “I think that’s enough. Let’s do something else. Will you read some more of Anne of the Island to us please, Mum?" The maths books were abandoned and we all settled down to enjoy a story.
I can't believe it. I spend so much time and effort trying to strew interesting maths experiences in front of my daughters and they are excited by the traditional school text book method. I guess, to them it’s a novelty. Ticks and exercise books, writing the date on the page… these things are all very interesting to someone who hasn't done them before.
Should I object? Perhaps I should jump up and down and cry: "You're unschoolers! Quick! Hide the books before anyone sees!" Should I say, "You'll lose your love of learning doing maths this way"? No. I smile. I think it's very funny.
I get the feeling my girls are playing ‘school’. Do you remember doing that when you were a child? I’d line up my younger sisters, pass out the pencils and exercise books and we’d pretend we were at school. Eventually my sisters would get fed up of having to work and would abandon the game and run off to do something else. It was only the ‘teacher’ that really had any fun.
So I fully expect the girls to eventually run off to do something else too. I am sure they will want a more interesting way to learn this subject. But that’s OK. I won't insist they continue with the text books if they don't want to do it. It would be a waste of time because as Gemma-Rose pointed out, “You can’t make me learn anything I don’t want to learn.” And as Sophie said, "If you want to learn something you have to be interested in it."
I will again have to either leave maths until a time when they see a need for learning it, or I will have to actively strew experiences that will convince the girls they need and want to learn maths. I will have to engage their interest. A real life maths experience? Something that is relevant? Could I repeat something that has worked before?
Could I go to another clothes shop sale and then ask my maths-magicians to help out? Could I get Gemma-Rose to add up my purchases? Maybe she could also add up what I would have spent if I'd bought the clothes at the original prices. Will that involve some work with percentages? Sophie could do that. And how much money will I have saved?
But the big question, the most important question of all is... How will I spend all the money I save? My mind is conjuring up all kinds of possibilities. Maths? It really is a most interesting subject.
We have tried the Mangahigh online maths website. The girls like playing the computer games which need a knowledge of maths. They are not so keen on the more formal maths 'challenges' which are timed. The resources on the website can be dipped into in an informal way which is how my girls have been using them.
My sister Vicky found a site called Yummy Maths which uses real life examples to teach maths. I haven't yet used it although it looks interesting. I think the younger girls would find the problems too difficult. Worked answers and extra resources are accessible for a $12 annual subscription.
And then there's real life experience...