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Home Education: Easy Math Games

alec vanderboom

Next week I have my home-school review. This semester I really pushed the limits of unschooling. For most of the Spring Semester Mom was either hugging a toilet, howling on the floor in back-pain, or unconscious with allergy symptoms. 2010 was truly the year of the "child led curriculum." I made 3 trips to library the entire semester and I didn't have time to artfully 'strew' interesting projects around the house. As I compile my kid's work for their portfolio review, however, I'm shocked that unschooling works. My kids did actually learn stuff. Here's a quick review of our math work.

2010 was the year I officially pitched Math-U-See. I thought this was a dazzling math program when Hannah was 4. Unfortunately, it's still set up in a typical "linear", classroom type manner. Hannah got stuck on "number placement" which is covered in lesson 2. She's got her numbers memorized up to 30, but she doesn't see the relationship between 0-9, 10-19, and 20-29. With their cute "decimal street" pictograph Math-U-See promised me that this was an easy concept to master. Instead, Hannah and I have sat on this issue since the first month of Kindergarten.

Thankfully, I realized that Math is a great subject to home-school on the fly. I've got a mental note on where both of my kids are stuck in Math. We sort of dance around learning different concepts and wait for that one concept to fully gel in their mind. For example, because Hannah has really figured out that the numbers 31-39 model the number 0-9, I just simply don't go over number 30 in any of our math problems. So instead of learning to count to 100, we've actually stayed in the small numbers and learned DIVISON this year!

It's shocking to me, but division can make complete sense to a 1st grader! At least for Catholic siblings! My kids entire focus in life is to make sure that all the Benjamin siblings get an equal share of candy, gum, toys, etc. I made up a super fun Division Math Game. We took our large collection of rubber bouncy balls and our four Zhu Zhu pets. I asked Hannah to close her eyes and then placed different numbers of Zhu Zhu pets and bouncy balls in front of her. "Can you make sure that each Zhu Zhu pet gets an equal amount of balls for the party?" Then I had Hannah record her answers with the division sign and different colored pencils for the pet and the balls. The color change kept her consistently dividing by the right number.

A second fun Math game involves Addition. We get a thousand Oriental Trader magazines at our house. I told Hannah to pick out party favors for an imaginary party.I asked "How much money does Mommy need to give you to order your supplies?" We cut up pictures of the items and glued it on some paper. (I rounded up the cents on each item into whole dollars.) Then I asked Hannah to add up the cost. There was even a handy graph with Greater, Less Than and Equals Signs to estimate the shipping cost.

Another fun way to teach "Greater or Less Than" is to play the card game War with your kid. Write a Greater Than Sign on a small piece of paper and place a Less Than Sign on the other side. On a separate piece of paper make the Equal Sign. Explain that the Greater Than Sign is a hungry alligator who always wants to eat the bigger number. (We put teeth and eyes on our Greater Than Signs). Play War. Each time you finish a hand, ask the kids to place the hungry alligator facing the right way. If you tie, bring out the equal sign.

A big break-through I had this year was how to teach Math to a left-handed kid. Hannah has a terrible time with reversing her numbers. In Math, if you reverse a "2" and a "5" you automatically get zero credit for your work. Hannah also just hates handwriting in general. We ended so many Math session early because of her total frustration with writing "boring" numbers.

What finally worked for me was to separate Hannah's Math lessons into several steps. Step A: I just let Hannah talk through a problem, no hand writing required. This lets us focus purely on her understanding of the concept. We usually do about 10-15 oral math problem before moving on to written ones. Step B: I get Hannah to record some problems in her "scientific journal." I let the handwriting look messy. I let the numbers get all reversed. Step C: I tell her that we need to record some of our work for her "teacher" (our home-school reviewer.). I get a fresh sheet of paper. I also have a number line with the numbers 0-29 written out.) At this point, we recopy her work in a slow, careful manner. I always prompt her "Did you mean it to be a 2 or a 5? Look at the number line and decide which way the number needs to point."

With this new method we "officially record" less than 10 problems a day. However, our Math lessons are SO much easier! I'm really happy to stress that Math needs precision. If Hannah wants to do well in Math (a subject she naturally loves) she needs to make herself double check her answers. This is one of the most amazing reasons to home-school! No one else is going to care as much as a parent. Hannah's got a natural ability in Math, but her brain is also giving her some stumbling blocks. It's so beautiful to take the time to give her the skills and coaching that she needs to succeed in a favorite subject.