Math should be practical and real, not daunting.

While many people don’t like history, at least an equal number say they don’t like math, and that they were never good at it. Usually what that means is that they had a teacher who didn’t know how to teach children who don’t think logically. It takes someone creative to teach an unmathematical brain math. Finding math curriculum takes some research. Look around. You’ll find something you can work with.

We started with me finding math worksheets from various places online and printing them. The abundance of freely available resources especially for the younger grades can be overwhelming. I found sites that allow you to generate a new worksheet for the subjects you have chosen with each click of the print button, like The Math Worksheet Site. I found out the sorts of things to print by creating my own curriculum.

I might still be compiling my own math had we not moved from a large Victorian house into a 32 foot camper. Since we did, I had to research math curriculum and decide what to use going forward. I asked other homeschoolers I knew what they used. I read Cathy Duffy Reviews. She reviews curriculum for homeschoolers on almost every subject you might teach your child and is a great resource to find what is available, and what her comments are. I also looked at some examples of what others used and heard why they’d chosen what they did.

We chose to go with Singapore Math for one main reason. They use an abundance of word problems. I’m sure those very words elicited a sigh from you which was likely accompanied by the thought something along the lines of, “I hate word problems.” Here’s the secret to successful math learning: word problems take numbers and place them in real life, real situations you may encounter.

This was an example of math homework I gave my oldest child, then 9 or 10 years old, one morning. “Here’s my Betty Crocker cookbook,” I said. “Find the pancake recipe and I want you to make a double batch for breakfast.” He found the recipe, followed it without any interaction from me and made 2 major mistakes. Instead of 6 teaspoons of baking powder, he used 6 tablespoons of baking soda. In case math still isn’t your strong point, with 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, that means he tripled the amount he needed. He also misread the leavening ingredient, assuming he knew what it was by stopping after the first word, baking. We ate them, absolutely drowning in maple syrup, though I had to relent with the last one which made its way into the garbage. The soda was overwhelming. Guess what his math was the next day? “Here’s my Betty Crocker cookbook. Find the pancake recipe and I want you to make a double batch for breakfast.” They were perfect! Math is real. Make it real!

We use math every single day. It’s used in baking, science, any kind of measuring whether it’s driving miles or counting down hours until dinner, how much the bunch of bananas weighs and therefore costs, budgeting, counting steps or miles to the neighbor’s house and finding out how much gas it costs, estimating, counting cans to figure out how much you should get as a refund.

Here are some ideas of ways to make math real.

  • Recycling cans for cash: I used to have my children multiply the number of empty soda cans by 5 to know exactly how much money we should get as a refund. If they were correct, they kept the money. If they were wrong, mommy got the money. They usually made double sure they were right!
  • Estimating and budgeting: When we go shopping, I make them estimate our end cost as we add groceries into the shopping cart. Income from correctly estimating is somewhat age-dependent, but generally speaking, if they estimate within $1 of the end cost BELOW budget, they get $0.25. If they are over the cost, they don’t get anything. If they nail it on the nose, they get $1. (After just one trip to the dollar store, this mommy came out poorer but wiser, and laid down the law that the above reward did not stretch into any dollar store!)
  • Baking extra batches: While you’re making cookies, pancakes or waffles (or cakes for that matter), have your child bake an extra batch, multiplying all the ingredients in their head to make the right amount, then freeze them and bring them out for a treat.
  • Estimate time of arrival: On a trip, have them work out what time you anticipate arriving somewhere, taking into account the distance and speed you’re driving. These trips can be 15 minutes away to the grocery store or 6 hours away to visit Grandma. Even my youngest, before she learned anything about formulas to calculate such things, could figure out that traveling 60 miles at about 65 miles an hour would get us there in about an hour.
  • Work out the actual cost of a meal: Let’s say you’re going to make burgers. You could buy ground beef, measure out ¼ pound patties, buy the buns, and then work out how many burgers you got from the package of beef, how much each bun costs and come up with an approximate cost for a burger. (Then compare that to what you pay if you ate that out and calculate your savings.)
  • Grocery lists: Make a meal plan and have your children help assemble grocery lists according to that, OR get the sales flyers, make a list and see what you can make with the groceries on sale.

All these are word problems. “If we have 45 cans at 5c a can, how much money am I going to get?” etc.  Practical usage of the word problems that are on paper. They’re actually exciting, and I’m guessing you didn’t realize that you actually use them daily yourself.

It’s important to understand the use and place of math in your daily life. Understanding how to work out theory on paper doesn’t transcend into understanding the practical application of it in real life. It’s our job as homeschooling parents to reach and teach our children math, despite our own tendency (or lack thereof) to understanding it. In teaching them, you too will learn and gain an understanding that perhaps your school teachers never took the time to ensure you got.

You can make any curriculum work for you, but if you expect it to do all the work for you, you’re not going to be embracing what homeschooling is all about and the ability it gives you to make learning real.

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