Few subjects cause knees to tremble and hearts to pound like that of mathematics. For many of us, the daily struggle through math class was as much a part of our routine as deciding what to wear. When we combine such negative personal experience with the requirement to educate our own children in this area, it can be downright daunting. It’s no wonder one of the most common questions fielded when we share our intent to homeschool is “What will you do about math?”
Fortunately, with the wide variety of curriculum and resources readily available, the most intimidating aspect of teaching math boils down largely to determining which one to use. There is no doubt that math, even at upper levels, can be successfully mastered in the homeschool environment. The key is in determining which approach will work best for your child.
A child in public or Christian school is tied to the curriculum of choice regardless of their learning style, ability or confidence level. We are blessed to be free from the one-size-fits-all standard. The ability to tailor educational tools to the individual needs of our child is one of the greatest advantages we have as homeschooling parents.
The big question is how do we determine which method or program is right for our child? In all honestly, there is no black and white answer. There are, however, several factors to take into consideration as you make curriculum and resource choices.
First and foremost, it is important to instill “math-confidence” in your child. This begins in the early years by teaching your child the many ways in which numbers, measurements, weights, etc. are a part of daily life. Positive interactions with numbers in a non-threatening and concrete way remove the fears that can surface when a student is met by abstract, meaningless numbers on a page.
It is entirely possible to go without a formal math curriculum the first several years of elementary school simply by using life as your textbook. Your child can learn to count money, measure, tell time, estimate, make graphs and charts, identify shapes, and more simply by spending time with you. As you play store, build a birdhouse, make cookies or create art, discuss the mathematical component in what you are doing. A good Scope and Sequence can assist you in covering all your bases.
Even at an older age, it is crucial to continue these real-life learning experiences. Supplement your curriculum by having your student balance a checkbook, figure interest, create a budget, calculate gas mileage, build a playhouse or start a small business. These activities not only prepare them for life, but prevent math from becoming simply an abstract concept.
As a child enters mid to upper elementary, a formal curriculum becomes more desirable. We must remember, however, that curriculum is a tool to be used to our best advantage. Grade levels can be arbitrary. What is considered third grade work in one curriculum can be the equivalent of fifth grade work in another. Place your child according to ability rather than grade level. Do not feel bound to complete every page and problem as presented. If your child has fully mastered a concept, skip drill in that area. If your child is experiencing difficulty with a particular skill, consider supplementing with a resource that presents it differently.
Likewise, do not bind yourself to one particular curriculum for life. Because one child responds well to a certain program doesn’t guarantee that another will. We must be sensitive to the needs of each child and open to new options ourselves. Learning styles play a large role in the right curriculum choice for each child.
A kinesthetic learner responds well to a program that relies heavily on manipulatives and will enjoy games and computer software. An auditory learner will appreciate CD’s like Schoolhouse Rock and a lecture-style teaching format. A visual learner will enjoy a workbook or text with bright graphics and examples.
Ask questions about your child. Do they enjoy workbooks? Do they work well independently or do they prefer adult interaction? Are they content to move forward at a steady pace or are they eagerly seeking the next challenge? Do they struggle with issues of self-confidence? Do they find that drills are an affirmation of their skill or simply a bore?
If your child has difficulty retaining new learning a program like Saxon Math that incorporates incremental review will be helpful. If your child quickly and easily grasps new ideas and enjoys a challenge Singapore Math may be a good choice. A child lacking in confidence may find comfort in the drill and practice of Rod & Staff.
Many of these publishers have samples on their websites that are available for preview. Borrow from friends and let your child try a few lessons from various programs. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into making a decision. If necessary, use workbooks from Walmart or Costco until you have a good sense of what the best fit is. Time invested in finding the right program is time well spent.
By high school, many homeschoolers are largely independent in their math studies. While it is certainly possible to learn successfully from a text, more and more students are taking advantage of the many interactive DVD or video math programs now available. Switched-On Schoolhouse, Saxon’s DIVE CD’s, and Systematic Mathematics are only a few of the programs receiving positive reviews.
As you take the time to know your child and determine the curriculum best suited to his needs, use that curriculum as a flexible, adaptable tool, and pair it with outside resources and real-life learning, you practically guarantee a successful home education in mathematics.