Monday, March 12, 2012

maths around here

Stephanie over at Ordinary Life Magic is hosting a Wednesday series of what she's calling, with a wink,  "Unschooling Tools".  This week's posts are about Math Play, and as I left a long comment for her, I realized that it might be helpful (to me) to write a bit about what we do, what I think....But first, her post is wonderful, with good resources and links to articles, and I highly suggest a look over yonder.

I suppose my kids' journey into math starts with my own journey, which at best was a squeaking-through of my high-school classes, sweaty palms and crossed fingers figuring in as heavily as all the studying and extra tutoring from my math-whiz friend Brian (whose foot-ball coach Dad taught my trigonometry class).  Looking back at my grades and SAT scores, I did fine, but I have to confess that I really didn't get what was going on. I was put in a gifted math class in 5th grade and it panicked me to meet in the library before school with the real math geniuses; it didn't feel like an honor or a privilege, it made me feel like a closet idiot and I was terrified that someone would find out. I think I would actually really enjoy a math class today, as an adult, but that has more to do with feeling comfortable asking questions, again and again and again until I really understand something. I would be motivated by a desire to understand, not a fear of being found out, and how liberating that would be!
Race to 100 with math manipulatives
I have been most concerned that my kids not inherit my dread of math. I have read  the really inspiring articles by David Albert and Paul Lockhart, as well as many posts about individual families' journeys through math, and I have still had anxiety around the math learning in our home.  What has resulted is a somewhat schizophrenic aspect of our homelearning life, where 364 days of the year I am quick to see all the learning that is happening and should I want to categorize and make lists (which I sometimes do), it is easy to find some box to put all of it in to anyone's satisfaction - and the other 24 hours are spent with me planning how to fit formal math curriculum into our daily lives. Sometimes it has worked - by which I mean, it has easily fit into our flow, it has illuminated some aspect of math function, it has made one of us go "aha!" or "can we do more?".  And sometimes it has not worked - by which I mean, it has become a chore, something to get out of the way. Which is when we stop. 

Math. In the guest bed. With cat.
 The other 364 days, we play. We read books about Fibonacci and fractions and books where witches perform magical multiplication spells.  We play card games, logic games, board games, we fold paper and move our bodies.  We read the wonderful books by Mitsumasa Anno, which introduce so many concepts and ways of thinking in fun and unusual ways.  Ani and I read through Anno's Math Games III this week, and it was everything from seeing triangles to working mazes to reading maps - some of it incredibly challenging for her, some of it familiar, and all of it engaging.  We thumb through Family Math or Peggy Kaye's Games for Math for ideas of pen-and-paper games.   We get out the scales, the measuring cups, the rulers.  We draw calendars and look at thermometers.  We dump all of the various boxes that hold money, and count it.   We figure out how much summer camp will cost and record what money has been found, saved, received, or earned towards it and how much is left to make up.  We put puzzles together. We roll dice. We figure out the beats in the music we listen to and  play, we try counter-rhythms.  We see how high we can count by 3's or 4's or...If my computer was a bit whizzier, I think we would take advantage of some of the online games or software that is available for math; we'll add that in when we can (and Stephanie has a list compiled of those resources in her post).
Anno's Math Games III
And when I worry a bit too much, we do a few days of a new math concept, leaving out the bits that seem boring and jumping ahead when we want to - you know, some days my kids love to "play school" and so this is where we usually go with that - or I "schedule in" the math, which means I make a mental plan for the week and make sure we meet somewhere together on the math plane, with games or conversation or activity or reading.

Sometimes it comes down to understanding how your kids learn.  When Eliza is pushed towards something and she isn't ready, there is nothing that will move her forward except backing off and trying another time. She sometimes responds to a gentle and loving nudge, but knowing when to back off is key on not turning her off of something, whether it's reading or bike riding or math.  If she can learn it through her hands (folding, fitting, making) or her voice (singing!) or her body (jumping equations or patterns, clapping games), she will really enjoy it and learn it without realizing it!  Anika, on the other hand, enjoys numbers and thinks about them and figures them into her imaginative play. She is the one to go get a puzzle to put together or the manipulatives from the math curriculum to build or play with.

Sometimes is comes down to me relaxing a bit and opening my own eyes to the beauty of math, the forms of math, the math that is all around us.  Opening to the enjoyment of math.

Ani completed a maze quite quickly the other day, and when I expressed amazement she giggled and said, "It's 'cause I have a math brain, Mama!" Oh, joy!

*as a postscript...after writing this, I was asking Ani what she'd like to do today, and she told me that it has been a while since we drew clocks and practiced time, and could we do that and maybe do some measuring?  And that's how it happens...


Stephanie said...

Just wonderful. So many lovely ideas!
I like your meandering story-telling much better than my boring list!

Phyllis said...

What a lovely post!! It is the way we think of math, too, but you have put it all down beautifully.

Stephanie said...

As a mom of some math-hating youngsters, I am so inspired by your post! Thank you! I have moved away from a very rigid homeschooling method to one more Charlotte Mason inspired, and I find myself becoming more and more relaxed...Seeking to find a balance that fits our family and works well for my kids and their unique needs. Blogs like yours are so helpful. Thanks again!