**and Other Tales of Horror**

**Math**.

The very word strikes terror into the hearts of many. And you have to
teach it. If you are now wondering why you ever started homeschooling,
don't despair. There are many life-saving approaches to this most feared
topic. Here are a few we've tried in our family.

I'll admit at the start to a grudging appreciation for math. I don't
know where I'd be without it in cooking, checkbook balancing, store
trips... However, that doesn't make it much easier to like, only to
co-exist. I set out to improve this outlook for Jenny's sake as well as
my own. That is why we eventually developed a very eclectic approach to
math.

In the beginning, we relied primarily on the guidelines of a curriculum
manual and a "hands-on" approach without a formal textbook. By using a
list of goals for each grade as a checklist, we found that using math in
everyday activities, supplemented by some of the more interesting
workbooks, computer programs and other tools, was the least painful
approach.

There are several excellent math packages available for elementary
education (which is the only area on which I can speak from experience).
These are discussed in detail in many curriculum manuals. The package
we ended up with, Miquon Math, worked nicely with our Cuisenaire Rods
and the Annotations Book gave excellent discussions of each math concept
introduced. However, Jenny's learning style proved to be more
free-wheeling than the structured approach of such programs.
"Supplemental" soon became the operative word for our family math
program. Difficult, multi-purposed and interwoven math concepts benefit
from a close scrutiny from as many different perspectives as possible.
Also real-life applications give an extra boost to hammering home a
point. Here's a popourri of tools & techniques that have brought
math to life in our home:

**Workbooks**: When you need to drill on a particular area these can be very helpful. Some we've discovered:

Key To... Books - These very inexpensive workbooks for grades 4-12 cover
the topics of percents, decimals, fractions, geometry and algebra in a
deliberative, thorough, unintimidating fashion. They are designed for
students to work in at their own pace. Jenny often does more that the
assigned pages, which is rare for her in math.

Math Wipe On/Off books, Press & Check cards or Wrapups -
sometimes a gimmick helps sell a rather dull product (Oops! I was going
to improve my attitude, wasn't I?)

Golden Step Ahead books - available at discount and bookstores, these cover the early grades primarily.

Good Apple & Fearon books - covering the basics in all grades as
well as specialty areas like calculator math. Especially enjoyable are
the visual delight worksheets of their "Hooray for Math Facts!" series -
engaging number characters, dynamic twists to learning the basic
skills. Each includes a detachable & copyable practice wheel and
timed tests to retake to measure increasing competency.

Thematic Activity books put out by Good Apple, The Learning Post and
Teacher Created Material, for example, help put math and all other
subject areas into a melting pot of related treats which are often
easier to digest.

**Games**: We often
employ games (one of my favorite topics as you may know from my past
articles), activities and simulations to put some life into bare bones
math.

For early math skills, Jenny enjoyed story-oriented activities built
around the plastic bear counters in the Three Bears Family Fun game.
This included many bears, a colorful cutaway house gameboard and a story
and activity guide book for moving the bears about the house and
answering easy counting questions about the activities. Jenny often
played with the set on her own, it was so enjoyable.

On and off over the years we've resurrected the Wonder Numbers Game,
each time playing a different variation of our own. We especially enjoy
imagining the board is the land of Mathematica, where interesting
things can happen in different locations: side activities tied to
certain squares, prime number "cities" where you draw a word problem
card worth bonus points or a prize. We sometimes use felt numbers or
bear counters or Cuisenaire Rods to collect as prizes. They are added up
at the end of the game, or certain ones multiplied, subtracted, divided
to find out the winner. Infinite variations are possible.

Activities like dominoes, flash cards, and games using math like Made
for Trade (colonial history and math rolled into one) and Monopoly. We
introduced her to it at age 7 by simplifying the rules. The practice
gained with money and land transactions was invaluable for instilling
the desire to build math skills. Another game that we have applied to
all areas of study is our old original Trivial Pursuit gameboard.
Instead of drawing the cards it came with, we use questions from
categories on our Brain Quest game cards. Similar Q&A cards or
charts could be used or made to extend the usefulness of an all-purpose
gameboard. Sources for several Trivial Pursuit-style games are listed
under the Resources sidebar.

Recently we've expropriated a poster-size blank map of the USA to use as
a game board. Many variations of rules later, we came up with a method
of moving from state to state by rolling a die and going 100 miles times
the number that came up. A second blank die was labeled with various
compass directions to tell us which way to travel. (Math note: combined
the two dice give you a vector.) Then just lay down your ruler in the
right direction, measure and move.

**Reading**: Math doesn't
really come to life until you get into word problems. And an excellent
source for word problems can be a good book. Often you'll find
information which can be calculated out. Reading Lewis Carroll's Through
the Looking Glass, you might come up with: All the king's soldiers and
men had just been set loose in the forest to put Humpty back together
again: all 4,207 of them except for 2 needed in a game. If all the
soldiers had horses, except the two missing of course, how many horses
and men were there altogether? What if only half the soldiers were on
horseback?...

If you are reading history books, biographies or historical novels, try calculating how many years ago the events happened. How long did the period of the book extend?...

The Bible is an excellent source for math-related stories. We worked
several nice sessions out of Joseph's dividing of the crops to save a
seventh for the famine years using craft wheat for counters. Also
converting Hebrew units of measure to the standard or metric system. And
while you're measuring, ever try creating a model of the temple of
Jerusalem? All the measurements are laid out in the book. All you need
to do is introduce the concept of scale modeling for a really fun
creation! And then there is the book of Numbers. What more need I say?

hspace=10
For relaxed math reading, we read together excerpts from the math
section in What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know (available for grades
1-6). I have enjoyed this book for helping to give a brief over view of
all subject areas.

Then there is algebra. Even the name makes you feel like you're entering
a foreign land. I'm sure that's the way a teenage girl named Wendy
Isdell felt when she was inspired to write A Gebra Named Al. It is a
delightfully whimsical approach to understanding algebra, chemistry and
related topics in math and science. This contest-winning story is now a
book published by Free Spirit Publications. There is also a teacher's
guide covering science, math, general activities and vocabulary. Jenny,
working on 4th grade math and science, loved the tale. We found
ourselves looking up the periodic table of elements and playing around
with algebraic expressions, although she's had no formal introduction to
algebra yet. Somehow math seems less intimidating when you can first
meet informally. A friendship is so much more enduring than a business
relationship, especially when it comes to math.

**And Writing**: A recent
idea we had is writing a short story with built-in math problems.
You've heard of word problems, I guess these are story problems. Our
topic will be, of course, a day in the life of an ornithologist named
Jenny.

**Art**: We began
learning about ratios to meet a need: Jenny wanted to draw realistic
figures. To help, I showed her a technique for measuring sizes of body
parts in terms of the character's head. For example, a bird's body may
be 2 heads wide, 3 heads long, the tail 3 heads...

**TV: Yes, TV**: that two
letter word. Have you tried the weekday PBS educational shows lately?
Around here, we get instructional programming from 9 - 3:30. For a small
fee, we can get a detailed listing of the actual classes being taught,
usually in 15 minute segments. Math programs (by grade) include
problem-solving series like: It Figures (4), Math Works (5) Solve It (6)
and for economics on a down-to-earth level: Econ and Me (3-4).

**Balances**: Starting
with a $3 plastic number counters & balance set, we have both
developed a love of balances. We have constructed a simple one from
scrap lumber which has been used to weigh and measure everything from
Cuisenaire Rods to the plastic bear families.

Speaking of balances, Dr. Borenson's Hands-On Equations learning system
is an excellent tool for teaching equation principles, highly
recommended for 3rd grade and up.

**Graphing**: Here's an
activity that works well with many areas of interest for Jenny: charting
the eventual length of all the fish in her tank using an aquarium fish
book; sorting her critter collection (plastic dinosaurs, stuffed
dinosaurs, stuffed birds...) and making a chart of the total number of
each classification; sorting and eating colored candy like M&Ms;
graphing occurrences of different state birds (you may be surprised at
how many times the Western Mockingbird pops up).

Now that we are moving into more advanced graphing, measurements,
computing averages and other useful topics, we are finding more
practical applications which we all can appreciate. Jenny's current
passion is conducting detailed bird tallies graphed by species and day
observed, with monthly averages. She is even posting her results,
finalized on an adult computer program, Graphtool, in her dad's office
(where many bird fans reside).

In fact, Jenny's become so fond of graphing, she likes graphing her
progress on periodic math quizzes. Hooray for... series has such quizzes
in each of their books. I've recently created a timed quiz covering
most 4th grade math skills which Jenny takes every few weeks. She posts
her results in a table and graph we set up together in an Excel
spreadsheet. She's actually asked to take the test more frequently so we
can add another blip to the chart. By the way, best tests are posted on
the refrigerator for everyone to ooh! and ah! over.

**Incentives**: Sometimes
a little encouragement helps the math go down. Consider using stickers
pasted to a do-it-yourself posterboard scene. Coated posterboards give a
decent peel & replace surface or you can cover the finished scene
with clear, vinyl adhesive. There are many other potential prizes for
completion of assignments, tests well done... Mini-science kits makes
great awards as well.

**SOYP**: My favorite approach is the Seat-Of-Your-Pants (SOYP) technique. Some examples:

- Trips to the store - Let them go in with a shopping list (not too
long for the younger students) and a certain amount of money. Consider
putting them in charge of store coupons (easy on the junk items,
please). You may want to let them pocket the money saved as added
incentive.

If they want and need help making choices, discuss the options
available, give hints to figure out if there is enough money, how much
change they'll get back... And be sure to let them take it to the
cashier themselves. A small, quiet store is best for first trips. For
our first outing, we went to a small bookstore for one book. We even
rehearsed shopping at a store, one of our favorite simulations. We set
up a number of reading books, comics, bookmarks, a play cash register
and price tags for each book or sale shelf of books. Then Jenny enters
the store with a certain amount of money (we use real or play money
depending on what's handy). She carefully plans how many books she can
buy using most of her money but never more. I, as cashier, do the final
tally (to make sure her math is correct), give her change, bag the books
and thank her for her patronage.

- Ordering from catalogs can be a grand adventure in math. Jenny's
favorites are the bird catalogs: "Can we afford six Canada geese and a
pair of ruddy ducks or should we get the canvasbacks instead? We are all
into seed and plant catalogs in winter. It takes some real math
juggling to figure out the most economical assortment of proper plants
for your hardiness zone that will fit in your garden and mature at the
right time. Pretty pictures help a lot. You may want to let them cut out
pictures and description for projects when done with the catalog.

- Math and cooking. One of my favorite activities for fraction
math, as those who read my bread article in the March/April issue know.

- Just watching the stars can be greatly enhanced with a simple
star chart. Bear in mind, however, knowledge of simple geometry and
calculating angles will be necessary as well as some solid geography and
astronomy. This can lead into navigating by the stars which we read
about in Christopher Columbus' log book. We even constructed a simple
device to measure the angle a star is above the horizon using a
protractor with a plumb bob (long string with a weight at bottom) tied
to its pivot point.

- Building projects abound in our family. Ten-year-old Jenny can now
take an active part in planning, measuring, cutting and assembling bird
houses, feeding stations, and barns for our ever-growing bird
population.

Sometimes the SOYP approach can put you in unexpectedly deep water when
you get ahead of the text book (now where did I put that thing?!?).
There are times you may be shaky on a topic yourself. While it's
reassuring to be a step ahead of your students, free-wheeling studies
don't always permit it. Just remember, it's okay to admit ignorance.
Proceed slowly together with good reference material or an explorer's
best tools: pen and paper and brain. Also remember encyclopedias, books
or those great CD-ROMs like Encarta can provide succinct, easy-reading
explanations on a particular math area. There are some excellent general
math books for high school and college which give a good overview of
all basic math topics. You may also want to check out the remedial math
texts used by colleges.

***

**Final Thought** Math
can be snuck into most any study, but don't feel obligated to drum the
point in at every opportunity. Back off and let children discover on
their own. I like to keep in mind the words of warning of one of my
favorite critics, homeschooling mom Laura Weston: "Doing something for
the sheer joy of it is the best lesson we can give our children."

© 1995 Leslie Wilson

**Do you have problems with math? **

**Add your quick reply below:**

I have problems with Algebra. It is the only math that didn't make sense to me. Fractions, basic computation, even geometry made complete sense to me but "foiling" and anything beyond "solving for x or y" forget it. My son LOVES math. So far graphing in particular, though he is also a big fan of patterns.in fact today, he did his graphing worksheet in a pattern(gluing the pictures a certain way in each row to make a pattern)! I liked math a lot at his age so I'm hoping it keeps going throughout his education. It remains to be seen if he will hit the same roadblock I did.(I sure hope not!)

Nope, I love math. D is pretty good with it, but he is having a hard time with fractions right now. Just gotta find a way to get it through to him.

I have some problems with algebra but it is so much better since having had to teach the kids.

Quoting Molimomma:I have problems with Algebra. It is the only math that didn't make sense to me. Fractions, basic computation, even geometry made complete sense to me but "foiling" and anything beyond "solving for x or y" forget it. My son LOVES math. So far graphing in particular, though he is also a big fan of patterns.in fact today, he did his graphing worksheet in a pattern(gluing the pictures a certain way in each row to make a pattern)! I liked math a lot at his age so I'm hoping it keeps going throughout his education. It remains to be seen if he will hit the same roadblock I did.(I sure hope not!)

lol - Sounds like my kids and me. They all do it in their heads while I only can a little bit. :) They just laugh and say.. someday, maybe when I grow up, I'll understand. LOL

Quoting travelingmomto4: My oldest is 15 and Math has always been tough with her, my 3rd child is 9, he doesnt understand why his sister uses a multiplication table. Its all in his head lol. Every kid is different and ones strengths is anothers weakness. My oldest is very artistic so we are trying to find ways to connect those for her. Graphic design is very mathmatical and that is her goal.

I was not at good at math at all, until I got into college then it made sense. I think they way they taught it was just different and it made more sense. My DD is really good at fractions and multiplication and geometry but for some reason stuggles with regrouping addition and subtraction problems.

I had trouble with groupings myself. I don't remember how i finally clicked with it though. Maybe I can find something that might help. What have you tried so far?

Quoting Lordgodempress:I was not at good at math at all, until I got into college then it made sense. I think they way they taught it was just different and it made more sense. My DD is really good at fractions and multiplication and geometry but for some reason stuggles with regrouping addition and subtraction problems.

**Add your quick reply below:**

- kirbymom

on Apr. 10, 2015 at 4:35 PM