Math is one of those subjects that many people think is beyond their capacity to teach. As a child my math skills were less than stellar, so the knowledge that I was going to be teaching my children math was a little overwhelming. I ended up choosing a curriculum that required very little involvement on my part because the lectures were on DVD. All I had to to was check the answers in the back of the text book and if they had questions they could ask their father.
Over the last few years I have learned a few things that have helped me gain confidence in my ability as a math teacher.
Math IS Important!
It’s not always fun but math is very important. You need to be able to do it without a calculator. Don’t be afraid to pull out your child’s math book and read a chapter.
You ARE good at math
Math is a not a mystery. As a parent it takes VERY little time to relearn the things that you may have forgotten. I can’t tell you how many times I would sit down to read the lesson before I taught it to Lucy only to discover that the very same concepts that eluded me as a teenager came easily to me. I hadn’t touched fractions in any measure beyond cooking in over a decade and yet I have been able to teach fractions with ease.
Literature Can Help with Math
First of all, if your state allows you some leniency, then don’t push it. You would be surprised at how far a child can get without any formal math instruction. Like with reading, don’t worry about pushing math unless it is interfering with their quality of life. Just like with potty training, mastering a math concept can take your child a day or a year. Don’t push it until they are ready.
Using story books you can help little kids understand mathematical concepts before you start formal teaching or if your child is struggling with a specific concept.
The Sir Cumference series is wonderful for little kids. There are seven or so in the series and they are wonderful for explaining concepts in story format. There is so much mathematical literature for children that I can’t even begin to count them all.
Mathematicians Are People, Too
This series are full of short stories about the mathematicians that shaped our world.
One Minute Mysteries
You may remember my review of One Minute Mysteries: 65 Short Mysteries You Solve With Science. Well, there is also one for math. I haven’t read it but if it is anything like the science book it is well worth a read.
I just recently heard about this series. I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t vouch for it, but I’m certainly interested!
And there are some excellent works of fiction that can teach kids (and adults) about math. Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune is an excellent book that teaches kids about economics. Maybe if we can get enough people to buy his book, he’ll write the much needed sequel!
How Math Works
How Math Works by Reader’s Digest has a lot of valuable historical and background information. It is by no means a comprehensive mathematical book, but it has some fun projects and history that my kids have enjoyed.
Traditional Math Curriculum
These are excellent resources but you can only go so far with them. Eventually you will have to get yourself some instructional books that will actually teach your child math. My suggestion is to do your research and find the best curriculum that will work for your family. There is no RIGHT math curriculum. We started off with Saxon but ended up switching to Math-U-See because Emma needed a different approach.
I was also able to review TouchMath with Spencer and in my opinion it is the best of the three. TouchMath only goes up to 2nd grade though and it can be a little pricey (though it comes with a license for multiple printing for family use so that may factor in to the cost.) The most important thing for you to remember when selecting a math curriculum is that YOU (mom/dad/teacher) need to be knee deep in it. You can’t just hand them the text book and call it a day. I did that for a while and it came back to bite me.
Life of Fred
I promise that yes, you ARE good at math. If you are still nervous however, Kahn Academy has been great in reminding me about certain mathematical algorithms.
Once you have decided how you are going to go about teaching your child arithmetic there are a lot of supplemental resources that can help reenforce the skill.
Life of Fred is EXCELLENT. It follows the story of five year old Fred, a professor at a local university. Life of Fred is not a replacement curriculum but works hand in hand with Saxon or whatever else you choose. The reason why it is so valuable is because it helps children think mathematically. Life of Fred helps children (and adults) fall in love with numbers and math. Saxon helps us learn the algorithms and formulas. I purchased Apples just to try it out and my children were just thrilled. They love it, I love it, and it is worth the extra cost. The day we started reading it I got such a good response that I got online and ordered four more (the next in the series and then three to help Lucy with reducing fractions and long division).
Math Doesn’t Suck
I have been mostly pleased with Math Doesn’t Suck (yes, that is Winnie Cooper). The only problem I have with it so far is that it makes a lot of cultural references that my children won’t understand and that I don’t love (aka. horoscope, etc.). This serves the same purpose as Life of Fred. It helps kids see the real world application of math.
Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe
A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe is another book that helps us fall in love with numbers and think mathematically. I can’t wait to get my hands on it but I promised Matt I wouldn’t open it until my birthday. Once I do get a chance to read it I will tell you what I think 🙂
I love, love, LOVE Dragon Box. It is an app that you can buy for your apple products or android. You can also get it for your Mac desktop. This app incrementally teaches children the logic behind algebraic formulations in a super fun (and slightly addicting) game. The first several levels use pictures instead of numbers and they try and isolate the “box” on just one side of the screen. Every few levels they get a new “power” which is really just another step in algebraic formulas. After a few hours of playing this game they are completing complex algebra problems perfectly. There are two versions, a 5+ and a 12+. I suggest just getting the 12+ because it’s basically the same thing and my three year old can play it just fine.
Math Rider is a program that helps them master the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables. There are also a lot of books out there that can help your kids understand mathematical concepts. For more suggestions on math classics go to TJED.com.
Math is just one of those subjects that requires you to get out of your comfort zone. That’s ok. Pushing that comfort zone is the only way to get improve in life.
And remember that you never stop learning… even math.