Being Flexible in Teaching Math

14 Dec 2016

Flexibility is one of the greatest advantages of homeschooling. You can move as quickly or as slowly as necessary for each child to learn the subject. You do not need to stick to someone else’s scope and sequence; you can create our own based on your child’s individual needs interests and development. I would like to address the benefits of flexibility in the area of math.

One way to take advantage of this flexibility is in the pace you use to go through the material. You do not have to accomplish a grade level each year. If your child is understanding the material quickly and seems bored or frustrated with doing all of the problems, then cut out some of the problems and move on. If he is having difficulty, then slow down, or take a break and come back a few weeks later. If you decide that your student would benefit from a longer break from math, then take one, but I encourage you not to just stop doing math altogether. You’ve heard the expression, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This concept is especially true of math. Never stop doing math for very long. Even if you take summer breaks from school, math is one subject you don’t want to completely avoid. If you determine that your child needs a break from progressing, then keep doing review even when you are not introducing new material.

My oldest daughter, who is now a college graduate with degrees in math and music and a homeschooling mother, was always good at math. I could tell from an early age that she was good in this subject. Until third grade, we didn’t really do a structured math program in a consistent way. As I explained in my article, “Math and the Young Child” (2015 fall GREENHOUSE), we concentrated on real life math and games and used math programs lightly. When she was going into the third grade, I started her in a sixth grade math book. Because this book started with so much review (a common thing in math textbooks because they assume that students will have forgotten a lot over the summer), we were able to use the review in this book to cover the math concepts that would have been taught in the previous years’ math books without having to do very much supplemental work. She spent two years working through this book. She did well academically, but she hated math. This bad attitude was a major red flag for me. One of my goals was for my children to have a good attitude about learning. I had to do something to fix this problem, especially since I knew she was gifted in this area. So, we took the next year off from progressing in math. I did consistent review for this year. However, the review did not take much time, so it really was a break. When she came back to a math program during the sixth grade, she had a much better attitude. (I need to add here that it was MathCounts that turned her into a math lover. (MathCounts is a problem solving club and competition for middle school students. To find out more about MathCounts, go to mathcounts.org.)

I tell you this story to show an example of the creativity you can have in the homeschool environment. You are not locked into the traditional program of conquering a math book a year and staying on grade level. Also, don’t feel that you have to use the same curriculum every year. You can alternate or switch books if you don’t like the one you are using. Different programs work better for different students. I also recommend that you do math along with your student when at all possible, especially in the elementary grades and if this is a first child. It will help you review the math concepts, and it is also good for your student to work closely with you. Remember that your attitude about a subject is more important than your knowledge about it. I remember pretending to be fascinated with the discovery of bugs and snakes when my children were little. If I can do this, you can pretend to like math if you are one of those people who hates math. You don’t have to pretend to be good at it, though. It is good for your child to see you learning with him.

As a homeschooler, you have the advantage of being able to be flexible. You can mold your curriculum and methods around your student’s learning style, developmental stage, interests and calling. You also have the advantage of knowing your student well and working one on one with him or her. Don’t be fearful that you will not keep up with the standard scope and sequence. Your child is not standard; he is unique. It takes courage to veer off the beaten path. You have already decided to homeschool—now decide to use its advantages and be flexible.

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