The pressure is real: kids are expected to master certain skills at certain ages in our culture, and math is one subject that makes many homeschoolers feel anxious. We research curriculum after curriculum, we push our kids to do more and know more at younger ages, and we stress over falling "behind."
But if we can take a step back, and be willing to look beyond grade-levels, we can find the bigger picture. What do we really want for our kids with regards to math?
I think the real long-term goal for many of us is to have children (and later, teens and adults) who aren't just proficient in math, but also enjoy it. To not just know their times tables or how to solve a quadratic equation, but to also find the delight in understanding how math works in the world around them.
Delight in math?!? Yes, that really can be one of the goals! And if we open ourselves to that possibility, many of the typical math learning methods fall woefully short. Drill-and-kill, textbooks, math problems ad nauseam with no connection to real math in our lives, testing to see who is "behind" and obsessing over specific math skills - these methods prevent the delight in math from germinating.
It's All About the Environment
So, how do we foster both proficiency and delight in math? It comes down to the environment we are creating. In the early years of our homeschool, I learned firsthand what doesn't work well: If we require our kids to stop playing to do their math work, they will hate math. If we force our kids to do a certain number of math problems every day, they will dread math. If we test our kids and tell them they are behind in math, they will feel like failures.
What if, instead, we show our kids that the purpose of learning math isn't to be able to complete problems on a worksheet, but to be able to manage and understand the world around them? We can do this by:
finding ways to connect math to our everyday lives
playing lots of games together, not for the math, but for the fun, and the math practice happens along the way
reading books that involve math on our own, and then sharing interesting concepts with our family over dinner
finding ways to connect math with our kids' own individual interests
A Math-Rich Environment
Math doesn't have to be about textbooks and worksheets! We can make learning math a natural part of our everyday lives, showing our kids that math is relevant and interesting. We can set-up our home environment to encourage math exploration by having math manipulatives, rulers, tangrams and pattern blocks, tape measures, graph paper, and even simple calculators.
If we look around, math really is everywhere in our lives, from baking to shopping to arranging furniture to road trips to gardening to laundry and everywhere in-between.
Math is there in Legos, chores, daily routines, playdates with friends, the music we listen to, the weather outside, how long it takes to drive to the library, on and on, if only we are willing to look for it.
Real life math lessons can be taught in many simple ways, such as:
saving money as a family for an upcoming activity or vacation, with real money being placed in a jar in a prominent location
noticing when a person at the market has to pull out their phone to do simple arithmetic, and later discussing it with our kids
paying attention to the weather outside, with an outdoor thermometer and the use of weather websites
letting the kids help with measuring ingredients when baking or cooking
making sure we'll have enough cookies for our guests
figuring out how much gas money we'll need to drive to grandma's house
measuring distances and lengths that come up in our reading or