homeschool: math u see and math you don’t

When I attempted true unschooling for a time (yep, I really did that), I discovered the unbelievable…there is no way to get away from arithmetic. You need to understand math: add, subtract, multiply, divide, estimate, and understand decimals and percentages. Consumerism requires it.

Consumerism teaches math. You want to decide how many apples or asparagus you can afford? You need to understand weights and calculations. You want to build something in the backyard or paint a room? You need to know geometry, area and perimeter. Otherwise, you waste a lot of money, could get ripped off and take forever putting it together. No matter how intense the aversion in my early years of traditional schooling, I discovered, math must be understood.

My rudimentary math skills did indeed prove that one can function in our culture when one is math illiterate. I could wield a calculator, but was challenged to explain why I carried numbers in subtraction. I could get a university degree and calculate dosages (based on weights) as a pediatric nurse, but still not understand basic subtraction and division. Yikes. While I don’t recommend my story, I am proof one can function without understanding arithmetic.

Math-U-See has helped me render my math illiteracy. As a homeschool mom, I relearned basic math. Steve Demme had me at “Decimal Street”. Mr. Demme does a bang up job teaching concepts that I thought indecipherable. I think back to the confused hour I spent sitting at the feet of my grade two teacher, her trying to explain long subtraction to me and five other kids. Decimal Street unravelled all that confusion, thirty years later. That’s all there is to it, a simple understanding of how many people could fit into the tens cottage, the hundreds house and the thousands apartment building. I wish they had taught it like that in school.

Through Mr. Demme I’ve learned a few things about teaching my kids. It isn’t necessary to ply those little minds with endless math questions. If they get it, they get it (and mama knows when they don’t). We can move on to the next concept as soon as something is understood. There’s always a review later on, and all the concepts will be revisited.

I have to be patient teaching math. Kids will want to buy things or add things eventually, so they will learn basic math concepts. Why push a Clydesdale up the hill when they want to go up the hill in their own good time? Of course, I only learned that after I impatiently taught math to my first child. Turns out, forceful math teaching ALWAYS doesn’t work. 

Mr. Demme taught me to learn the math concept myself, watch him teach it on video, show the concept to my child, work out a few problems myself as the child watches, then wait till they say the magic words: “Can I try it?” (By the way, this is an approach that works with everything we teach.)

Math is math. This program doesn’t follow a government-issued curriculum. It might not fit my local jurisdiction’s math learning spiral, but I’m not feeling pressure to stay on task with the education system, or I would have sent them to school. And math is math.

I know that one of my daughters would never have picked up a math text without me, but my goal was to instill math processing skills. For my mathematically-inclined kids, Math U See enables exposure to important math concepts and consistency in practicing them. It’s not that they find this program fun.

“Math fun, I ask?” pondering the paradox (sorry, I’m not one of those moms pretending I love the subject). I wonder if there might be a way to make it fun, but when I’ve got spare time to play with them, math games definitely don’t enter my mind and I still want to make sure we cover a whole bunch of math concepts that I know for sure, because I would tend to avoid some math concepts if I didn’t have Steve Demme reminding me they exist.

Math games. My husband, on the other hand, plays chess, cribbage, Stratego and loads of other games to hone their skills, but mostly, just for fun, because he plays those games for fun himself.

Math learning without ‘learning’. Give them an allowance and require them to save or be charitable with a certain percentage taken off the top–that will require them to learn percentage. Not answering the question ‘what time is it?’ requires them to learn clock reading when they were little. Baking anything teaches fractions. Letting them buy things for you at the store if they determine the tax and how much they’ll get back is useful on two counts (one hour a year in a big city shopping mall is enough for me). Give them free screen time to play math games. Yes, that will always sell.

Math-U-See is, and will remain, the backbone to our homeschool math curriculum.

At one of my first homeschool conferences, I was told, “if math curriculum ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I could dabble in other math programs, I know other clever ones exist, but this would be costly and require me to learn how to understand another program, and Math U See makes intuitive sense and really does help me SEE math. I am sold on Math U See.

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