In England, maths is the second most hated subject in schools, second only to science.
Most homeschooled kids I know love science. Why? Because they learn science in a fun, hands-on way that bears little resemblance to the dry textbook science of most schools.
But I’ve heard of more than a few homeschooled children who dislike maths. Which begs the question – why don’t homeschooling parents share the joys of maths with their children in the same way they do science?
The answer, sadly, is because of how most adults were taught maths. Whether they hated maths or excelled at it, most people have no idea what real mathematics is.
I know I didn’t. I was one of those kids who enjoyed maths at school because I was lucky enough to have a good memory. That, combined with a competitive streak, got me A’s through to age eighteen. At that point I quit maths and ran for the hills, amazed I’d managed to make it through to the end without anyone finding out that I hadn’t a clue what all those symbols actually meant.
It wasn’t until three years into homeschooling my kids that I began to get a glimpse of what maths really is. I’m still at the start of this journey of discovery so I’m certainly no expert, but I’d love to share with you some of what I’ve learned so far.
I can’t imagine any child who knows what real maths is finding it boring.
Maths is the art of making patterns
Maths is not about memorising a bunch of dry facts and procedures. Memorisation may have its place, just as learning vocabulary does. But it bears no more relation to real mathematics than a list of French verbs has to the lifetime works of Victor Hugo.
Just like music and painting, maths is an art – the art of making patterns with ideas.
Real maths is a fascinating process of creative discovery.
And what child doesn’t enjoy engaging their curiosity as they play with ideas?
To fall in love with maths, your child has to know what maths really is. And you can’t show them unless you know what maths really is.
The good news is, you can start to think like a mathematician in just twenty minutes. After that you can just jump in and learn alongside your kids.
Learn how to think like a mathematician in 20 minutes
A Mathematician’s Lament
Read A Mathematician’s Lament (links to a free 25 page PDF). The twenty minutes it will take you to read might be the best homeschool investment you ever make.
After you’ve read A Mathematician’s Lament, read at least one of these books:
Let’s Play Math
Let’s Play Math: How Homeschooling Families Can Learn Math Together, and Enjoy It! Read this first if you’re keen to get started doing real maths with your kids, especially if they are elementary age.
I wrote about Let’s Play Math in detail here.
What’s Math Got to Do With It?
The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children Learn and Love Maths (titled What’s Math Got to Do With It? in the US).
Jo Boaler, a maths professor at Stanford University, has conducted extensive, long-term research into how children learn maths. The approach she outlines in this book teaches all children to think and problem-solve – even those who think they’re maths failures who could never enjoy maths.
How to help your child fall in love with maths
After you’ve read these, I guarantee you’ll be excited to share what you’ve learned with your children. You may be a little overwhelmed about where to start, but don’t worry, there are plenty of options.
And really, it doesn’t matter what part of maths your child falls in love with first. Just jump in – or if you’re an organised type, make a one month plan of fun maths activities, and get stuck in.
Many parents integrate maths play-days into their homeschool schedule alongside their regular curriculum. If your curriculum is working, this can be a good approach. All children will benefit from the opportunity to play with real mathematical ideas, even if they love their curriculum.
But if your child hates maths, don’t be afraid to ditch the curriculum – at least for a while – and jump into mathematical fun. You don’t even have to call it maths.
Our living maths experiment
My own kids have always been mathematically able, but neither got on well with traditional curricula. We tried Singapore Math and Math Mammoth. Each worked for a while but didn’t last. It was frustrating at the time, but I’m grateful now for my kids’ honesty – without it, I might never have discovered the joy of real maths.
We’d always read maths stories and done a few hands-on activities, but too often these got pushed aside as “extras” when we were trying to get through the curriculum.
Then, six months ago, we began a one-term living maths experiment, which worked so well we’ve made the change permanent.
What about tests and exams?
“This is all very well,” you might be saying, “but my child won’t be able to get a job or into college if she can’t pass maths. How is all this playing with patterns going to help her pass her exams?”
In answer to that question, consider this story of two girls, Lilly and Katy.
Lilly is twelve years old. Her mother knows how much pleasure playing a musical instrument can bring, so she surrounds Lilly with beautiful music and encourages her to take up an instrument.
Lilly chooses violin, and soon enjoys playing simple tunes. Her enjoyment inspires her to play more often. As her love of music grows, Lilly decides she wants to learn about time signatures and note values, key signatures and scales – all the while learning to play more and more complex works.
Lilly enjoys her music so much that she even begins to compose her own little pieces, transcribing the notes onto staff paper and transposing the songs into different keys to share with her musician friends.
Katy is eight years old. Her mother, Tracey, has been told how good it is for children to learn music. And she knows that it will be useful for Katy’s future to pass her musical theory exams at age sixteen.
So Tracey has Katy get out her staff paper each day and copy notes from a book, making sure she gets her clefs and key signatures right. Tracey reminds Katy how important it is to neatly fill in her quarter-notes and get all her stems pointing the right way.
Katy is told that once she has a thorough grounding in music notation and theory and has passed her music theory exams, she will be allowed to listen to and play music – perhaps when she is at college.
Katy grows to hate this boring subject called music, and to Tracey’s frustration begins to dawdle longer and longer over her work, preferring instead to stare out of the window and hum tunes to herself.
What would you advise?
What if Katy’s mother were to ask you for advice. Tracey is in despair, saying that Katy hates music, cries through her lessons and begs to be allowed to stop them. “It’s obvious she just doesn’t have a music brain,” says Tracey. “But how will she ever pass her music exams if she doesn’t keep working at it?”
How would you respond?
Which girl will pass the exam?
Which girl do you think will do best in her musical theory exam at age sixteen? Katy, who has spent eight years learning dry musical theory – which she has come to hate – but has never heard a melody?
Or Lilly, who spent four years making and enjoying real music, and who was inspired to learn its technical language along the way to enhance her enjoyment even more?
If children are allowed to experience the creative art that real maths is, everything else will fall into place much more easily.
Once you’re in on the secret of what maths really is, you’ll begin to notice opportunities for maths play everywhere.
Let’s Play Math is a great place to start finding concrete activities to do with your children.
Before long you’ll be solving puzzles, playing games, crafting intricate geometric shapes, reading biographies of great mathematicians, cracking codes, learning from videos, getting acquainted with the maths section of the library and generally having lots of fun while you develop your mathematical muscles.
Here are just a couple of ideas to get you started.
Let’s Play Math – the blog by Denise Gaskins, the author of the Let’s Play Math book
My Living Maths posts here at Navigating By Joy
Stories from an Unschooling Family lists a stack of fun resources in her recent post Bite-Sized Pieces of Unschooled Maths
Math Monday Blog Hop at Love2Learn2Day – a themed blog hop, featuring posts on a different maths topics each week
Talking Math With Your Kids – how to talk with your children about numbers, shapes and other mathematical ideas in daily life
AngelicScalliwags‘ recent Helping a Struggling Maths Student series has several great activities for bringing maths to life
All these blogs contain links to other real maths activities. Enjoy the rabbit trail!
There are so many to choose from, but here is a diverse selection of my favourites that will appeal to all ages:
The Great Number Rumble: A Story of Math in Surprising Places
Mathematicians are People Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians
The Sir Cumference series (not just for younger kids – middle-school children will appreciate these too)
Enjoy your maths adventure. Begin here right now 😉
For more views on homeschooling maths, check out:
Highhill Education – Math Curriculum Not Required
Hammock Tracks – Math, Tears and Frustration – Not the Perfect Arithmetic Trinity
One Magnificent Obsession – When Math Brings Tears
Barefoot Hippie Girl – Learning Flexibility Via Math
Every Bed of Roses – Math is a Problem – Now What?
I’m appreciatively linking up here:
TGIF Math Games for Preschool & Homeschool
The Homeschool Mother’s Journal
39 thoughts on “How to Help Your Child Fall in Love with Maths (Even if They Hate It)”
What a great post, Lucinda! Very well written and inspiring. Using the story of the two girls’ different music journey truly illustrates your points very well. It’s so good to see children learning to appreciate the beauty of maths. 🙂
Thank you, Hwee! I always appreciate your kind words of encouragement. I feel like I’m getting more and more controversial over here and it’s a bit scary at times, LOL! 😀
It’s always scary (at first) to take a route that is different from the norm or the majority. But you’ll find that, once you’ve ventured further along your own chosen path, that you’re being more true to yourself and that the path will work uniquely for you, even if it doesn’t work for everyone else. It looks to me that you’re doing really well. Keep up the good work! 🙂
You could be a hypnotherapist, Hwee! Your words sound just like the kind of thing I used to say to my clients. Perfect – thank you 🙂
Thank you for such a great post, with so many resources. It’s tricky for me, with our girls in public school, and they are hating math – but maybe if in the evenings we just play with it, they will come to appreciate it, and understand more at school. Fingers crossed!
Absolutely, Marie! After I’d finished this I actually thought that I should have mentioned public-schooled children but the post was so long already I didn’t get around to it!
I think once we as parents know how much fun real maths is, we can share it with our children no matter what else is going on.
Also if they realise that the dry procedural stuff is not “real” maths it can help with their maths confidence, which can be a big issue, especially for girls. The Jo Boaler book talks about why school maths fails girls, I really do recommend it.
You explain things phenomenally well Lucinda. You have a real knack for these instructional posts and I’m sure many more mums will be considering living maths as a viable option for their children having read this post.
Psssst…..thanks for the mention!
Thanks for the big compliments, Claire! I love your polite way of describing me getting on my soapbox, too, LOL!
A great and worthy post. I agree with it one hundred percent.
Thank you so much, Phyllis. I really appreciate your kind words.
I would love to be a fly on the wall at your house. I’m having difficulty moving from the concepts you are sharing to the actual execution. I love your schooling methods; I just don’t know how to make it work yet in my house with six kids. Two are teenagers and the youngest two are six and four.
Hi Marla, I suspect if you were a fly on our wall you would feel a lot better about how you’re doing! How our school looks at the moment is: (1) we spend at least half our time out of the house doing C’s activities or J’s therapies, (2) my children spend most of the time we are at home doing their own thing, (3) I’m almost embarrassed to admit the small amount of time I spend actually doing things with them! But in that small amount of time we seem to manage to fit in the “big rocks”.
With our new approach I’m finding myself with much more time on my hands than I’ve had since we began homeschooling. I am of course completely unqualified to give an opinion on how to homeschool six children using any method! But I was very inspired by Cathy Koetsier who I was lucky enough to meet recently – she home-educated her five children in a similar way to this. I’m also very inspired by Sue Elvis who writes a lot about unschooling her large family (though several of her seven living children have now left home).
I really appreciate you taking the time to comment, Marla, because you’re giving me so many ideas to write about. I’m emailing you a copy of this – I’d love to hear from you if you feel inspired to let me have any specific questions.
I just love this- thanks for all the great info and resources!!! I just spent 2 1/2 weeks in your part of the world- it was amazing!!!
Thank you, Cari! I’m so glad you had a great trip! I’m off to check out your FB page for pictures 🙂
Very well said. I love your analogy with music and would go even further to state that the creative encouraging method is best for all subjects. Our math curriculum has taken a much more creative turn this year thanks in a large part to your inspiration. We have taken a similar leap with writing and today my 6 year old told me it was her favorite time of day.
Thanks for the great post.
Thank you, Julie! Yes, I agree – creative encouraging is definitely the way to go. I’m looking forward to reading your writing post next week 🙂
This is great! I wrote a post on my blog this last week about how we make math fun in our house. (You can find my Math Fun??? post on Hip Homeschool Hop, where I found your post.) You have some great ideas! I’ll definitely need to look into some of these! Thank you for sharing!
Hi Missy! I loved your post – I think I stopped by and left a comment last week. I’m following your pinterest board too. I always enjoy meeting other people who think maths can be fun 🙂
Lucinda, this is so well said. I am with you about not learning to understand math until I taught it…and, oh how true that has been for many home education subjects!
Thank you, Savannah. Absolutely – aren’t we lucky to have this second chance?
Thank you SO much for posting this! I’m looking forward into checking out all of the resources you mentioned. I’ve been struggling with finding a way to keep my young son interested in math, and it looks like is the perfect solution. I’m pinning this, for sure! 🙂
Thank you, Lisa! Your son is the perfect age to learn how much fun maths is 🙂
A wonderful set of resources!
Here’s one more inspiring math blog to add to your list:
Talking Math With Your Kids
The author (a curriculum developer and teacher) shares excerpts of discussions with his son and daughter as they encounter numbers, shapes, or other mathematical ideas in daily life. Then he explains how the children’s comments reveal their thinking—what they have mastered and what they still don’t quite understand. And finally he gives suggested prompts for engaging in similar discussions with your own children.
Thank you so much, Denise! Talking Math with Your Kids looks wonderful. I’ve added it to the post and to my reader!
I love the title of your post! Maths is one of those difficult subjects for many homeschoolers. I’m sure your wonderful post will be of great help to those looking for a different approach from the usual text book one. You mention some interesting books and resources which I’m going to try and find.
Thank you also for the link to my recent maths post! Also, I was reading the comments. It was kind of you to mention me as a possible source of info for homeschooling large families. You are quite right that three of my children have finished homeschooling and moved on. Most if them are still at home though. Only one of my children has left home. The others are still here, involved with family adventures! Although Callum is working full time, Duncan is still studying. He is doing his Masters of Teaching at uni. Both boys don’t seem to be in a hurry to leave home!
Thank you so much for your kind words about my post, Sue.
You have been such an inspiration to me, I want everyone to read your blog!
How lovely that your boys still live at home. I hope my children will stay a long time with me, too 🙂
Thanks for sharing so many wonderful ideas for math! We just began using Math Mammoth a few weeks ago and it’s working well, but I will try some of these ideas to re-kindle our math enjoyment.
I really liked Math Mammoth. I think it’s very clear and easy to follow, and it fosters true understanding rather than just following procedures. I hope you have fun with the games, too – they are definitely a good complement to Math Mammoth.
I forgot to say that I am stopping by from THMJ!
I liked your THMJ post 🙂
I was looking at ordering Mathematicians are people too books to use this next school year … I wanted to pick your brain how you used them first … Are there activities in the book to follow up with ? Thanks for taking time to share.
To be honest we haven’t used Mathematicians Are People Too that much, and not at all recently. We just used it as living book to read aloud. The kids enjoyed the stories and I figure it increases their exposure to the great names and their stories and contributions to maths and science.
The book doesn’t include activities, but I’m sure I’ve come across linked activities people have published on their blogs etc. Jimmie, for example, has a great Squiddoo Lens with printables based on it (actually looking at her lens reminds me to pull the book off the shelf!). Or if you just google the name of one of the mathematician you read about in the book you can probably find linked activities.
Do give me a shout if you have any other questions about it.
Thanks Lula for the link. I purchased Let’s Play Math and can’t wait to dig into it! I’m wanting to get on the living math road with my kids but at times I’m having a hard time knowing where to start … my teacher brain likes to have a clear direction. I’m thankful for your willingness to share!
Side note … Here in Pennsylvania, the Dept. of Ed. and local school districts keep a tight reign on homeschoolers …but I just got approved to be a “private tutor” for my children (because I’m a certified teacher) which gives me more flexibility and less hoops to jump through. I’m excited!
Congratulations on your Dept. of Ed. approval, that’s great news! Fewer hoops and more freedom to work in the ways that best suit our children is always a good thing!
Let’s Play Math is a wonderful starting point for embarking on a living maths adventure. Can I come to you for tips on having clear direction? My brain’s naturally all over the place! 😀
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