What we’re Doing for Grade 2 and 3 Maths

I last wrote about how we found our perfect math curriculum back in March, so I thought it might be time for an update…

Jasper (7, Yr3/Gr2)

Life of Fred

Maths is still Jasper’s favourite subject, thanks to Life of Fred.  This term we finished Life of Fred (Edgewood) and began Life of Fred (Farming).  I love the way the Fred series mixes up basic fundamentals (such as subtraction with borrowing) with more sophisticated concepts (like union of sets, median averages and simple algebraic equations) in a way that introduces young children to advanced mathematical vocabulary in a very natural way. And, of course, we all love “Fred’s” delightfully quirky story and offbeat humour.

Games

Because we’re not doing a traditional curriculum, I make sure Jasper gets plenty of extra opportunities to learn his maths facts. Luckily he loves games, which are a great way of getting the job done.  Recently we’ve played Yahtzee  and War . (My favourite maths website, Let’s Play Math has lots of ideas for maths games. I’ve just noticed Contig, which looks great – we’ll be playing Contig Jr next week!)  We also play games like Tug Team Addition  at Math Playground, and Jasper practises multiplication using Arithmemouse and Timez Attack.

One benefit of working with a child one-to-one is that you get instant feedback on how easy or challenging he finds each concept.  So in Life of Fred (Edgewood) I noticed Jasper was a bit confused about the differences between rhombuses, trapeziums and parallelograms, so I set him some exercises on Study Ladder.  He loves working online, especially on specific exercises (rather than working his way through an online curriculum in a linear way – for example, Maths Whizz didn’t work so well for us for any length of time) so this is win/win.

Cordie (8, Yr4/Gr3)

Cordie recently decided to take a break from Life of Fred (she was on “Farming”) to explore some other resources.  She did a few exercises from a Schofield & Sims KS2 workbook we had on the shelves and asked me to set her some “surprise” Study Ladder exercises.  One day she asked me to make her a page of clocks so she could brush up on telling the time, and another day she wanted a page of multi-digit subtraction sums.  She played around on Khan Academy for a while, watching videos on decimal place values and then setting herself some problems to solve. And she dipped into Math Mammoth’s Division 1 (filling in the answers on the iPad using the Notability app).

Following her explorations, Cordie says she’s ready to go back to more of a maths routine with Life of Fred.  Before that, though, we’re doing some times tables practice using Maria Miller’s structured drill system from Math Mammoth Multiplication 1.

I’ve looked ahead at all the Life of Fred elementary level books (up to “Jellybeans”) and they seem to cover everything on the English KS2 curriculum. As with Jasper, if Cordie needs or wants extra practice on a particular topic as we go along, there are plenty of other resources we can dip into.

Writing this post has also reminded me how much we all like Primary Grade Challenge Math which teaches mathematical thinking and problem-solving in a fun way.  We haven’t used Challenge Math in a while but I’d like to get back to using it regularly, perhaps once a week.

Isn’t it great how many fabulous homeschool maths resources are out there? There really is something to suit everyone, at every age and in every mood!

The Perfect Math Curriculum – the End of Our Search

We’ve had a maths breakthrough! How do I know?

• The children have been asking to do maths first.
• C (8) sceptically asked me in the middle of a recent  lesson we were both enjoying, “is this really maths, mummy?”
• My confidence in my children’s ability to reach their maths potential (and my ability to get them there) has skyrocketed!

Where we were before

When they were at school, both C (8) and J (nearly 7) enjoyed maths and were top of their respective classes. This was a good starting point, but as a new homeschooler it only increased the pressure I put on myself to nurture their talents at home! I never doubted their mathematical ability; what I did question was my ability to sustain and develop their passion for the subject.

I think my biggest enemy was that spectre that looms over most homeschoolers in our weak moments: fear of leaving gaps in our children’s education. This fear seems to strike frequently when it comes to maths, so perhaps it’s not surprising that many of us devote huge amounts of energy to finding the “perfect” maths curriculum.

But here’s what I’ve found: for my children, most maths curricula probably work just fine for a while.  And then … well, they just get bored of doing the same thing day in day out (or at least the same sort of thing in the same sort of way).  And boredom is definitely not a good learning state!

The book that was the key

Then, thanks to the lovely folks over at the Secular Homeschool  forum, I discovered Primary Grade Math Challenge.  This is a book of word problems aimed at gifted maths students (grades 1st – 4th).  Each chapter introduces a theme (such as completing a number series, or counting change) and then has four sets of questions ranging from “level 1” to “genius”.

It may not sound very exciting so far, but sitting with each of my children in turn as they work through the questions has given me is an incredible insight into how their minds work and what their strengths and weaknesses are, in ways no math curriculum has ever done. Meanwhile my puzzle-loving children love figuring out the answers and seeing how many levels they can complete in each unit.

Another bonus is as they work through the questions, C and J become increasingly motivated to learn more sophisticated problem-solving strategies.  Instead of “Why do we have to learn this [abstract concept]?”, it’s “Please teach me a way of doing this!” *

*Ok, I exaggerate a teensy bit – we may not be quite there yet – but I can see the day coming. 😀

An example

Last Thursday I had to quell my inner frustration when we opened a chapter of Primary Grade Math Challenge dealing with fractions, and C groaned “I hate fractions!”  Where in the world had my mathematically gifted daughter picked up this absurd notion? Fifteen minutes later, Primary Grade Math Challenge had worked its magic on us both. C was happily adding together sixteenths, quarters and eighths, and converting improper fractions to mixed numbers.  Meanwhile I had figured out that she hadn’t “hated” fractions because they were difficult, but because she was bored of colouring in segments of polygons and pie in her previous (grade level) maths curricula! (It makes me wonder what other misunderstandings lurk at the foundation of our homeschool!)

What next?

Up until now I’ve continued to pick out a few sections of Math Mammoth (grade 2) for C to do once or twice a week, but writing this post has helped me let go of that, unless there’s something specific she needs to work on.  She doesn’t need to practise place value or rounding to the nearest hundred, and I don’t want to bore her into “hating” any other mathematical concept.  Yes, C and J need to master their number facts, know their multiplication tables and learn about different types of triangles, but they can acquire all those skills in day-to-day life (eg by baking and budgeting), by playing games, and from living maths books.  One of the things I like about Math Mammoth is that you can buy material on a specific topic if you don’t need the complete curriculum.  I’ve got my eye on the multiplication and division worksheets collection  to help C and J master those operations when they reach that point (which given the way Primary Grade Math Challenge is going, probably isn’t far off).

Life Of Fred

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our beloved Life Of Fred. These books are not cheap but – oh – they are good! Once I had found a UK supplier (thank you Conquest Books) I splashed out on the first four elementary level books, which C whizzed through, and I’ve since bought the complete set. (I figure they’re good quality non-consumables so should I should be able to get some of my investment back by re-selling at some point – if we can ever bear to part with them!)  My reluctant reader J, meanwhile, is happy to alternate reading aloud paragraphs with me for chapter after chapter – I don’t think he notices he’s even reading, let alone learning maths! Seriously, I can’t recommend these books enough if you want to your kids to associate maths with laughter and generally feeling good.

Conclusion

I’m so happy to have found what works for us (for now!). I know this exact approach won’t work for every family or every child, but if you’re on the verge of jumping off-curriculum with your mathematically-able child – come on in, the water’s just fine!