Unschooling Math
I've scaled (math) back to no more than 15 problems in a day but still sense (dd's) boredom, frustration and general dislike of the topic.

Help!  Should I really back off for so long?  She is in 5th grade now technically speaking but I know her skills are early 4th grade at the moment.


She is barely a year behind by whose standards? And why would you care?  I don't mean that to sound harsh, but I homeschool because my children are not pairs of one-size-fits-all pantyhose and I don't want to be stuffing them full of someone else's educational goals.
I am not surprised that she didn't pick up and become interested in the math books that were left out.  Take a new approach.  Put the math books away.  Let her do some practical things - I'll give you some suggestions.  You will know these things involve math skills, but don't rub it in.
Math is such a part of our everyday lives that there is little difficulty for our children to pick up the skills they need.  And they will learn these skills when they see the need to know them.  My son never had any formal math training and was able to pick up a Saxon 65 when he was in 6th grade and be right on target with what was being presented in the book.  I would have been content to have gone much longer without a math textbook.
Examples of Everyday Things

  • Have her plan a party (birthday, Christmas, New Year's) and do all the decorating, baking, etc.  Give her a budget to work with.
  • Let her redecorate her room (this is a great birthday present) and give her X amount of money with which to do this.  Painting and sewing both involve math skills.
  • Play games.  Not "let's sit down and do our math games" but regular games that involve math skills to be played whenever your family plays games.  Let her be scorekeeper when you go bowling.  Some math games: monopoly, Yahtzee, any of the strategic games involving logic and thinking skills (Battleship, Stratego).
  • General budgeting.  Let her help with the family budget.  Meal planning and coupons are good for developing math skills.
That's all I can think of right now because I haven't had any coffee yet.
top of page

It seems like 'teaching' math is the last area that unschoolers are able to let go.  Maybe the only 'real' curriculum used will be a math curriculum.  I used to be like that, but now rarely refer to math curriculum at all, but we still 'do' quite a bit of math.  Here are some of the things we've done over the years...

  • Let the kids keep score for games (Double digit addition, maybe even triple digit in action <G>). 
  • Let the kids play around with the calculator.
  • Ask the child to keep a running total while grocery shopping (maybe rounded to the closest .25).
  • Include the kids in household projects such as building, plumbing, etc... anything that requires measuring, estimating, and so on.
  • Play mental math games in the car or while waiting in the Dr's office such as 'I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 50... nope, guess higher... nope, lower.. great! You got it!
  • Let the kids keep their own calendar, marking off days until some special event.
  • When eating out we often let the kids figure out how much change we'd be getting back and what the tip should be.
  • Keep a log of miles driven and gas used in the car and figure out the mileage.
  • Estimate how many steps out to the mailbox (or wherever) and then see how close you are. 
  • I have lots of 'math manipulatives' that we just enjoy playing with... pattern blocks, centimeter blocks, pentanimos, tangrams, Cuisenaire rods, etc. 
  • Let the kids see you make mistakes once in awhile.
I'm sure there are many more examples. Overall, I've tried to show the kids where math is needed in every day life. I don't think we ever finished any math books (although we've certainly purchased quite a few. LOL).
And just because a child balks or plateaus or whatever at one point does not mean that they are forever destined to be 'behind' in math.
Marci in Illinois
top of page

First, here are some Web sites:

  • Hoagies' Gifted Education Page
    This first site is absolutely full of great ideas and books about math (and other things).  Even if you don't agree with the labeling of gifted, it is very worth a look.
  • AIMS Education Foundation
    This has a problem of the day (week?) that can be lots of fun.  My son and I did one today in which you had to figure out how to use 12 toothpicks to form 6 "pens" of equal shape and size. (Could be pig pens,
    sheep pens, etc.)
  • Funbrain.com
    This has a math baseball game on it and other goodies.
  • Set Enterprises
    This company makes 3 great  games: 2 math and one spelling.  Worth a look.

Magazines, etc.:

  • Maze books are great if your child likes these (as are dot to dots for younger ones).  "Puzzlemania Magazine" is great for logic and problem solving and it's colorful and fun.  Any brain teaser book that looks interesting to your child can be a real math treat.


  • "Time Life for Children" has a series of books called I Love Math Series.  Some of the titles include Amusement Park Math (my son's fav), Play Ball, Sports Math, and The House That Math Built.  The drawback is that I could only find 2 in my library's system (I bought one).  Hoagies page (above) lists The Number Devil and Enzensberger (sp?).  This is great for upper elementary skills and Jr. High, but if your child has fears, (the main character unfortunately looks like a little devil) this is not for you.  I'm still searching for a comparable book without the scare factor. 
  • Family Math
  • Any Marilyn Burns book about math.
  • Harold Jacob's Mathematics, A Human Endeavor
  • Math Games and Activities From Around the World, by Claudia Zaslavsky (ages 8-12 from Northrop Publishing (888-576-8532)

Games and any building set you can think of:

  • Monopoly, Stratego, Forget It, Racko, Chess, S'math, Zometools, Stratomatic Baseball, any game with a regular deck of cards such as Math Wars, Magic Math (Scholastic, I think)

Fun stuff and real life:

Any game can be taken as far as you want.  E.g., my son decided that instead of 5 dice for Yatzee, he would play with 10 and take 14 rolls.  He even renamed his new game.  Also as we play dice games, we talk about probability and chance at his level.  You can cover virtually any skill with dice and card games.
Another example:  Today as we were eating our Valentine's candy early <G>, we decided to estimate how many of each color hearts there were, then how many in all, then we looked at the nutritional (huh?) contents and saw that there were 14 servings and each serving contained 17 pieces so we went to the white board and figured out if our estimates were close to the actual number, then we figured out who was closer.
OK!  I know this is my kid but do you see where this might be going?  Not every day is like this, but since I pulled out of a curriculum with him, he now joyously does math because he calls the shots.  He and a friend ran a lemonade stand one day.  Fractions and percentages are all over the place in measuring, food bills and tips, tax on sales items, paying bills.
Do I have workbooks around?  You bet!  My son loves to do mystery math type workbooks while we're driving.  I need to say that it's almost all done in his head because he's basically a non-writer.  Do I have curriculum around?  Yes.  There are some questions I need help with answering myself.
I did this because wanted to nurture the uniqueness that God placed in my son.
top of page

"The Porch Swing" is maintained by colleen@tumon.com
Return to "Frequently Discussed Topics"