Does thinking about teaching math keep you up at night? Do you wrestle with wondering if your child is ready to begin formal math lessons? Or are you wading through a mountain of curriculum catalogs looking for that perfect math curriculum to help your struggling student? I hope this article will help to answer these questions.
Before we look at a couple of methods for teaching math, let’s talk about math readiness. What exactly is “math readiness”? Simply stated it is when a child is ready to learn and can understand mathematical concepts. Some children have a natural aptitude for math whereas some will not, and that is okay.
Questions to consider before you begin teaching formal math are:
- What shapes, colors, or numbers does my child know?
- Can my child recognize patterns and sequences?
- Can my child recognize or point out numbers found in print?
- Can my child count numbers in order and up to which number?
- Can my child follow given directions?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then try a couple of activities with your child. Remember to make it fun for your child. Encourage him to start a collection of small items such as rocks, buttons, or pennies. Then help him to sort, count, and make patterns with the items to help build math awareness. Have your child count out the silverware your family needs for dinner. Show your child how to match socks. Play a board game such as “Chutes and Ladders.” In the end the best way to know if your child is ready to formally learn math is to actively engage him in math-related activities.
Now let’s examine two different methods for teaching math.
The first way is the traditional method. The traditional method of teaching most subjects is when the teacher is the one who imparts the knowledge to the child. The child is expected to memorize rules, facts, formulas, and take tests. When specifically teaching math there is a course of study that states what a child is to learn for each grade in school. For example, if you compared the math texts for second grade from a few different curriculum providers you would notice that the courses of study would be very similar.
The teacher teaches the main concept, and the child works through the practice problems. Many math programs begin around the preschool age starting with simple math activities that range from patterns, sequencing, and counting then advance to beginning addition and subtraction. This method moves at a steady pace and generally has many review questions built into the daily lessons.
The Charlotte Mason method of teaching math is another way. First, she strongly believed that children should not be required to begin any formal lessons until age six. Young children are encouraged to learn math through hands-on lessons that connect with the child. For example, set up a play grocery store where you and your child take turns buying groceries. The math learned could be as simple as counting and basic addition then building up to learning how to count money. This method in the early years also uses short lessons, approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, based on the child’s age.
Encourage your child to start a collection of small items such as small toy cars, fun-shaped erasers or the suggestions listed above. This collection becomes the child’s personal set of manipulatives that he will use during lessons. The main components of this method are the child’s small collection of items, simple word problems, and short lessons for the early years. You can read more about this method for the early years in Charlotte Mason’s first volume Home Education.
Lastly, let’s discuss ways to help your child struggling with math. Math by nature is a very abstract subject. Yet young children up to the age of eight to ten have a difficult time thinking abstractly. According to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, children begin thinking abstractly during the formal operational stage or around ages twelve or thirteen. If your child is struggling, set the math aside and give him time to develop mentally.
Instead try to make math fun with games. For older children struggling you could hire a tutor, find videos online to help, or even try a different curriculum or method. The best thing that you can do for your struggling child is to reassure him that you are his biggest fan and that together you will find a way to help him succeed.
Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.