When teaching math in your homeschool, a positive attitude benefits both the teacher and the student. One mom shares what she has learned about teaching math in her homeschool.
Everyone in my house knows that Mom has a rule when it comes to math. No one is allowed to trash-talk math. There is no whining about not being “good at math” or that “math is hard.” This kind of talk is strictly forbidden. It is almost a joke around here, to be honest. But it is for good reason that I have banished such bad-mouthing. While teaching math to my kids, I know that attitude plays a big part. Research shows the following: kids who view math ability as something you are born with do not reach the same potential as kids who view math ability as something that is learned. We get better at math by exercising our brains just like we get physically stronger by exercising our muscles. This is known as a “growth mindset.” For a quick explanation of growth mindset, watch this video. I have adapted this mindset to my outlook when I teach math and other subjects.
A parent’s attitude towards math matters more than their actual knowledge of math when it comes to helping their kids learn.
Change Your Mindset
Many parents are uncomfortable teaching math in their homeschool. Maybe you have anxiety about your own math “ability.” Talking openly about your dislike of math may hinder your child’s ability to learn it. According to this interview with researcher Jennifer McCray, “In a 2015 study, math-anxious parents who frequently helped their elementary schoolers with homework saw their kids learn significantly less math by the end of the school year than kids whose parents didn’t express an aversion to math. The kids of math-averse parents also reported more math anxiety than kids of parents who were not math-averse.” The study controlled for whether parents were actually good at math or not. The results showed that a parent’s attitude towards math mattered more than their actual knowledge of math when it came to helping their kids learn.
There is no doubt that my four kids have different things that come more easily to the each of them. My son (#3 in the birth order) has always loved numbers. He remembers numbers easily. When he was four, he loved counting and even counted to 1,000 for fun. He learned to add with his fingers before kindergarten. Memorizing math facts comes naturally. So it may be easy for his sister, who takes much longer to solve math problems, to think that she must “not be good at math.” But as author and teacher Jo Boaler says when talking about her book, Mathematical Mindsets, “Many students believe incorrectly that to be good at math they have to be fast at math–too many classes emphasize speed in math and memorization.”
Go at Your Own Pace
I love the freedom homeschooling gives us to slow down and take the stress out of learning math. I know the panic of feeling like your child is “getting behind,” but laying a good foundation when you teach math can help your child speed through other concepts later on. For example, we spent longer than I felt we should have in 5th grade math. But 6th grade math was much easier because of it. The elementary grades of math build concept on top of concept. For example, fully understanding how to multiply two 2-digit numbers makes it a breeze to multiply two 3-digit numbers. For most curriculum, each grade level introduces only a handful of totally new concepts. The rest are just building on what you already know. This is why taking your time on those new concepts is worth it in the long run if that is what your child needs.
Accept that mistakes are a part of learning.
I try really hard to focus more on actual understanding than on right answers. Sometimes kids make a careless mistake and miss an answer. Sometimes they really just aren’t getting it and need more review. We need to be aware of the difference. My daughter appreciates getting a lesson back that has problems circled that she needs to revisit instead of just covered in Xs. In focusing on a growth mindset, we accept that mistakes are a part of learning. If you mess up, you go back and correct your work. We master a subject before we move on, which takes the stress and anxiety out of math. We are focused on learning, not just on grades.
Teaching Math Every Day
One of my homeschool mottos is: “Math every day.” We have to do math every day without fail. If we aren’t actually working in our curriculum, we have games and other math activities that we can do. If I have math that I need to do such as: adding fractions for a recipe, working on a house project and calculating area or perimeter, or any other calculation, I pull the kids into that situation. I never want them to think that math is useless. I want them to be confident in their math ability. If we adopt a growth mindset, we believe that our ability is increased by our effort. Therefore, we have to put in the effort.
My parents had good ideas about how to challenge my sisters and me with everyday math challenges. While we would drive in the car, dad would have us calculate different problems. How far could we go on a tank of gas given our average gas mileage? He would give us a map and a ruler and have us estimate what time we would arrive at our locations. How much would our trip to the zoo cost our family given the price of adult and children tickets? We often played “Battleship” with each other with nothing but two pads of graph paper. These are all great ideas for how to do “math everyday.”
Keep on Keeping on
Teaching math is challenging. It is easy to get overwhelmed. If you are struggling with teaching math, there is good news. There are so many good resources available. I have used Youtube, websites, or library books to help me teach math. If you need to, find a family member, friend, or neighbor that may be able to help you move through more challenging material. Math is important and the more we work at it, the better we get. When our kids are equipped and confident in their math ability, they will be ready to follow whatever future paths they may choose.