Starting out with an Older Child

(Written in response to a question about how to start making changes in an older child's math program) by Julie Brennan / July 2004

Many people it seems on my list are using the summer to experiment and find this balance themselves. I had to step back and give my son some time, and if your son is 13, it might take more time. But if you can invest him in it, help him see that you CARE that he find a way to learn this that is more enjoyable and relevant to him, that *both* of you are going to embark on a different path together and try something new, I know my sons would both respond very favorably to that.

In a way, you will be dealing with some deschooling just as if he were in school. But unschooling isn't an option (for me either). So seeing if he can buy into a different structure for, say, a 6 week period, writing down those goals (specific books to read, so many hours a day, how to report back what he's learned, etc.) would be key to that.

He may recover his zeal if *he* has more say in how and what he is learning. I can't tell you how often we discuss in our home that learning the subject is not optional, but how and even when is. When you realize you don't *have* to follow a traditional algebra then geometry high school track, that they both need to be learned and you can learn things out of order, well, you introduce freedom in an area that has previously felt very compulsory.

Many books stand out because different kids have different tastes. Could you give him a list, have him go to the library, pick out a few, maybe give him the ability to suggest and choose one or another as well if it's not on the list but it looks like he could learn something from it, and collaboratively work with him?

If he is not behind in math, you have so much latitude as well. Tell him you're willing to change, if he can show you he can learn, and demonstrate that. Coach him to self educate, a la Charlotte Mason.

My son came in here right now, and I asked him about what he'd recommend. He HIGHLY recommends starting with The I Hate Mathematics Book (by Marilyn Burns), The Number Devil and The Boy Who Reversed Himself.

I asked him, what have you learned the most *math* from? His response is, "It all comes together from reading lots of 'math' books, I couldn't pick just one. Repetition of concepts in a variety of ways helps A LOT. Other things are taking occasional breaks to try and digest the information, and reading it over four or five days in order to, as the phrase goes, 'sleep on it.' That way you get the most out of the book, and have still learned something."

I ask him, how does that help you when you go to "do" math, like Math U See? His response: "I find it interesting to imagine the main characters of the story doing the problem at hand and you find yourself remembering the story, and therefore remembering the math concept. Eventually it gets so automatic, you have the type of problem memorized, you don't have to think about it."

Any more things to say that might help? "When you're dealing with a difficult problem that you have not mastered yet, turn to adults for help. Don't be discouraged if you have to turn to adults more than one time, you are not a math failure, just new to the concept." But if an adult helps you, it's not always that easy is it? "Repetition, or letting it "lay low", basically letting it cook, you know like what you did with me when I was really bad at math and you just dropped it? I let it cook, and a few months later I pulled it out and said, This is easy. I guess it just boils in the subconscious." Finally, "Snacks help you concentrate."

How about having choice, how does that help? "Having choice allows you to say this curriculum isn't working, I think we should move to something else, so that if a concept is too difficult, you can look at it from another point of view, understand it, come back, look at it from the other point of view and it becomes automatic. Attitude helps a lot. Keep a positive attitude, and don't say 'I hate math. :o( (angry face here)'."

But what if you really feel like you DO hate math? "Try some of the easier stuff until it gets boring then go to the harder stuff and it's not boring anymore, you appreciate the challenge." But what if you're already bored with what you are doing? "Move up to a step higher. Always try to challenge yourself. Don't make it too hard, like the binomial theorum or analytic algebra. If the times tables are too boring, try division tables :o)."

What about silly word problems that don't make sense or seem dumb? "I know that, turn those into a number problem, don't leave it in it's word problem form, try to simplify it, they should call them number problems." Do you use the math you're learning? " All the time. Besides every day life, I use a lot of math in a game called HeroClix - simple adding and subtracting, but also differences, averages, logic, strategy and even coodinates because you play on a grid. There are some things that you will think are useless to learn, but you can't build a castle by hanging a flag in midair and imagining there's a castle there. But you don't see the whole castle by building the foundations. And remember, it takes a lot of work to build a castle. "

"That's about all I have to say." And I said, Thanks Troy :o)

Julie Brennan

July 19, 2004