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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Readiness and Math Instruction

    September 25, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]L[/dropcap]et’s talk about math, at least for a little while. If you have been reading here over the years, then you know that there came a time with E-Age-10 that we needed to take a break from math*. This lasted about six months, I think. The funny thing is, he has slowly caught up. Whereas last year when he began the school year, he was still about four months behind, he went so quickly during the year that this year he only had five weeks of fourth-grade math left to do. This means he has already commenced with fifth grade math.

    Readiness and Math Instruction 2


    Putting him right at grade level.

    Whatever that means.

    I hate the idea of “grade level” because I think that, for the most part, children are where they are. So the same mothers that worry because their friend’s baby walked at 10-months, but their baby didn’t walk until 16-months are worried if their third grade child is doing “second grade” math.

    I used to be this person, by the way.

    But I’ve calmed down over the years because I see that not only did my child benefit in real ways from a math break, but he also caught up, all on his own, without either of us ever trying to do so!

    Some of you may know that there is a whole subsection of homeschoolers who believe that you do not need to start formal math until age 10, and then they can be “caught up” {as in: prepared for higher math like algebra and geometry} in only two years.

    I do not go to this extreme, but I am learning that teaching math is sort of like teaching a child to tie their shoelaces. You can labor with them, day after day, often in tears, when they are three … or you can wait until they are six or seven and teach them in a day. Similarly, when a child is ready for math, they just do it. When they are neurologically capable of thinking in a mathematical way**, it is a delight to them {for the most part — never underestimate the fallen nature, of course}.

    Last year, very early in the year, we hit a roadblock with math. A-Then-Age-Six did well in the beginning, but she quickly became befuddled. She didn’t have an attitude problem, and she was more than willing to “do math” every day, but the more we talked and worked and played and talked some more, the more it became apparent to me that she was in no way learning to think mathematically. She was simply learning to do tricks.

    That, in my opinion, is not education.

    So we dropped my beloved Math Mammoth and spent some time with Ray’s Arithmetic, which means we basically spent a year in daily brief talks about numbers and doing lots of mental math.

    It was fine.

    So here we are in Year Two, and I brought my First Grade Math Mammoth sheets back out.

    You know what?

    Last year it took us fifteen or twenty minutes to get through half of a sheet. And lots of times I felt like I was carrying her through the assignment, which concerned me greatly. I think that if a child is thinking properly about numbers, they can actually be very independent in mathematics.

    Today, I brought out a sheet {first time this year as I spent the first five weeks reviewing what we did last year} and we talked about the first portion. Then, E-Age-Ten entered to inform me he had a narration, so I told A-Age-Seven to just do what I had taught her if she could and I’d get back to her. She did the entire section! She also “accidentally” started the second half, doing it properly. I suddenly realized that last year was such a pain because her brain simply was. not. ready.

    At all.

    And this year? Well, she did two sheets because, as one was so much fun, why not two?

    And I think the whole thing took only ten minutes.

    I wonder how many children it will take before I am completely comfortable adjusting math to where my child is. I wonder how much better last year would have been if I had completely cut math in favor of logic puzzles like I did E-Age-Ten when he was small? I resisted that because it seemed silly to “cut” math before we had ever really begun, but now that I’m seeing what a difference a year makes, I’m very tempted to take it slow on math.

    Except for Q-Age-Five, who is already able to do addition and subtraction when she wishes.

    These children always keep me on my toes.

    *You also have to deal with me needing to learn the same lesson over and over, it seems.
    **GAPS is also helping — she has taken leaps and bounds in all parts of her schooling.

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  • Reply ...they call me mommy... September 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Thank you, Brandy! This is so helpful!

  • Reply Erin September 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

    We recently switched to Math on the Level for this reason and what a difference! MOTL is all about teaching concepts when your child, who is unique, is ready. Math used to be tears for us…now she begs for math!

  • Reply Rahime September 26, 2012 at 6:58 am

    I find this when I’m tutoring pretty often. A student who isn’t ready for Algebra in 7th grade (or 8th, whatever) breezes through it the next year. A kid who has a terrible time with fractions tackles them like a pro two months later. I have one student who, last year, mastered every.single.concept in Alg. 2 about a week after his test on said concept. It was sooooo frustrating to see him utterly fail a test an then have the material “click” about a week later. Situations like that are another example of where homeschooling would be very much in the student’s best interest. Strangely, this student (so far) is understanding his Pre-Calc. at the “right” pace for the class.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      I think the one-room schoolhouse approach would also be in the student’s best interest! I keep noticing when I read books about early America that the students were given a book–like Ray’s Arithmetic, but not always that specific one–at whatever level they were at, and they were expected to work through it. I don’t know if they were tested or not (they *did* seem to have mental math competitions), but I know that mastery was the goal. There didn’t seem to be much grade level talk going on. You could be 10 and reading the Primer or the Third Reader and no one cared because you were where you were.

      I keep thinking about this sort of thing in regard to learning disabilities. How often are children diagnosed with one simply because their brains haven’t developed far enough yet? And then they are labeled? I love that I can just give A-Age-Seven *math*–she has no idea the book is labeled “first grade” because they are printable lessons.

      I have heard so many people talking about their child having an LD related to math and I find it disturbing because I think maybe we’re labeling kids for simply not being ready–like labeling a child with a physical disability because he’s not walking by 12 months!

  • Reply Mystie September 26, 2012 at 4:20 am

    I’ve had similar experiences, also, except I didn’t even switch to other logic builders but just gave them a break. My oldest was a year “behind,” and is now only half a year behind. But, MUS isn’t graded in the first place and it also isn’t arranged the same as typical grade level, so he is at grade level with multiplication but has not yet done any division. Another week or two, though, and we’ll be on to the next book. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      See?? I can’t let it go! I really should be comfortable just giving a break instead of doing the logic builders…

  • Reply amy in peru September 26, 2012 at 4:18 am

    …um. i should have said, i have never started before age six…


    i do usually start playing math games AT six. but formal math (like-writing-anything-down-math) is more dependent on the kid. this youngest childo’mine though, may be a different breed.

    we shall see.

  • Reply amy in peru September 26, 2012 at 4:14 am


    yep. this is my experience too.
    though, i’ve never started at six, unless they wanted to. and even then…(of course, my just-turned-five-last-week year old is seeming to be more mathematical than were her forebears…)

    there’s a balance somewhere in the middle (twixt early push and late wait).
    it’s the exact same with teaching reading, i think. we propose these things properly, as playful pastimes, and lo and behold, they’re ready or they’re not. laying off a little if they’re not, and then soon, laying out the game pieces once again.

    currently, all my kids are okay with math. i’m SO glad. it was not always this way (you can read our story on my blog 🙂 we had to quit for some months too, with my eldest.

    thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      I like your thoughts here on trying something and, if they don’t take to it, putting it away for later. I am getting more and more comfortable with that, which I think will be a huge benefit for my youngest. He is just-turned-four and recently asked me to teach him to read. It was interesting because I assume he will be my latest reader as he was the only one who would not even sit to listen to books until he was much older (of course he also had a hearing problem for a long time, come to think of it). Anyhow, I gave him *one* phonics lesson. He *loved* it.

      But he hasn’t asked for one since! He he. I think he just wanted to know what it was all about, this thing his sisters are always working on.

      I think I used to associate this sort of approach with the “gentle” approach, with unschooling, with letting the *child* decide what and when and how he will learn, and that was my initial resistance. But now I see that it is very much dependent on *me* as a teacher assessing and knowing my students and choosing what is best for them.

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 25, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I learned this lesson with reading. Last year, First Daughter (then 5) was learning to read, but it was horribly and incredibly painful for me. (She often spent the time crying, but I think it was all a ruse to harass me). This year, she’s flying through her lessons. Oh, how I wish I’d put that dreaded book away last year! (Now watch me make the same mistake in a year with Second Daughter…)

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 25, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      I feel like I’ll probably make the same mistake again in the future, too! Argh!

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