I remember the pain of learning mathematics through rote and drills when I was growing up. When I decided to homeschool Tiger, I was determined to find a way for him to enjoy the beauty and fascinating nature of the subject. I am convinced that the road to mathematical appreciation and understanding need not be painful, intimidating, confusing or boring.
For a start, Tiger could recognise patterns before he could talk. Pattern recognition is an important element in mathematical thinking as almost all mathematical concepts can be simplified into patterns. I remember that day very well.
Tiger was about 13 or 14 months old when one day he frantically pointed to a brown shape in a book that I was reading to him, then desperately tried to tell me something as he pointed frantically to the other end of the room. I didn't know what he was trying to say. In his desperation, he toddled to the other end of the room and pointed to the same brown shape in a picture on the wall. I hadn't even noticed that brown shape until he pointed it out to me.
From then on, he showed great interest in patterns and shapes so I casually introduced tactile materials to support his exploration.
One of the major influences that Montessori's writing has on my understanding of education is in the area of mathematics. Her writing convinced me of the importance and necessity of using tactile materials to aid a young child's understanding of mathematical concepts in a concrete manner before moving on to the more abstract planes. For example, numerals such a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ..... mean nothing to a young child unless he/she can see and touch the quantity. The lack of a foundation in understanding concrete concepts in mathematics is, to my mind, what makes the subject so incomprehensible to many children, including myself as a young child.
I remember meeting a very concerned mum whose nine-year-old daughter struggles with number sense in the private school that she attends. The mum described how she tried to help her daughter with her maths homework and felt despair when her daughter could not answer the question "What is half of three?". After struggling with this question for a long time, the little girl finally wrote the top half of the number 3, followed by the bottom half of the number 3, i.e. what looked like two brackets. I felt very sorry for both of them, as I recalled my own struggle with maths, so I gave that mum a few examples on how to help her daughter get a solid understanding of what quantities represent before she worries about numerical symbols and operations.
Bearing in mind the need for a strong grounding in concrete concepts before progressing to abstract ones, I started to look for a Montessori-inspired, manipulative-rich math curriculum for Tiger's elementary school years and came across RightStart Mathematics.
We started using Level A when Tiger was five years old and he enjoyed this programme's use of games, colourful manipulatives and slow pace. To him, maths lessons felt like playtime with interesting objects. For the first two years of the programme, he was only exposed to numbers, quantities, and addition.
Although I believed in the strength of the programme, I was becoming a little concerned when I saw that other maths curricula were having children do complex division within six months. Nonetheless, I stayed with this programme since it has worked so well for us. All of a sudden, Tiger seemed to experience a sudden leap in his maths understanding. I have no doubt that the previous two years had laid a strong foundation that had enabled him to do that.
Only when I became certain of Tiger's interest and competence in basic arithmetic, was I more willing to venture further away from the scope and sequence of RightStart Maths, so as to explore certain topics deeper and/or in more lively ways. From then on, our maths lessons have become less about going through the motion of completing any particular curriculum or following any standard, but more about seeing connections and understanding mathematical relationships.
For other homeschooling parents' perspectives on mathematics, please visit this series' other contributors:
- Julie, who ponders on the question Why do we study math? She also shows us some ways in which math is used in our society and shares with us activities that have real life application for children.
- In Doing 'Rithmetic, Bernadette gives a fairly traditional and uncomplicated look at doing math.
- Chareen asks the question, Should we teach math to young students?
- Savannah shares her tips for teaching math in Math and Tears; When Mom Learned a Lesson.
This post is linked up to:
1) Math Monday Blog Hop #96
2) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/23/13
3) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #14
4) Homeschool Mother's Journal: April 26, 2013
5) Collage Friday - Reading, Selling , and Recommending Books
6) TGIF Linky Party #73
7) Creative Learning #12
8) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where We're Counting Down the Weeks
9) Share it Saturday!
10) Sunday Showcase - 4/27/13