Tuesday 23 April 2013

Maths in Our Home

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.

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


  1. This I think will always present a lack of clarity in direction for me. I TOTALLY agree with everything you have said, totally. Yet, unlike every other subject in our little home school, I am reluctant to follow where my heart leads. I feel a little as if I've left it too late for my girls and also I'm not sure I'd be able to find the 1-2-1 time required to do it well. I will almost definitely follow this path for my little girls.
    Another great post, Hwee!

  2. I wanted RightStart so badly but just wondering how much the rate would be if I ship it here in Ireland. I've already inquired and I hope they respond immediately. By the way, did you purchase the Level A kit?

  3. Jae - I bought the entire entry level kit in order to save time on making/finding suitable materials to use with the lessons. RightStart is still a family-run business so their response might be slower than usual. However, while waiting, you can do a lot of maths-related activities with your child using day-to-day items found around the house. It's a good curriculum that has worked for us, but there are many other successful curricula that work for others too, so don't get too hung up about specific curriculum! :-)

  4. Claire - It was a very parent-involved process at the beginning, so you probably won't have the 1-to-1 time with your older girls to repeat that process. However, I'd imagine they'll be able to benefit from the work that you'll be doing with the younger girls to cement some of the earlier concepts, just by listening in and/or observing what you're doing with the younger girls. Children learn all the time, so don't think that the older girls have missed their chance at understanding the basics. That's a benefit of having younger siblings who are also learning at home. :-)

  5. Thanks! They've responded to my email already. Yes currently we're doing Addition Strips and Charts of Montessori :) I did not yet purchase anything as Montessori materials are pricey... I just downloaded my materials from free resources. Thanks!

  6. I love how you've had such a great approach to maths from the very beginning. I wish I had! It's taken me a while to find my mathematical feet :-) The story about the half a 3 is SO insightful! (and sad) I always thought RightStart sounded interesting but I never took the leap for some reason. Thanks for a great post. Really enjoying this series.

  7. Thank you for your compliments, Lucinda. I had to use RightStart at the beginning as a guide, and it wasn't until a year or so ago before I felt comfortable enough to be more flexible in maths. The way you've moved away from a set maths curriculum is very similar to my process. :-)

  8. That looks great. Now you have me pondering this for my daughter.

  9. This is a wonderful post! I was/am of those children of public school upbringing that knew enough math to not "trouble" the teacher in school but now as an adult I am still scared of math. That was my largest concern going into homeschooling years ago. I have pinned this post onto several of my boards as I know many other homeschooling parents will find this article just as useful as I have. Thank you for linking up this week to our Hearts for Home Blog Hop!

  10. thank you for wonderful post , i was lucky to do an online montessori training course and got all my Montessori math material but somehow i felt lost with pages and pages of math albums and follow the child and scope and sequences ... a friend sent me level A rightstart when my little one was 2, still i wanted to use the real montessori material . I wish i saved my money and stayed with rightstart which we are using now and enjoying , my little gril mental math ability is amazing , we love rightstart and planning to stick with it for the next levels . like you i worried that we were only learning about numbers and addition when her schooled friends are seemed far ahead . Good to read your post , makes me relax and stop being tempted to look for other curriculum and workbooks xxx

  11. Beth, Jill, and Bella - thank you all for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you have enjoyed my post.

    Bella - I know the online Montessori training course you're referring to. I did it too. :-) It's very tempting to be lured by all those beautifully made Montessori materials and forget that there are many different ways to learn successfully. I'm very glad that you've arrived at the same conclusion as I have. :-)


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