Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Math at our house

I feel like I get a lot of questions about math.  Granted we are not talking about calculus, but thought I'd share how our kids are learning what they need right now.

Learning basic math skills is as natural and interesting to my kids as it was to learn to walk or learn the alphabet.   We want our kids to think mathematically and continue to love playing with math.   For me, that means, just like learning to read, we let our kids learn what they need when they need it.  Math is everywhere and we have math moments everyday.  We have been having them everyday since our kids were little.   Here are several examples from the last 2 days:

  • As I write this, I am sitting on the couch with my laptop. Benton and Oliver decided to sit next to me and each other with their magnetic boards.  This is a gift they got as little guys, but is still used nearly everyday.  Today, they were drawing, but it just turned to number writing.  I missed the transition, but they were writing together:  100, erase, 200, erase, 300, erase, all the way to 1000.  They did it together, discussing their numbers and how to write them properly.  At 2000, they decided to write the year, 2011.  Then on to 3000, back to 11, then 4000 by thousands up to 10000 and then back to drawing people.

  • Last night, I had my digital scale out on the kitchen counter.  When I was done, Oliver started weighing various things in the room and looking at the total.  He had two things, a Lego project and a bottle opener on the scale and asked our friend Alex how much one of them weighed.  So, Alex walked him through taking one item off and how to determine the weight of the item he took off.  It was 6.15 ounces with both items, and 1.15 ounces with just the Lego item.   Oliver figured it out in his head and announced his answer and moved on to something else.  Later, Alex and I were talking about how math is part of our everyday conversations and he said that he had fallen into one of those moments with Oliver and enjoyed Oliver's enthusiasm.

  • My husband Dan is always a great resource for the kids.  He works and thinks mathematically everyday.  He enjoys working with them to figure things out.  One night Oliver and Benton got an intro to the geometry of a circle.  They had a compass and were drawing circles.  It turned into a conversation about measuring circles, circumference, the diameter, the radius.  Someone went to get a ruler and a piece of string.  Next up was 2 PI x r and PI x diameter.  Oliver is only 6, but was loving it.

  • Before I could finish this up,  I caught Oliver in another math moment.  He asked "How many days until my birthday?"  I said "I don't know, go get the calendar."  "What's today?"  "Monday, in the last week of August."  "August 29th."  and he started counting, while I grabbed my camera.  :)  Only 28 days until his birthday, 29 days until his brother's birthday and 22 days until his sister's birthday (that one he just subtracted 6 from 28).  He talked about what day of the week the birthdays would be on and then moved on to the next month.  He sounded out October and flipped through the calendar and back to January through August.  He read all the months, noticed some holidays and then announced to his brother the number of days until his birthday.  Then it was over. 

So, those are just a few examples of what I mean when I say math is part of our everyday life.  Math is part of our daily play too.  Just as we have easy reader books and other language arts items, we also have many items that support math exploration, some I purchased, some were gifts.  

In the above picture, the kids are playing Pirate Arithmetic from Haba.   A great game that should work for us for a long time.  Benton (age 4) uses some counters to check his work and Oliver does everything in his head or on his fingers.   Just to give you an idea of some of our math toys, we have the basic stuff, like the compass and ruler, as well as pattern blocks, real and fake money, "What Time is It?" clock game, "Make a Pie" fraction game.  We also have some math bingo games, as well as number cards that Oliver has used to make up problems (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to solve for himself.

All of those items are used just like other toys.  They decided when and how long they want to play with them.  Sometimes I play with them, sometimes they play on their own.

What is math like at your house?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Embracing Unschooling

I searched and googled, trying to find a local homeschool group that I thought would be a good fit for us.    I was looking for diversity, which the few other groups I found, didn't offer.  I figured others might be looking for something different too.   So, I decided to start a.l.l.  The prevailing idea behind the group is secular and inclusive with the hopes of creating a diverse group of home learners where everyone feels welcome.  

As my husband recently shared on Facebook, we picked the group name and the acronym because it describes our family and our style of learning, but also addresses my desires for a secular and inclusive group.  It might not be the right group for everyone, but I hope anyone who appreciates diversity, will find our group welcoming.  Admittedly, I kind of hope that a.l.l. will lean in the unschooling direction, but at the same time, I want a.l.l. to support all homeschoolers.

So, as it turns out, when you get a bunch of Alaskan homeschoolers together, two questions regularly come up:  "What program are you with?"  and "What curriculum do you use?" Being at the unschooling end of the homeschooling spectrum, my answers often surprise folks. 

Not only are we life learners, aka unschoolers, we're independent. I often get a blank look or simply "Why?  Why wouldn't you want the money?"

In the past, I have often used the fact that I am a former classroom teacher as a quick out.  I usually add that I have boxes and boxes of education material left over from my teaching days.  In other words, I don't want the funding to buy curriculum.   We use a lot of that material, but not like they might imagine.  It is my kids' decision, not mine, whether we do something or not.  We're independent because I believe in my children's innate desire to learn.  I want to support them in their learning, not direct it.  I also do not want testing to have any bearing on how I support them.  I think standardized testing is one of the biggest problems with public school, but that is another post altogether.

Many people think unschooled is equal to uneducated.  It absolutely is not.  Dealing with those blank stares and the occasional criticism has made me reluctant to embrace the term unschooling.  Lately though, I have felt a responsibility to speak up for child-led learning.  I really believe it is what is best for my kids and quite frankly, for most kids.  So, call us life learners or unschoolers,  I am ok with either one.