A question came up on one of my email lists about unschooling and math, and that got me thinking.

I'm not an unschooler, at least not for subjects that I believe are (a) required and (b) skill-based --- i.e., I don't unschool mathematics, reading instruction, spelling. Other topics we've been more "unschooly" about. With Oscar I use Saxon Math, skipping a lot of the repetitiveness that plagues that otherwise fine curriculum.

But speaking as a person trained in engineering, and who studied mathematics through the graduate-school level, and who really *loves* math and wish I'd studied more of it even though I am a SAHM now and not an engineer at all, if I *were* going to unschool mathematics, what would I do? Here's what I came up with.

Well in advance of my children needing it, I'd select at least two K-8 math curricula --- one that's book- or workbook-based and one that's exploratory/manipulatives based. I'd want the book-based one to be (a) rigorous and traditional and (b) fairly self-teaching (Singapore Math would probably be the a-number-one choice in this one); the manipulatives/exploratory one could be more touchy-feely-fluffy. I'd buy the first few years' worth of each, with all the supporting materials there. I'd also invest in a pack of sturdy math-fact flash cards and get a giant jar full of pennies. I'd familiarize myself with the materials and books in advance so that I would be prepared to help the kids.

I'd also get some good high school and college math texts and add them to the household library.

Then I'd put the workbooks, flash cards, etc. and some of the materials in prominent display, among other stuff. And I'd let the mathematic work be chosen, and/or encourage it to be chosen, in the same sort of way that I (as a hypothetical unschooler) encourage other learning opportunities. If I was not extremely comfortable with math, or maybe even if I was, I might also get a second set of workbooks and play with them/work with them and the manipulatives myself, frequently.

In other words, for me, "unschooling" mathematics in the primary grades would mean letting the child go at his/her own pace and perhaps picking and choosing topics somewhat, through a well-designed and complete packaged curriculum. And making sure that it's not hidden away, but is always there, inviting exploration.

Also important for stimulating interest would be three types of supplementary materials: (1) a wealth of math puzzle/logic puzzle books, (2) games that use math skills to varying degrees, inc. card games, board games, etc., (3) entertaining books written for the lay reader about mathematics/the history of mathematics/applications of mathematics, to be used as family read-alouds.

Any other thoughts?

I'm on a list with a lot of unschoolers, and they usually don't start any formal math until age 10. At that point, I'm not sure they do anything differently, but are more diligent about using math books on a regular basis.

Before age ten, they usually read a lot of math concept story books, such as the Anno math books, How Much Is A Million, etc? They do activities from the Family Math books. They do a lot of real life math in cooking, shopping, etc.

They also have math books laying around for when the child has interest. Usually Miquon or Singapore.

Posted by: Kelly | 05 April 2007 at 09:08 AM

We homeschooled for four years with no math curriculum. My oldest son is at the top of his fourth-grade class in math this year. We started when he was a preschooler, playing math games. He would beg for them, actually -- stories with a math component, like tales of crazy shopping trips where he had to keep track of how many goofy or contraband items were in a shopping basket.

My goal was always to hit the "frustration sweet spot" -- to give him questions that made him say, "I can't do tha-- oh, yes I can." I also encouraged him to play around with problem-solving approaches. In first grade I asked him to subtract 26 from 54. For the next couple of years he did similar problems working from left to right: 50-20=30, and 4-6=-2, and 30+(-2)=28. This gets less practical with more than two digits, but it worked well for a while and he still prefers that approach to borrowing.

He loves the book The Number Devil -- he's read it at least a dozen times.

Posted by: CJ | 05 April 2007 at 10:28 PM

I know this is an ooold post, but wanted to chip in--there was an interesting article in Life Learning about a group of unschooled teens who needed to learn a bunch of math quickly for something (prereq for something they wanted to do) and found someone who knew and could spend time with them. He said he taught them through Calc in 6 weeks, because they were interested, invested, and had the abstract-thinking skills, etc, to build upon. Wish I could put my hand on it now, but I found it very interesting.

Posted by: mandamum | 08 September 2007 at 09:25 PM