10 Fun Ways to Learn Today

It’s been a while since I posted one of these so I thought it would be fun to do another.  Here are some fun ways to work in all sorts of subjects with a bit of fun…

  1. Spit ball geography: Get a big world map and play a different game with it every day this week.  For today, try launching spit balls at countries that other people call out!  Here’s how to make spitballs, or you could also use a dart gun.
  2. Balloon challenges: There are all different variations to try with this one.  Blow up a balloon and bop it with family members as you take turns calling out math problems.  Kids have to answer before they bop it back up in the air, and everybody works as a team to try to keep it from hitting the ground.  Or take turns calling out items in a group (for instance, elements from the periodic table, states, words that start with M….).
  3. Sistine Chapel Art: Lots of folks have done this classic art idea.  Tape coloring pages of the Sistine Chapel on the underside of your table and let the kids color them on their backs as Michaelangelo did.  Here are coloring pages to print out if they want to use those (or they can create their own masterpieces) and here’s information on how Michaelangelo created the Sistine Chapel.
  4. Lego homeschooling: Here is a compilation of all sorts of Lego lesson plans, from Lego chemical reactions (complete with printables) from MIT to a Lego balloon-powered car to plans for building the Nile River from Legos to a subscription to the free Lego Magazine and more.
  5. DIY flash cards: Give the kids index cards and art supplies to make some really fun flashcards to teach any math facts they have trouble remembering.
  6. Famous person Who Am I: Gather the kids and put a sign on each one’s back with a famous person written on it.  Have them go around the room asking questions to figure out who they are.  You can use historic figures, artists, authors, you name it.  You can also use elements for older kids (Am I a gas?  Am I poisonous?).
  7. Make an educational video: Challenge the kids to give a 2 minute report on any subject they want to research and record it as a video.  If they like, they can use fun editing apps to add text and music.  If they get excited about the project, you can even start a family blog with a new video every week.
  8. Use window markers to do math problems: Enough said.  :)
  9. Photography Challenges: Let the kids use a digital camera and agree on some fun challenges such as taking a picture of something for each letter of the alphabet, 3 kinds of clouds, each state of matter, etc.
  10. Do the purple cabbage pH experiment: This is one of our all time favorite science experiments.  Even I have fun mixing and matching to make the cabbage water turn colors (and even turn it back!).

Anna is off in Arizona visiting one of her best friends, so I have one less child to occupy and educate for the week.  Now I’m off to find some Lego fun to play with Jack, and then I have a small girl who’d like to “eed yots of books!,” a boy who’d like to play a phonics game, a teen who wants to do some poetry exercises and a house that could use several hundred hours of cleaning (let’s be honest, it’ll be lucky to get one!).   :)

Making Math Easy

Math has been quite an adventure for us over the years.  There are a lot of things I learned along the way with the older kids that made it easier with the younger ones.

Here’s what works for us for all the kids’ various ages for math….

Making math fun and accessible: From when the kids are toddlers, I try to keep lots and lots of hands-on math gadgets and tools around for them to play with.  This includes everything from adding machines (the clicking noise just adds to the allure!) to thermometers to stopwatches to playing cards.  Here’s my list of 50 awesome household objects that will help kids love to play with math and numbers.

Teaching numbers and math through life and play in the early years: When our kids are young, we use books, money, cooking, games, counting and such to help them master math and numbers easily.  See Easy ways to teach numbers, counting and math for lots more ideas.

Khan Academy: If you haven’t been to KA lately, go check it out again.  It’s even better than the original, with all sorts of tools to help kids and parents make the most of it.  With Jack (10), Anna (14) and Toria (15), I just ask them to log some time every day at Khan Academy.  They can pick and choose from their own dashboards and do mastery challenges, learn new topics or hop around however they like.  KA sends me a summary each week of what they’re all doing, and I always tell them which kid logged the most time in math.  I’m not about to pass up a chance to play on their natural sense of competition with each other.  ;)

Finding alternative ways of doing math: My kids really love learning better ways to do math, and there are a surprising number of really good methods out there that we find far easier than traditional methods.  For example, I stumbled upon a site about short division years ago and Anna became such a fan that to this day she asks me to give her division problems to do for fun.  (See Short division makes math easy for how to do it yourself.)  My kids also loved playing with Russian peasant multiplication to multiply big numbers before they learned their math facts.  Vedic math is another example.  We got some really fun and simple math shortcuts from the PDF book here:  Teach kids how to make math faster and easier with Vedic math (free PDF book!)


Making it fun and hands-on: For things like learning math facts, my kids aren’t big on sitting and using flashcards or doing rote memorization drills for hours.  We have way better luck with things like math games, counting stars and multiplication tricks.  See 22 Fun ways to help kids learn their math facts for lots of fun ways to help kids with that sort of thing.

Math games and activities: We use tons of hands-on games and computer games to help the kids gain math skills.  Math Live is an example and I have lots of other games and activities pinned here.  We also talk about math and make up really zany math problems like the ones here: Mad math! (yes, we helped our kids figure out how many Minnesota Vikings would fit in a swimming pool):)

Free online textbooks and thrift store textbooks: I love the variety of good quality teaching materials that are out there these days, and we use them for the older kids when needed.  We’ve used this intro geometry book and CK-Foundation flexbooks and tutorials, plus we’ve also used college textbooks we picked up for two or three dollars from thrift stores.  Those are especially fun because the kids can highlight, draw, alter and otherwise mark them up to help retain the information.

Life: This is the biggest way we teach math around here.  The kids use it to cook, garden, plan projects, budget their money, play games, figure out how many days are left till their birthdays, and so on.

I’ve also learned not to sweat the core standards or typical math timeline. We have mostly unschooled math all along with all of our kids, and not one of them has ever tested below grade level in math.  I learned the hard way that if I tried to follow the traditional school path of math instruction (first you learn this, then this, then memorize these and these, then move on to this…) that kids can get hopelessly stuck because of one small area and can incorrectly assume that they’re bad in math.  Don’t stop introducing new math concepts because one area hasn’t stuck yet. For instance, if they don’t know their multiplication tables, stick a chart up on the wall and keep going.  And if one area of math is no fun right now, switch to something different like geometry or graphing. The more kids learn to love math, the easier all of it will come.

It turns out math is way easier than I thought, once I learned to ignore how everybody else does it.  :)  

See also…

 

Multiplication Models (in fun graphic form!)



This awesome graphic is from MariaD at the Natural Math google group.  You can view and download it here.

Lesson in decimals, lesson in metacognition.

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Alex has really been enjoying her first exposure to decimals in MEP 4b, so I didn’t expect any trouble today, when the lesson introduced decimal addition. That was my first mistake.

As often happens in MEP, the first step was to give a problem orally and encourage the child to come up with ideas for how to approach it. The problem went like this: “Alex was digging a trench in her garden to plant a hedge. The first day she dug 2 meters, 70 centimeters. The second day she dug 3.8m. The third day she dug 4m, and the fourth day she dug 3 6/10m. How long was the trench altogether?”

Alex wrote down 2m 70cm, 3.8m, 4m, and 3.6m and announced that the sum was 12.84m.

“Okay, it looks like you added the whole meters first, and then you added the centimeters, which was a good strategy,” I said. “The whole meters you added and got 12, and then you added 70 and 8 and 6 and got 84. Let’s take another look at that part. This .8 meters right here – how many centimeters would that be? Eight-tenths of a meter is most of a whole meter, so could it be eight centimeters?”

Light dawned. She changed the .8 and .6 to 80 and 60cm, added them together, and gave the correct answer: 12m 210cm, or 14m 10cm. Awesome.

What was supposed to happen next: I was supposed to show another couple of ways of solving the problem – converting all the lengths to straight-up centimeters, and then making a place-value table and slotting the numbers into it so that the numbers are lined up properly for column addition.

sample solution

What did happen next: Alex started sighing and rolling her eyes during my explanation of alternate solutions, and then I snapped at her for being rude, and then she started complaining that she was confused, and then I tried to illustrate by walking her through another problem but going straight for the place-value table, and she escalated to crying and yelling that it was just getting more and more confusing.

I put the math lesson away. I broke out the Base 10 blocks. We agreed together that if the “flats” were 1′s, the rods would be tenths and the little unit cubes would be hundredths. And then we worked through several decimal addition problems, each time with the blocks first and then on paper, until she fully understood that you can only add hundredths to other hundredths, and tenths to tenths, and so on. I took the picture at the top of this post, figuring that I’d write a nice little “method” post about using Base 10 blocks to teach decimals.

…Until we were in the car on the way to pick Colin up at day camp, and Alex started a different sort of conversation.

“Mom, you know when you were showing me the different ways of doing the same problem? I didn’t understand that all that was about adding decimals, so first I got really bored and then it made me think that the way I did it was wrong.”

“Ah,” I said. “And it seems to me that that’s where things started to go badly with our math. Because you got bored and stopped paying attention, and then you were confused and frustrated, and I got mad because you weren’t paying attention.”

“Yeah,” she said eagerly. “I got frustrated and then I got really mad, and that usually means tears.”

“Uh huh. Let’s think about whether that could’ve gone differently. Like, if we could jump in the TARDIS and go back in time, what would’ve helped? It seems like I should’ve been more clear at the beginning, like, this is why I’m showing you these other ways, because these are the steps to learning to add decimals.”

She agreed, but couldn’t contribute anything she might’ve done differently.

“Well, how about, what if when you first started to feel frustrated, you told me, Mom, I’m don’t understand why you’re showing me all these different ways. Would that have made things go differently?”

She was dubious. She explained that she’s just the kind of kid whose feelings explode. I suggested that she may not be able to control how she feels, but she can learn to control what she does.

“I guess so, but when I get upset it’s really hard to think of what else to do. I’ve tried bottling up my angry feelings, but I only have so much bottle and then I explode!”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I totally know what that’s like. So we know that bottling isn’t going to work. Usually the best thing is trying to notice before the feelings get really strong, and doing something then, at the beginning, while you still have options.”

That made a lot of sense to her. We went on to have a nice, sympathetic conversation about how tricky that is – including that I can’t always do it myself, which is why I sometimes yell at her. A huge part of becoming a grownup, I explained, is learning to understand yourself and notice your feelings so that you can have more control over how you act. But I’m not perfect at it, and I don’t expect her to be either.

I’m amazed that she was able to initiate, and apparently benefit from, this conversation. The real lesson today didn’t involve decimals; it involved metacognition – “thinking about thinking.” That ability to be reflective about your own mental processes is hugely, hugely important – especially to a kid who’s a bundle of nerves, like Alex. I am unbelievably proud of her.

Another Birthday Week Survived

We made it through another birthday week here.

Jack turned 10, Victoria turned 15, and Alex turned 6.

I made a lot of cakes and cupcakes.  :)

Here’s a quick round-up of ten fun ways we played and learned during birthday week….

  1. Victoria chose books for birthday presents, and picked out an awesome assortment at Barnes and Noble (see pic above).  She also bought herself the Les Miserables soundtrack and we’ve been listening to a lot of French Revolutionary songs in the car.
  2. We’ve been doing a lot of bird watching. Daryl and the kids have spotted a white-faced ibis, an osprey, blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, lots of song birds, vultures, many kinds of migrating ducks, returning pelicans and a fantastic battle between two hawks in the road this morning, along with a very determined crow dive-bombing a red-tailed hawk on a pole this afternoon.
  3. Victoria taught her younger siblings about Nihilism. Of course.  ;)
  4. Anna has been writing poems and doing song rewrites. She has one about Corn and Snow (living in Minnesota) based on Carrie Underwood’s tornado song (I can’t remember the name now) and “I Knew You Were Homeschooled” instead of “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift.
  5. Jack graduated archery class and did an awesome job. We bought a family membership for the rest of the year so we can use the facility and the gear any time.
  6. Alex has been working on sight words. He knows about 30 now.  We have a goal of 50 by the end of the summer and I keep track in my journal.
  7. Anna has headed up to Bemidji for the week with family friends. She stays with Guy and Val once or twice a year.  They love getting to play parents and she loves getting to be an only child.  They also teach her about legal stuff (Val is a lawyer), computers and all of the many subjects they are so knowledgeable about.
  8. Victoria and Daryl went to a writers/actors/artists workshop. They learned about everything from collage to Taiko drumming to writing to charcoal and paint.  It was at a nearby college and Victoria made some cool new connections and they both had a great time.
  9. We have seedlings on all the windowsills and have started many gardens. We got a ton of snow on top of my freshly planted seeds, but they’re cold tolerant so hopefully they’ll fare okay.  Inside, I have heirloom tomatoes everywhere, along with some exotic eggplants and interesting cabbage.  I can’t wait for it to warm up enough to really get serious in the garden.
  10. Daryl, Anna and Jack auditioned for the Wilder Pageant. Victoria is sitting out this year (she has been in it every summer since she was 6), but Alex may join in as one of Daryl’s kids.  Daryl will probably be Reverend Alden and Elias Bedal (Walnut Grove’s first mayor) again.  We haven’t received official word about roles yet, but the cast photos are on Saturday so we’ll know this week.

We’ve also talked about… European travel, youth hostels, abortion, the Gosnell trial, townships, voting registration and more.  The kids have also been doing… finger knitting, Big Wheel riding, ball playing, tree climbing, drawing, Lego building, Wii playing, video chatting, hiking, bike riding, sticky ball tossing, solitaire playing, Free Rice earning, dog walking, cooking, chores, talking on the phone with friends, reading, reading, reading and a whole lot of playing.

If you haven’t seen them, here’s my latest homeschooling articles elsewhere….

Students can use free public domain classes to learn over 40 languages

 

Here’s a great free resource to round out your child’s foreign language studies.  FSI Language Courses offer dozens of foreign language programs in mp3 format and in print for languages ranging from Finnish to Swahili…

Kids can take part in virtual Maker Camp this summer

 

Kids are invited to take part in Make Magazine’s six-week Maker’s Camp again this summer, with all sorts of great science, technology and crafting fun.The annual program boasts 30 days of “awesome projects…

Elemons turns the Periodic Table of Elements into a Pokemon-style card game

 

The best educational games are ones that kids would choose to play anyway because they’re enjoyable, well made and easy to play.  Elemons is a great example of this kind of game…

Free geometry book available from Wikijunior

 

Wikijunior has created a free geometry wikibook for the elementary level that’s a great introduction to geometry for all ages.The 72-page book, Geometry for Elementary School, covers basic information such as points, lines, symmetry, congruence, how…

Minecraft homeschool: Incredible educational Minecraft inspiration from all over

Do your kids love Minecraft?  Why not take advantage of that and use Minecraft to help teach history, science, language arts and more? There are dozens of wonderful sites on the internet designed to help parents and teachers… 

50 Simple household items that help your child become a math whiz

 

Want to raise a child who loves math and is great at it?  One of the easiest ways to do that is to fill your house with hands-on materials that encourage kids to play with numbers, puzzles, shapes…

Free 700-page middle school chemistry course available online

 

Looking for a comprehensive chemistry course for the middle school level?  The American Chemical Society provides their entire 691-page curriculum for free as a PDF download or online resource…
And now, I have one final cake to bake (Victoria would like a gluten-free Red Velvet Cake) so I’d better get to it.

Looking ahead to third grade.

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Our new school year starts on June 1st. One of my goals for third grade is that Alex start to take a little more ownership of her education, so I asked her what she would like to accomplish this year. Without prompting, she came up with the following list:

1) Learn to write in cursive, quickly.
2) Learn how to multiply fractions.
3) Know the area of a circle.
4) Know the area of the Circle of Life.
5) Be able to write an essay by the first day of fourth grade.

Not such a bad list! #1 hadn’t initially been on my own list – I honestly don’t care if she writes in cursive or print. I learned cursive in elementary school, labored over it for four years, and instantly switched back to printing the moment I hit junior high. It did not impair my efforts to earn a Ph.D. But since Alex wants to learn it, I let her pick her script and ordered a handwriting book in the style she chose (Zaner-Bloser, pretty close to the Palmer script I was taught.)

The other kind of writing has been much on my mind. In third grade, I really want to focus on translating Alex’s strong verbal skills into writing.

I don’t think she’s quite ready for Paragraph Town, the next level of Michael Clay Thompson language arts. (Boy, would she love getting to move on to the next MCT poetry book, though. Music of the Hemispheres was one of the highlights of this year.) I intended to just have her focus on writing short paragraphs or themes in history and science, but on impulse I bought Writing Strands instead. It’s written to the child – I think it’s time to start making that shift – and it has a mix of creative and expository assignments. One of the things I like is that it focuses on working on the same piece of writing over several days. It looks like Writing Strands 3 will take about six months to complete, and then we can move on to MCT Town level towards the end of third grade.

2013-04-05 09.04.24

In math, with regret, we will mostly be leaving Beast Academy behind. They’re now saying that they’ll come out with each new set of books five months apart – and a set of books is only a quarter of a grade level. We’ll still buy the guides for enrichment, and perhaps the practice books as well, but Beast Academy can’t continue as Alex’s grade-level work. Instead, over the next year or so she’s going to work through a compacted version of MEP 4b-6b. Beast Academy has shown me that Alex just doesn’t need as much practice and repetition as there is in MEP. She thrives on moving a little quicker. I’ve reduced the rest of MEP down into about a full year’s work (it will take longer if we intersperse with Beast Academy), and we’ll move at that pace as long as she feels comfortable with it.

The last new thing I want to add for third grade is art. We did great art lessons with Five in a Row in kindergarten and first grade, but since then, sadly, Alex has mostly been on her own. She does great mixed-media and fabric art projects on her own, but I know that she would benefit from some actual instruction. We’re going to try working through Mona Brookes’ Drawing With Children, and see where that takes us.

In addition to these new things, Alex will be keeping on with Lively Latin, All About Spelling, Story of the World, and Intellego science units. That seems like more than enough!

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…And!

The really major new thing we’ll have going on this year is that Colin is dropping out of nursery school and becoming a home-preschooler, for reasons I will explain in an upcoming post. Yay, I get to do Five in a Row again! Colin is ecstatic about not having to go to school anymore, although he did cautiously ask if I could give him easy homeschooling, at first. I’m not going to leap right in to a lot of academics with him. Besides Five in a Row, I think I’ll try to spend some time at the table with him most days, doing varying activities: fine motor skills, board games, cutting and gluing, games with math manipulatives, mazes, learning to write letters, and continuing on with a little MEP Reception, or, as it is known in our house, “Colin math.” Oh, and books. Lots of time on the couch reading books.

It’s going to be awesome.

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Checking In…

My goodness, I’ve been gone a lot lately!  We’ve been so busy for being recluses.  ;)

Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to….

Daryl had his recheck for his hip replacement surgery at the Mayo.  All looks great and he has the go-ahead for physical therapy.

While we were there, I surprised the kids with $10 each to spend at Rochester’s giant thrift store, Saver’s.

My boys pooled their money for light sabers, nerf guns, tech toys and mini figurines.

Anna used her cash for yarn, an awesome high-tech watch, a wizardry book that goes along with Harry Potter crafts, and a 39 Clues card collection case.

Victoria spent it on nothing but books (The Outsiders, Slaughterhouse Five, Farenheit 451…).  And then talked me into buying an enormous stack of extra textbooks for her (organic chemistry, psychology, biology, surgical nursing, algebra one if I got her the others…).  That girl sure makes me smile sometimes.   ;)

Jack and I have been playing this game like crazy to help him learn his multiplication facts (and also because it’s just plain fun).

Here’s a bit of what I posted about it on Facebook:

It’s called Roll n Multiply and you play it similarly to tic tac toe but it’s far more fun. Jack and I love it. You roll two dice and multiply the numbers (they are 10 sided), then put the game piece with that number on it anywhere on the board flipped to your color. The object is to get 4 in a row. BUT, if you roll a number that is already on the board you can take it and use it elsewhere (whether it was yours or your opponent’s, you just flip it to your color and put it where you want it), so you can move things and unblock lines that were blocked before. So if I had 3 in a row and Jack blocked me with his orange 24, and then I rolled 6×4, I could flip over his 24 to purple and win. It’s part luck, part strategy, part math. We play it a ton of and both of us like it. There’s a cheat sheet you can use if you don’t know your facts too, and I think Alex will be able to play it fine even though he’s only 5 and doesn’t know most of his facts yet. You really don’t need to know them but they end up learning them accidentally very quickly. I highly recommend it and I promised Jack I’d buy us a set of our own. You can check it out at the MSU library as soon as I return it and see if you guys like it. It’s nice and sturdy too, which I like. Here’s the link on Amazon (different cover now but the inside looks identical).

We stayed at a hotel for a couple of days while we were there for the recheck and had fun swimming at the pool, putting together fun gourmet (gluten free, vegetarian, etc.) hotel room meals and splurging a bit one time.

We finished off our visit by stopping by a fabulous HS family’s dairy farm to meet up in real life for the first time after us moms had known each other online for years.  It was a really special day and so much fun.  None of us could stop smiling afterwards and we can’t wait to visit again.  :)

I was too busy having fun to take any pictures but I think Toria and Anna got a few.  I snagged this from my friend’s FB feed of one of their new babies.  I love the fact that every single one of the 90+ cows has a name (Vanessa, Molly, Avery….) and that they are treated so lovingly (Avery steals peanut butter cups).  We learned so much, too!  And we just plain adored their family.  :)

In other news, someone made these beautiful flint-knapped driftglass arrowheads for our family.  Daryl struck up a conversation with the artist a few years ago as Daryl was looking for sharks’ teeth at a small local lake and this man was looking for arrowheads.  They’ve networked a bit since then (the “primitive tech” community is a small and friendly one!), and my sweetie offered him some big chunks of good flintknapping rock that we had sitting unused in our garage.  In thanks, he made these for all of us.  Aren’t they beautiful?!

We’re also working on our seeds, readying the garden and so much more.  Poor Fiona has been in and out of doctor’s offices and ERs the past week (she’s okay) and so much else is going on, but that’s a good bit for the first catch-up!

Oh yes, and we’re in the middle of some crazy winter storm that’s got people all around us without power and everything is covered with ice.  Trees and power lines are broken left and right, and there’s some pretty dire situations all around.

Hopefully all of that will pass quickly.  Minnesota winters are a bit like movie bad guys.  Every time you think they’re finally dead, they grab your ankle and come after you one more time.  ;)   I’m just pretending it’s green out there and going on with my garden planning.

Hopefully it will be less than a month till the next check in!

Fractals

Ahh, finally, my fractal co-op was today. We talked about why fractals are cool (because they are relatively new, Mandelbrot only named them ‘fractals’ in 1975.)

fractal
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mandel_zoom_00_mandelbrot_set.jpg)

We went over the math for fractals:

set

The area is:

area

We talked about complex numbers and how you would graph them on a complex plane (care to do it by hand – go here to find out how.) We talked about how a fractal tree starts with one stem, breaks into 2, then 4 and so on, kind of like your family tree. I passed out some of my Mandelbrot set postcards, they are very cool. We watched this Vi Hart video to see binary trees, fractals and Sierpinski triangles.

If you want to try fraction fractals, watch this video.

Watching the binary video led us to the Sierpinski triangle, I printed out some 1/2″ triangle graph paper from here and we drew Pascal’s triangle onto it and then colored in sections and…voila!

You have Sierpinski’s triangle. (Pascal’s triangle has some amazing number qualities in itself besides the fact that you can doodle a fractal out of it, check out more about Pascal’s triangle here.)

We went here and looked at a Mandelbrot set fractal generator (it’s fractal generator number one.) I put it on the projection screen and the kids pointed to the area they wanted me to zoom into.

We did CD fractals with paint. Just get a CD case and take it apart (so that you can put 2 flat sides together.)

Put small amounts of paint on one side, slap the other side on, squish and pull apart.

We did the same thing with paper, place paint on one side, squish, pull apart.

The CD cases came out very cool, some looked like leaves, coral reefs, brains, trees, flowers. We ended with some examples of fractals, like these.

Trees.

Mountains.

Clouds.

Spirals.

Flowers.

Leaves.

Crystals.

Fractals are fun, cool, interesting, amazing and you can find them all around!

Free Printable Math Placement Tests for Grades K-7

Curious what level your kids are up to in math? K12 has all of its math placement tests online here.  You can print them out for free without registering or jumping through any hoops.

The tests go from kindergarten through 5th grade in two semesters per year, and then four semesters of pre-algebra, which is roughly middle school age.

Note that it automatically prints the answers too, which doubles the pages printed.  For instance, the kindergarten semester test is 4 pages but it prints 8 pages because it prints the test and then the test with the right answer circled.  If you want to save paper and ink, just print the first half of the pages and check the answers online (if you don’t know them yourself).

You know we don’t follow a structured curriculum, and this was a nice way for me to see what subjects to introduce next to Jack and Anna.  Alex just plain had fun with it, too.  :)

Accelerating without a net.

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Sushi is our traditional reward for finishing a math book.

On Thursday, Alex finished MEP 4a, which is theoretically the first half of fourth grade math. I looked ahead in math to see what our likely sequence might be. On the pre-algebra pretest at the Art of Problem Solving website, the only things she can’t do now are multidigit divisors, operations with decimals, and negative numbers. Allowing for plenty of practice, she could realistically finish the elementary math sequence in another year. Which would put us on pace to start pre-algebra somewhere around her ninth birthday.

That scares me.

I am grateful that homeschooling allows us to proceed at Alex’s own pace. I am glad that we can calibrate her math work based on our own observations, without having to justify our case to an educational bureaucracy. And yet it’s also scary to be accelerating without a net. What if we’re missing something?

What if we’re self-deluded?

After all, one of the most common tropes in modern American parenting is the parent who overestimates her kid’s talent. I’ll admit that I’ve seen things written by other parents that have made me cringe. So it’s uncomfortable for me to talk about giftedness or acceleration; I vividly remember the scornful condescension with which an anonymous commenter once explained to me that Alex, while “cute” and “obviously well-exposed,” was certainly nothing unusual.

In general, I’m a fan of a “deeper, not just faster” approach to math; rather than race Alex quickly through the levels of a standard curriculum, I’ve sought out the most challenging programs I can find. I’ve been planning to run her through the majority of MEP and Beast Academy, so that she’s exposed to different teaching strategies, emphases, and enrichment topics. I’ve looked to add in fun enrichment and have contemplated substituting logic for math one day a week. And even though we’re doubling up on curricula, I have avoided compacting either program very much. After our experience with Beast Academy 3a-c indicated that she does fine with less intensive practice, I did approach MEP 4a with greater willingness to eliminate problems – but it wasn’t until near the very end that I dared to eliminate a few whole lessons.

Part of what’s been in the back of my mind, through all of that, is discomfort with the whole idea that she might hit algebra at ten or eleven years old. I’ve found myself assuming that “slowing her down” is inherently a good idea, without looking at that too closely. I haven’t, after all, wanted to be “one of THOSE parents.” Really, when it comes down to it, I’ve been afraid to accelerate in any significant way. It feels safer to have her be no more than a year or so “ahead.” It’s scary to be her parent and her teacher, making the call about sending her flying out there without the “net” of some official validation.