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.