Saturday, September 15, 2007

The math bug

Today Fiona got up, had her oatmeal, and headed straight for her Miquon Orange book. I'd be worrying about her being too young for a formal math program, especially Miquon which is conceptually quite advanced, if it hadn't been for Sophie, who picked up exactly the same book at almost exactly the same age. She's doing really well with it. She's about 40 pages in, and is full of enthusiasm. She uses cuisenaire rods easily but rarely, preferring to do most of the arithmetic in her head. She's easily intuited concepts such as 4 + __ = 9 essentially being a 9 - 4 subtraction question. Miquon is so brilliant -- no one has had to teach her this, it just grew out of the guided exploration.

My kids use a fair number of structured academic resources, with a particular consistency in the area of mathematics, and sometimes I look at what they've chosen to do and wonder if we're really unschoolers. I know that many people would look at the fact that my kids do all these things and figure that I must subtly be coercing them. Sometimes I wonder myself. So when we reached the end of our musical summer and no one had touched any math for months, I paid very careful attention to what I said and did, and to whether math resurfaced as an interest.

Sophie was the first to start hankering for math. She mentioned a couple of times that she wanted to start doing math, and complained one evening that I hadn't got around to working with her yet. The next evening she chased me around with her book, and so we sat down and delved in. Then we went away to Calgary, and the book got set aside. But a couple of days after we got back, she again pulled it out. She's been quite consistent with doing a little bit of work every evening.

About three days after Sophie established a routine of nightly math, a routine that in the past all the kids have really relished, Noah started his "thing". Noah resists new things, and challenges, but seems to enjoy being nudged into them most of the time. He actually asks for nudges by doing this "thing" where he complains loudly about starting to do something no one has suggested he do. He looked at Sophie eagerly doing multidigit multiplication review and said "I hate math." I reacted conversationally. "Really? That's funny, I remember you loving algebra last spring when we started working on it." He was unimpressed. "Not any more. I don't like that Teaching Textbooks thing. It's too hard." Recognizing the pattern I responded "Well, you always feel that way about something you aren't used to. Usually you feel really differently about it once you get going." He shrugged. That was the end of it.

The next night when Sophie pulled out her book he made a similar disparaging comment about math. I rolled my eyes and reminded him that there's always a bit of a hump to get over when he wants to start in at something. "Do you want to just sit down and try some and see if you can get over this hump?" I asked. He sighed and sat down and pulled out the book. (I guess that was a "yes"?) We backtracked 3 or 4 lessons from where we'd left off in the spring and talked our way through a bit of review.

I shouldn't be surprised any more by the pattern, but the next night when Sophie decided it was Math Time, Noah was there, eagerly vying for some time with me to do his work. He likes it! And so he's off and at it again, and feeling good about himself. It has only taken about 3 days of review to get him back on track and tackling new material with confidence.

And as usual, Fiona has got swept up by all the activity and is at least as enthusiastic as Sophie and Noah. So her Miquon book came out and she's been working in it, often with Sophie's help.

Erin marches to the beat of her own drummer as always. She worked herself halfway through the first Teaching Textbooks Algebra level last spring but hasn't caught the bug this fall. Noah is catching up (she's only about 50 lessons further into the same program he's working in) and I have no idea whether she'll be spurred to action by that closing gap. He has never come anywhere close to her in intellectual pursuits before. She's really focused on violin right now and I'm thrilled that she's working so hard at something. Whether she catches the math bug remains to be seen. I have my doubts, but she did seem to enjoy TT last spring, so we'll see.


  1. Interesting!

    And your ability to sit back and allow it to unfold at its own pace is wonderful and inspiring.

  2. It's nice that you can step back and see Noah as he is and then give him the benefit of your observations. And I'm really impressed that he is "helping" a game developer. That's a real world way of learning that many kids never get the opportunity to do.

    In my book you are unschoolers because the kids lead. That they use programs and books with encouragement does not mean that they are somehow being coerced. It sounds like you have successfully modeled for them what it takes to learn something they want to learn. And you really know your kids! What a joy that is for you and for them.


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