When I was in fourth grade, my math skills were good enough to place me in a top group of fourth grade mathematicians. When I was in college, I was placed in advanced English — and remedial algebra! What happened between age 8 and age 17? I can’t say that I know for sure.
At that time (I kid you not), we were required to have only one math credit to graduate from high school. I graduated with honors having taken exactly that — one math credit. I was completely unprepared for college math. I concentrated on social sciences and took the minimum math requirements, which was again the equivalent of one year.
As we homeschooled, we learned to find what fit our children. We used A Beka, Saxon, and Jacob’s Geometry — all successfully, but not necessarily successfully with each of our children. For example, we had one child who learned the Saxon way and went all the way through it, including Saxon Advanced Math and Saxon Physics; we had another cry through a year of Saxon Algebra II.
That is one of my big homeschool regrets. Why didn’t I realize early in that year that this math just did not fit that child and go find something else? The next year we switched to Jacob’s Geometry and it was smooth and happy sailing. My mathematical self-esteem was so low (after suffering through that remedial college Algebra class in which the teacher told us what idiots we were) that I decided to sit down at the dining room table and learn geometry with the two children doing it that year. In my 40s, I learned that I could do math after all!
In a blog post I wrote long ago, I included the list of our family’s objectives in My Homeschool To-Do List. One of our objectives was that our children “learn the math they need to know.” Afterwards, a blog reader left a comment saying that she would love to hear more about what I meant by “the math they need to know.”
I believe that the math they need to know varies by child. For our mathematically inclined child, that meant Saxon all the way through the most advanced courses. When that child needed help, my mathematically inclined husband saved the day. For our children, that meant finding the math that worked for each one individually.
However, there is much more to the math they need to know than simply math curriculum. It means knowing how to use math in their everyday lives. One day one of our adult daughters shopped for fabric. She purchased two yards of fabric at $3.00 per yard. The substitute fabric cutter had to get help from a manager to figure the cost, and the manager used a calculator to figure the total — a calculator for two times three!
If our daughter happened to be helped by two people with learning glitches, that I understand; but if they were not taught practical math skills, that is an avoidable handicap.
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 NASB
On every homeschooling mother’s to-do list is figuring out the way each of her children should go. It’s a joyful quest because He made each of them so wonderfully — even those who need a calculator for two times three.
As important as algebra, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry can be for many children, I believe that other math skills are also useful in their daily lives. I use information like these math facts again and again in my daily life:
• 3 teaspoons make a tablespoon and 16 tablespoons make a cup.
• 2 cups make a pint and 2 pints make a quart.
• 12 inches make a foot and three feet make a yard.
• 5 pennies make a nickel and 10 pennies make a dime.
• 5 nickels make a quarter and 4 quarters make a dollar.
• A standard card deck has 4 suits of 13 cards which add up to 52 cards.
• A standard die has 6 sides and each side has either 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 dots.
• If a store has 50% off, a $20 shirt will be $10.
• If a store has a buy one get one half-price offer, two $20 shirts will cost me $30.
• If I purchase 2 yards of fabric (or chain or wire or rope) at $3 per yard, I will pay $6.
You get the idea.
When we help children learn the math they need to know, we:
• find the curriculum from which each individual child can learn best
• determine how far our child needs to advance (or does not need to advance) in mathematics by learning what God has created this child to do in the future and by listening to our child’s goals and aspirations
• find tutors or tutorials or co-ops that will help our child with whatever we cannot teach, while keeping in mind what spiritual influence these will have on our children
• help our children memorize measurements and equivalents and know their math facts inside and out, so they can shop, play games, make a craft, or buy the right amount of paint at a hardware store without a mathematical handicap.
And while we are working on those things, we remember God’s teaching in Colossians 3:21 not to exasperate our children. We must also train our children in the many ethics lessons God teaches about mathematics. Here is just one verse among many:
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight.
Proverbs 11:1 NASB
As we work faithfully on these tasks year after year, I believe our children will learn the math they need to know.