Many of us have experienced it, a terrible brain freeze when faced with what seems like an insoluble problem: learning and/or applying one or another math concept. I was never a whiz at math, in fact times tables’ mastery escaped my grasp well into adulthood. Indeed, I regularly practiced the most commonly used math phobic technique, math avoidance.
When, as a Waldorf teacher, I was introduced to math’s friendlier face: a compelling and interesting one found in nature and patterns, or in the sly “trickiness” of fun formulas that make no apparent sense, my curiosity and interest rose high enough to overcome my fear.
These two aspects, math’s connection to nature and math tricks, both examples of making math more friendly and palatable, along with other wonderful attributes of the subject that lie just beneath the surface, can make a big difference. Sprinkle these two, along with other interesting facts, tricks, and patterns liberally throughout your homeschool math curriculum and watch your students’ interest and motivation soar. Here are a few suggestions:
Bake number pretzels with your first graders . . .
Toss dice for fraction practice: using the numbers as numerators and denominators to reduce and simplify, convert improper fractions to mixed numbers, change fractions to decimals . . .
Teach factors or other math concepts using familiar objects, like apples and oranges . . .
Legos or other colorful manipulatives can make math concepts easier to see.
Teach fractions with lots of tactile help and visuals . . .
Math fear can be life-limiting in the extreme. When math is made accessible and friendly, your students will conquer or bypass it entirely. As Mark H. Ashcroft, Ph.D. suggests, “Highly anxious math students will avoid situations in which they have to perform mathematical equations. Unfortunately, math avoidance results in less competency, exposure, and math practice, leaving students (even) more anxious and mathematically unprepared to achieve.”
Albert Einstein had some things to say about math: “Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” About curiosity, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” Finally, the best advice, “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics, I can assure you mine are still greater.”
So do imbue your homeschool math curriculum with creativity and imagination, and the rest will follow. Your students will love and practice math with healthy self-esteem and confidence.