Why we don’t “teach” math

I was joking some friends recently et al recently that, having now seen sufficient evidence that my children will become literate without my obsessing about it, I needed something else to freak out about and thought that perhaps I should choose math.

But upon reflection I realized that at the ripe ages of four and six they’ve got a pretty good grasp on much of the math *I* use on a daily basis. That is, that half a cup plus half a cup is a full cup, that if you have \$10 and something costs \$15, you don’t have enough… The details will get fleshed out, all the big picture stuff is there
An anecdote: Our dog gets a cup of food at each meal, and half a cup of less is she’s really beggy and hungry in-between meals. The scoop in the food container is usually a cup, sometimes half a cup, sometimes both–and currently, a third cup–not for any pedagogical reasons, but because I grab the first thing that’s available, and then it disappears, and then I grab something else…

Cinder had fed Anya a little before her supper, and I wanted to know how much. So I holler, “How much did you give Anya?” He hollers back, “Half a cup!” I happen to know that the current scoop in the bucket is half a cup. So I holler back, “Half a cup, as in a full scoop of the half a cup, of half of half of a cup?” Cinder hollers back, “A quarter cup–half of a half a cup.”

And today, I heard: “Mom! It’s a third cup measure in the dog food, so make sure you give Anya three scoops when you give her supper.”

Math and numeracy lessons happening? Check.

2013: So with the older two kids now at 10 and 8, are you still this lax about math?

Yeah, pretty much. And this is why: the 10-year-old wants to learn to program, and is encountering more and more things that require him to have a certain level of math competency―and so finding ways to pursue that competency. He’s not learning math linearly or sequentially, that’s for sure―but he’s learning and mastering concepts as he needs them, and filling holes. I do think that in the next few years, we’ll end up working through text books more actively―because the kids want it as well as need it. And when we do―they will motor through them.

Seriously? You’re this sanguine?

Yeah. It helps that I myself went through the Grade 10 math curriculum in about three weeks, and Grade 11 immediately afterwards in a month or so. When you want to get it done, when you see why it’s important, and how it’s applicable to what you want to do, you do it.

Check out this beautiful piece, Lockhart’s Lament, for a more elegant exposition on the subject.

7 responses to “Why we don’t “teach” math”

1. My son feeds our cats with a measuring cup. I can’t believe I never thought to use that as a math lesson!

He’s only four, but I “home-preschool” him (he will attend public school when he’s old enough). We do some workbooks, but since he’s a 4yo boy, he obviously requires a lot of “unschooling” methods. I’m totally stealing that measuring cup thing.

Thank you!

2. I just recently began considering the home-schooling thing. But I feel I’m so unqualified and would only be detrimental. I’m adding a bookmark to this website as I have much to consider and I love your style. You make it seam so easy, maybe I could actually do it. 🙂

3. If you ever want to delve into it off-line, happy to do so, Carol. Let me know, ok?

4. In the same vein: jar of change. Best basic math learning tool ever.