Unschooling math happens like this

Math Medley


Flora, the artist, fingers covered with paint, finishes glazing her second clay sculpture of the day. Then looks at them, looks at their price tags, looks at me.

“Gah! I cost you $80 today!” she exclaims.

I smile. “Not quite.”

“I did the math,” she says. “This one is $39, and this one is $31.”

“So together, they are?” I ask. She frowns.

“30 plus 30 is 60, and 9 plus 1 is… oh, $70,” she says. “But then there’s tax. So won’t it be almost $80?”

“Our tax is 5%,” I say. (I know. Envy Alberta. Also, envy Flora. When Cinder was this age, our tax was 7% and the math was not quite this easy!). “So if it was 10% on $70…”

“It would be $7,” she finishes.

“So 5% is half of what 10% would be,” I prompt. “So that would be…”

“But I can’t split 7 in half! It’s an odd number!”

“Think about it. What’s the problem, why can’t you split it in half?”

“Well, I end up with three and three, and then one…”

“Right. But one dollar is how many cents?”

“Oh… 50 cents! I split it into 50 cents! So the tax is $3.50, and so the total will be $73.50!”

And she jumps up and down and pirouettes. And then adds…

“That’s closer to $70 than $80, actually, so I was off by quite a bit. $6.50.”

And she moves on to something else…


Cinder is 11.5 and doing “sit down” “pen and paper” math for the first time in his life. He’s done 26 out of the 30 lessons that define this particular curriculum’s “year” in two and a half weeks . At a pace of 15-45 minutes a day, every other day… or every three days… sometimes two or three days in a row.*

This would have been hell when he was six. Worse when he was eight. Not sure he could have done it at 10.

At 11.5, it’s a piece of cake.

The basis? 11.5 years of playing with math. Playing with Lego. Living around real numbers. Hearing his parents add, subtract, divide, multiply. Cry over visa bills… Curse taxes. 🙂

*Question: How in the world are you covering a year’s of curriculum in three weeks?

Answer: When it’s clear he’s mastered the concept, we don’t keep on doing the drill work. So there’s a hell of a lot of “flip, flip, flip, flip–aha! Here’s something new! Oh, got it? OK, flip, flip, flip…”

Question: But, but, but drill work reinforces the concepts!

Answer: Only until mastery. Once you get it, it’s just a waste of time.


Minecraft helps math mastery. Truth. Listen to this:

Cinder: Dude! Dude, where are you? What’s your x and y position? That doesn’t make sense… Are you negative? Is your y negative? Dude, you’re 2750 blocks away from where you were supposed to go!


The four-year-old wants to do math too. I give him the manipulatives from Math-U-See to play with. And the bin of lentils from TOPScience Get-A-Grip.

Unschooling math. It happens like this.

*In-between the writing of this post and its publication, he finished the book! 22 days, start to finish. Worried that your babe’s not at “grade level”? It takes no time at all to catch up–when they’re ready, when they want to.

And they will want to.

They will.

This post is playing at the Home School Link-Up:

This week, Nothing At The Book is about getting kids to do laundry… dealing with slime molds… and surviving deadlines. With tips for aspiring freelance writers worked in.

One response to “Unschooling math happens like this

  1. Pingback: Share This: Teaching math in schools is counterproductive | Undogmatic Unschoolers·

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