Supporting Math Learning

Comparing how parents support learning to read versus learning math.

Why do you want your child to become proficient in reading? I have asked this question of hundreds of parents and the answers always include: “to experience the joy of reading,” “to learn to love books,” and sometimes, “to be able to function in adult life.” When I ask them how their child is motivated to learn to read and what they do to encourage it, they say, “reading aloud,” and “provide the kind of reading materials my child enjoys.”

When I ask the same questions about math, parents typically say things like: “I want my child to learn math so he can understand money, get into college, get a job, handle her finances, do well on tests.” To motivate their children, they try to find the best math books they can and they make them do their math on a regular basis.

Comparing their approach to reading with the typical approach to math, it is clear that parents don’t typically put “joy” and “mathematics” together as either goal or motivation even when they do that when it comes to reading. Why not?

You might want to stop here and think a bit about your own attitude toward math. What are your goals for your children in learning math? What do you wish for them? How do you support or encourage them? Lots of times people are really not all that clear on why they even care if their kids learn math; they’ve just accepted it that it is important, and they really can’t articulate why that is – especially beyond some pretty simple arithmetic that is used in everyday life. Few parents find math enjoyable and few feel very competent in math themselves. It’s no wonder that math is the subject homeschooling parents worry about most. And it’s no wonder that they find it hard to support mathematics learning in the same encouraging and enjoyable way they do reading.

Becoming aware of our own math hang-ups can help us set them aside so that we can appreciatively enjoy and happily support what our children bring into our lives, even when it involves math.


Dice Game – Sequences

This is a new variation of the game I posted in the past.

All ages. Any number of players. Six dice. Paper and pencil for scorekeeping.
Alternate turns. On your turn, roll all six dice at once, one roll.
Score your turn as follows:
Each possible sequence of dice has a different point value. If you can make more than one sequence (each die can be used only once, though), then you add up the point values for all sequences.
Any sequence of 2 or more dice counts, but only use each die one time.
Score by adding the value of the dice in the sequence PLUS the number of dice in the sequence.
For example, if you roll 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4  you can create sequences of 1-2 and 1-2-3-4.
The 1-2 sequence scores 1+2 which is 3 PLUS 2 (because it is a 2-dice sequence) for a total of 5.
The 1-2-3-4 sequence scores 1+2+3+4 which is 10 PLUS 4 (because it is a 4-dice sequence) for a total of 14.
Together, the two sequences add up to 5 + 14 = 19 points for that turn.
Another example is:
You roll 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6. In this case you can make just two sequences a 2-3 and a 5-6. The 2-3 scores 2+3 which is 5, plus 2 for having 2 dice in the sequence, so the total for that sequence is 7. The 5-6 sequence scores 5+6 is 11, plus 2 for having two dice in the sequence, so that is 13. Total for the turn is 7 plus 13, for 20 points total.
You can make up rules to add a little more pizzazz to this game. Maybe add a point for each even number rolled. Or add points for getting 2, 3, 4 5, or 6 of of a kind.
Play around with the rules and see if your changes make the game more fun. Let me know.

NIM Games

NIM Game 3-4-5

Lay out 12 coins in 3 rows. Row 1 has 3 coins in it. Row 2 has 4 coins in it. Row 3 has 5 coins in it.Players alternate turns and may, on their turn, take any number of coins but from ONE row only on that turn.

The player who takes the last coin is the winner.

Another variation of this game is to play it with rows of 1, 3, 5, and 7 coins. Same rules.

NIM Game

20 coins or other counters
2 players
all ages
strategic thinking, planning ahead

Lay out 20 coins.
Take turns picking up 1, 2, or 3. (For example, player one picks up 2 coins, player two picks up 1 coin, player 1 picks up 3 coins, player 2 picks up 3 coins, and so on.)
The player who picks up the last coin LOSES.

Don’t read this until you’ve played a while first
(Hint: if you always go second and always make sure that the total picked up in a round is 4 (they pick up 1, you pick up 3 or if they pick up 2, you pick up 2, etc) then you’ll always win. Why?)


Use fewer coins and see how the game plays out.
Make the rule that you can pick up 1 or 2 coins, not 3.
Make the winner the person who TAKES the last coin.

Unschoolers are Lazy?

Unschooling is really impossible to confuse with being lazy. It takes a lot of time and energy and thought on the part of the parent. Now, for some people, it is SO fun that it seems easy — just like anything else, when you’re loving what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like work.

But – it really does take a lot of time and devotion and focus — the
parent needs to really think about the child. A LOT. The parent needs to bring interesting things and ideas and experiences to the child and this means being always on the lookout for what the child might enjoy. It means becoming super aware of your child – not only getting a good sense of what might interest him or her, but how does h/she express that interest and what is the best way for you to offer new and potentially interesting ideas, experiences, and things. The parent needs to consider when and how to support the child in further pursuing a current interest and when the child might be more interested in moving on to something else. The parent needs to be aware of when the child needs someone to talk to and be with and interact with and when the child needs more solitary time to think and pursue an interest on his/her own. The parent needs to get a sense of when the kid needs a more active social life and when he needs to meet some new people or when he needs help in staying connected with old friends.

The parent needs to be so aware of the child that the parent
automatically thinks of him/her and partially sees the world through
h/her eyes.

This is all a tall order. Overly self-centered people can’t do it
because it requires a lot of empathy. People with too many personal
problems that they haven’t addressed in their own lives probably can’t
do it because they are too distracted by those. People who are too
negative or cynical can’t do it because they tend to crush interest and joy, not build it up. People who lack curiosity and a certain amount of gusto for life can’t really do it.

On the other hand, we grow into it. Turns out that we parents learn, too <g>. So – when we are making moves, taking steps, in the direction of unschooling, turns out the trail starts to open up in front of us and we get more and more sure-footed as we travel the unschooling path.

My suggestion is that you ask yourself really honestly, is there
something more I could be doing for my child that would enhance my
child’s life? If the answer is yes, then make the choice to do it. Then ask this question of yourself again and again and, each time, make the life-enriching choice. Apply this to small things and to big momentous decisions. Small things – could I make something for dinner that would be special and interesting? Did I see a cool rock on the ground outside – could I bring it in and wash it and set it on the table for others to notice. Big things – would my child enjoy traveling – can we take a family vacation that involves exploring things my child would find interesting?

In unschooling, “lazy” means not thinking about enriching and enhancing your child’s life. You change this by doing it – one choice at a time.

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