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The Value of Making Mistakes Doing Maths
© Beverley Paine
Mistakes in maths seem to take on more importance than any other subject and consequently 'failing to get it right' is a much bigger deal. It is hard to relate to mathematical errors as approximations, which is what we do with other areas of learning. Spelling and maths are two areas that parents and educators tend to get paranoid about, worrying that if they are not learned at a certain age in a certain way then all is lost.
Instead of fretting over our children's endless fumbling with maths and focusing on the mistakes, we need to use the mistakes as a brilliant way to unlock what learning is occuring and how. By examing and analysing our children's mistakes we will learn what basic concepts and understanding is missing or needs more work.
Treating mistakes as a natural and important part of the learning process and accepting that they will happen and that making them is not 'failing' is an attitudinal shift that can really boost a young learner's confidence.
With my own children I sometimes used a story-telling approach to find out how the child had worked the problem in his head, and how they had arrived at that answer. Often they didn't really know. It seemed to me that in many cases my children had 'guessed' the answers to the problems on the page, which resulted in more right answers than wrong. Because most of the answers were right, when they got a wrong answer they weren't able to identify straight away why they got the sum wrong. Talking through the process helped them to see how their minds were working to solve problems. As they grew older they were still able to accurately 'guess' an answer to many mathematical problems and this led them to explore how the processes they'd used to arrive at the answer - right or wrong - after getting the answer!
I saw this as them beginning to acknowledge and trust their innate mathematical abilities - in much the same way they did as very young children. Back then they never questioned their ability, they just got on with working things out, having a go, making adjustments, with the focus on the game, or activity, rather than the mathematics.
Maths was like breathing and eating and learning to talk and walk - something you did in order to achieve something else. It took me a long time to appreciate the natural learning happening in this area of their lives!
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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