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Should I teach maths the way I was taught?

by Beverley Paine, May 2019

My daughter is a natural mathematician. She could do complex sums in her head from an early age - just look at the problem written in the book and tell me the answer straight up. I told her she had to learn how to show how she arrived at the answers using pencil and paper. I said it was important, necessary. I showed her how I had learned how to do maths, and we worked through the methods in the maths text book. By age nine she'd learn to hate maths and decided she wasn't any good at it. So we stopped doing maths. For two years. All she did was play, build and make things, do projects, etc. No maths, not on paper anyway.

At age 11, thinking oh boy, high school level is coming up soon, I decided to find out where she was at with maths and so, using the text books, devised a maths test covering material she knew as well as stuff she would have learned had she continued using the maths text book for those two years. She aced the test. The only thing she couldn't do was long division with decimals. Without being taught long multiplication she worked it out and got the answers correct. She used her natural maths ability to do this.

But her attitude to her ability didn't change. She still thought she was hopeless at maths, it was her 'weak' subject. She chose not to do maths at home because of this. She went to high school part time and then full time from the age of 16 and needed to do at least one maths subject. Without doing any book work maths for years she aced the subject again. By now she was beginning to realise that maths wasn't so difficult after all.

I forced my daughter to learn maths the way I thought it should be learned and I regret that - it's one of the few things as a home educator I regret. It taught me a huge lesson. It can be so easy to crush our children's natural learning ability and perhaps with it, their self-confidence.

Whatever works is my motto now. Share what we know but don't insist that it is the right or only or correct way to learn anything. Be open to the ways they prefer to do and learn things.

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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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