Avoiding Math Problems

A common refrain on the homeschooling message boards I frequent is when a parent, usually a mother, comes asking about which math program she should switch her child to because the child just isn’t getting it.  It needs to be “self teaching” as the mother “never understood math either.”

What to do?

The best thing to do would be to avoid this situation in the first place.  A parent intent on homeschooling, who knows she has trouble with math, would do well to take an active role in teaching her young child from the start.  At the same time, it is important to learn as much about math education as possible.  Liping Ma’s Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics and Parker and Baldridge’s Elementary Mathematics for Teachers are two excellent resources to start with.

Relearning elementary math this way, with an eye toward the conceptual big picture, will enable a homeschooling parent with weak math skills to approach algebra with confidence, but it will take a lot of preparation.  A few years before the child will be ready for algebra, a parent in this situation should find an excellent algebra book and work through all of the problems.  For those short on time, the ALEKS Algebra I course will jumpstart a better understanding of algebra, but no matter what, it is important that the homeschooling parent be able to do all of the problems her child will encounter in his math textbook.  This might mean doing all of the child’s homework problems the weekend before they are assigned.

Most importantly, algebra and beyond is not the time to check out of the process.  It is critical that math not be farmed out to a computer program or a series of DVD lectures.   If this type of program is chosen, the homeschooling parent should stay involved, watching the videos and doing many, if not all, of the problems alongside the child.  This way, the homeschooling parent remains able to help the child when he gets stuck.

But the one who really benefits from all of this work on the part of the homeschooling parent is the *second* child to progress through the homeschool.  Ask me how I know!

Assuming responsibility for homeschooling a child is a big deal.  If the goal is academic excellence, it is imperative that the homeschooling parent be willing to put in the work necessary to develop, in Liping Ma’s words, a “profound understanding” of the material she is teaching.  If she is unable or unwilling to do that, she needs to be willing to farm that aspect of her child’s education out to a real person, be it a tutor or a classroom teacher.  Our homeschooled children deserve nothing less.

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4 Responses to Avoiding Math Problems

  1. Melissa says:

    I taught my dd math up till 9th grade, when, with the best will in the world, I was unable to continue to work with her effectively. At that point, we got her a tutor 🙂 I’d prefer not to think of it as ‘farming out’ her math education; rather as making a responsible decision about her education.

    • I don’t consider getting a tutor “farming out” either. Getting a tutor is the best thing a parent can do if she is unable to teach a subject herself. What I mean by “farming out” is sitting the kid in front of a video lecture and hoping for the best.

  2. Shannon says:

    That is a bit harsh. As a mom, you don’t need to be able to do every subject with every child. That is why there are math cd’s and such. I use the DIVE math cd’s for my kids even though I have a degree in Chemical Engineering. They need to learn themselves and figure it out. The teacher on the cd is awesome and is willing to help if needed. Even though I don’t need him to. As a mom of 8 I don’t have time to learn everything my kids are learning. Especially my older ones. And most of us don’t have the funds to pay for a private tutor.

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