3.19.2012

Unschooling math without times tables

My eight-year-old daughter loves math. She refers to herself as a mathemagician, but she wants nothing to do with times tables. (This is the same girl who won an essay contest and loves her test preparation workbook.)

Her dad has expounded on the virtues of times tables numerous times, but my daughter just smiles and nods.

She shuns scratch paper, too. I'm the one who failed to sell that idea to her. Smile, nod.

(According to her annual homeschool assessment, she's a couple of grade levels ahead, which I find amusing.)

So how does she solve the huge multiplication and division problems she encounters in puzzle books? As far as I can tell, she simplifies the problem by breaking it down into a series of smaller numbers and counts those up, doubling or dividing as necessary, all while pacing and jumping around and mumbling rapidly.

Her active working style had something to do with our decision to homeschool. Stand, sit, lean, jump, switch feet, hum, all while focusing on a project.

Her dad and I have discussions about this, because let's be honest, even unschooling parents worry when their child resists something like math or reading, for example. In our case, we can step back and see that this child, by some mysterious means, comes to the correct solution despite her insistence on avoiding the tactics her dad and I learned to use to solve math problems.

My daughter takes longer to solve math puzzles than she might if she referenced a multiplication table or if she had already memorized all the multiplication facts to 12 or if she used scratch paper to free up some memory space. However, in her way she is memorizing the multiplication facts. Seriously, how many times does a person need to count up 8 x 8 before she commits it to memory?

I see it happening. Whereas my daughter used to count "8, 8 times," which is how she says it, she now starts at 16 and doubles it four times.

By the way, when I say huge multiplication problems, I mean like 26,164 x 180. She does that in her head, which isn't something I can do.

The moral here, of course, is that we each have our own way of doing things -  Unschooling Math in a lot of fun ways!

Check out psychologist Peter Gray's article "Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning."

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