20 March 2012

Learning Not to Fear a Time of Rest

I have written about this before {like here and here}. To summarize, once upon a time, my son was having a terrible time with math. Worse, he claimed he hated math. {So much for training the affections.} It was such a struggle. He had hit a brick wall. What do we do in times like these? Do we keep pushing and pushing and expecting different results? I suppose that is one option, but is it the best?

And then I dropped formal mathematics.

Gasp.

Okay, collect yourselves, people!

I dropped it, and I replaced it with logic-building worksheets from Critical Thinking Press that were supposed to improve math ability. We did this for about nine months. It was the best thing I ever did for my son's relationship with math, and he has done quite well in math ever since.

But that was then, and this is now, as they say.

Right before Christmas time, I began to get that feeling with my daughter. You know the one. It's the one where math is starting to seem suspiciously like a Problem.

I tried the pushing approach after the first of the year. After all, she'd gotten three weeks off for Christmas, right? So we did worksheets, and she completed them, but what I was noticing seemed suspiciously like a lack of real comprehension.

At first, I thought maybe it was a bad day, but then it began to seem like bad weeks. All of this came as a bit of a shock to me, for this child had shown an early aptitude in math, at least compared to her older brother.

As we did math poolside while the preschoolers were swimming, I remembered the copy of Ray's Arithmetic I had purchased after Andrew Kern waxed eloquent about it in a CiRCE talk or two.

Why not? I though to myself.

We were going so slow that I wasn't sure it really mattered what we did at that point.

So I switched. The little sister joined in, and soon we were counting balls and learning number names up to 100. My older daughter knew the names, but what I learned was that she actually couldn't read most of the numbers.

Good old Ray, starting at the beginning. Who would have thought? I simply assumed the ability to count was the ability to read; it hadn't crossed my mind to check.

So we worked and worked and worked on learning to read those numbers up to 100. Frankly, I got sick of it, it took so long. Why must the teens be so very difficult for children? Why do eleven and twelve get special names?

Why do five-year-olds ask so many questions?

I think A.-Age-Seven and I were both on board with that last one.

Ahem.

We spent about a month doing this. I felt sort of like a slacker, but what else could I do? Pretend to do math, and "get things done," while knowing full well that she wasn't really learning or connecting with it?

Yesterday, I got a math sheet back out, just to see how she did.

I circled one line of about six or seven basic addition problems. What does this say? I asked, pointing at the first one. She read it aloud correctly {it was 8+1=___}. So what should you do? I asked, taking the lid off of her little plastic tub of pinto beans, which is the poor man's version of a math manipulative. Instead of acknowledging me, she calmly wrote 9 in the answer blank.

"This is too easy for me!" she said to me. Was that a defiant twinkle in her eye?

"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't realize. Please do this entire row on your own."

She laughed. And then she proceeded to get every problem correct. And she smiled while doing math! She only used beans when she needed them, and even those she managed without any assistance from me.

She was so successful that I circled another row and told her to do those, too. She missed one, and when I pointed out that three and four were not nine, she calmly grabbed her beans, counted them, and corrected her mistake.

"How did you figure all this out?" I asked her.

"It's because I'm so clever," she said, flashing me an impish grin.

It's such a small triumph, and yet I relished it. We have had days where this child would be voted Most Likely to be Confused, and yet she called herself clever with a self-satisfied smile.

Today, we did a whole bunch more, with the same success, and for the first time in a long time, I'm excited about it.

Once again, I have learned that taking a break--getting a change of scenery--can be so vital for a child. It seems counterintuitive to say, "Behind in math? Take a month off!" And yet, I've done this twice now.

We are so afraid of Sabbath.

We think that if we stop for even a short time, all the balls will drop, and we'll be nothing but failures. But is this true? Maybe we're just afraid to admit when there is a problem. Maybe, if we keep working away, we won't have to acknowledge that things aren't working quite right.

Maybe rest really is as restorative as it sounds.

The worst thing in the world is not being behind a month or two or ten in math. To some extent, I even question the premise. Is a child behind in math? I mean, a child, if someone is lovingly educating him, is always exactly where he is. He isn't behind or ahead, he is where he is, and it's our job to come alongside him and help him to grow and keep growing. Comparing a child to peers and declaring him to be "behind" or "ahead" doesn't change anything about what our job is, and what we have to do next.

I'm not saying we should ignore warning signs when it comes to learning disabilities, but I do think we could all stand to relax a little.

Or, at least, I could sometimes.

Anyhow, I've left off worrying for the time being, as my funny little girl is apparently quite "clever" in math.

9 comments:

  1. Oh, those are such sweet moments! I'm so happy for you. :)

    The author of the math program we use (Steve Demme of Math-U-See), has some YouTube videos that I think are great even if you don't use MUS. One of my favorites is where he reads a parent email about a child being behind and he rants about there being no such thing (he refuses to put grade levels on his math books). Find out where your child is, and teach your student there, gently moving forward. There is no behind and there is no ahead. There is teaching, tutoring individuals.

    I took lots of breaks with my oldest in the first book (just addition). It took him 2 1/2 years to work through it. But then it clicked and he breezed through the second book in less than half a year, and now he's working quickly through the third book. He's almost "caught up." And I'm sure we'd be hopelessly confused and frustrated if we'd just pushed through to finish a book a year.

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    1. I will have to look up those videos and see if I can find them. I am really trying to break myself of the mindset of children being either behind OR ahead because I think the "my child is ahead/gifted" (which every healthy firstborn homeschooled son is, right? or that seems to be every mother's perception...but I digress) breeds pride while the "my child is behind/slow" breeds anxiety or frustration...and none of these feelings or sins helps a child mature and grow.

      It is encouraging for me to hear that your son caught up, though, because I admit I have lurking concerns about basically taking five months to get through CHAPTER ONE! :)

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  2. Hmm. I'm so glad to read this today. I have been wondering "to and fro" between various things and usually landing on just making up word problems using glass gems...I'm glad to know that I'm not alone. Thanks for the ideas and encouragement.

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    1. No matter what your struggles are, Amy, there is a very high likelihood that you are in good company! :)

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  3. It can get better than that with your daughter. Math worksheets with 8 + 1 are to math what a pitiful language arts worksheet is to reading. Read math rich literature, even some books that, under the language perspective are twaddle but under the math inspiring category are fantastic. Play games such as shut the box, or those games in the I Love Math series, they will grasp the worksheet concept and more.

    Once you get some of these books, it is super simple to have games for every day, it is a joy to plan for math, not only literature, history, or natural science, as it used to be the case with me. I see that with those books and games they are learning heaps, such as when we read our books and they narrate. They won't be able to write but a mere two sentences about Thanksgiving, but they can give us, at six or seven, a wonderful composition only oral, which we call narration, to borrow the example from Lindafay... same for math. They may get stuck on worksheets with the numbers on their own, but they can orally, through books and conversation, show us lots of understanding of things they only dream they had time to expose children in ps because they are too busy drilling with basics such as 8 plus 1, time, and money for the first grade. We now can and are learning geometry, negative numbers, fractions, multiplication... of course they don't master that yet, but they are exposed to all that richness and making wonderful connections that impress me, specially my oldest, a classic I hate math girl!

    Somebody said that books are to reading what games are to math. I agree.
    I used to focus on arithmetic as a simple linear thing... but due to my 7 year old girl saying the dreaded sentence, I hate math, I also dared to change resources, and now reading Life of Fred, playing games, reading Sir Cumference and All the King's Tens are making us burst with math appreciation. Very unorthodoxyly I let both girls watch Cyberchase, today my oldest told me... you know there are numbers called minus, like minus one, minus two, minus three... if they indicate temperature, it means it's too cold. Ah, I make them do xtramath.com, their number facts, though they do not love them love them, but they are five minutes each if so, and daily practice is, like they say, your math vitamins.

    And mom is reading Nature's Numbers, by Ian Stewart, because math is truly fascinating now that I have discovered that mathematicians are like us, who love language, but they are good at cracking the code of the other side of the road, if you wish, working and thinking like us in regards to books.

    Actually, I thought about you when you said you recommended math mammoth, which I consider an optimal curriculum, and that you stick to the math basics and save your moneys for the books... now my approach has changed. I have a budget allowance for the many books that inspire me and the girls, because through those and the games, I realize their logical thinking and math skills are there. Nothing wrong with Ray's arithmetic. I used Arithmetic for Young Children with success too, and I plan to go back to it. Just saying that the same as with the real thing, and second the living books for our learning, now I've expanded this to math, and the real thing for us is the games and conversations the books inspire in us. Plus though there may be some math twaddle, there are many, many, lovely living books that teach us and expose us to many things instead of plainly guiding us through drill and kill in a linear and honestly dry and poor curriculum choices per grade level.

    Hugs!

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  4. Why do five-year-olds ask so many questions?

    Ha! Crack me up! I wonder though, do five-year-olds out-rank three-year-olds in their question asking ability?

    Glad to hear of your success. Yay!

    BTW, have you ever noticed that the number two and the number twelve have the 'tw' at the beginning, just like....'twins'? That's how I teach mine to remember. (Although, of course, you can only HEAR the 'tw' in twelve). Helps them with the homophone to/two/too, too!

    In Him

    Meredith

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  5. A child is exactly where he is! Not ahead or behind, but where he is! This is a refreshing and encouraging post. I know I'm late to the party but I just found it and am happy I did. :)

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    1. I guess we could say you aren't late to the party, not late or early, but exactly where you are. ;)

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