Tips for teaching homeschool maths
Teaching maths is almost always a parent’s biggest hesitation when beginning to homeschool. But there is no reason to fear – you do not need to know everything to educate your children. By choosing a good maths curriculum and with the knowledge you already have, you can accelerate while learning alongside your child. You’ll learn all those maths concepts again and they will make a whole more sense this time around.
We’ve put together some tips to give you confidence to successfully teach maths and give your children a solid maths education. Hands-on activities are important for your child to grasp concrete concepts before moving on to the abstract. This transiiton takes place at around age 8-10, so it’s a good idea to get a good grounding up until then.
Beginning your maths lessons with a warm-up of drill preps your child’s brain and recalls facts they will need to use during the lesson. Counting practice, number facts and speed drills, reviewing place value with a flip book are examples of the kind of things you can do, depending on the age of the child. If there was one thing I learned about teaching maths, it was practice, practice, practice. Here are a few things that we did that made learning maths easier.
1. 100 chart for counting
Recognising numbers and counting are the first maths skills your young child will learn. A 100 chart is really helpful for training in this skill. Counting numbers visually, and not just verbally, helps him see the groups of ten and other number patterns. It gives him a mental picture he can refer to when doing other maths problems.
You can teach skip counting and number patterns by colouring the number squares. A wipe clean 100 chart is a great reusable resource for children to mark the numbers for skip counting as a speed drill.
2. Drill number facts and multiplication facts
Rote learning number facts is the single most important skill that advances a child in learning maths. Rote learning went out of fahsion for a while and not all maths curriculums emphasise it, so that’s a point to consider when choosing your maths curriculum.
Some children learn this quickly and some take a few years, but don’t give up. One reason children struggle with maths in high school is because they never learned their times tables. I know this from my own experience tutoring high school maths. Instant recall of multiplication facts is important for algebra and is an everyday life skill that no child should be without.
You can drill multiplication facts using flash cards or listing the facts on a chart. Singing the facts is also helpful for some children (make sure they use headphones!).
Using flash cards: Start with the whole equation showing and as the child learns the fact, hide the answer and sometimes one of the factors. If your child does well at memorising, you can even do the division facts.
Using a chart: Type and print out the facts listed with one group to a page. As with flash cards, memorise with the answers showing first, then cover the answer as they learn them.
Online drill programs like Maths Trainer are also an option. Using a variety of methods can help reduce the monotony.
When your child is confident, have them recite the facts to you.
Should you learn the facts in order? No, you don’t need to, some of the higher digit facts, eg the 9s are easier than the lower digits as the digits in each answer will add up to 9, eg 2 x 9 = 18 (1+8=9). We started with the 1s and 2s, then 3s, 6s and 9s. Recognising the patterns is a great help in learning the facts.
3. Use hands-on tools and games
Most learning is at its best when it is multi-sensory and hands-on manipulatives assist children in grasping concrete concepts. Seeing, hearing and touching are all important for children to understand the concept of quantities.
You don’t need a heap of fancy items. Think about how you use maths in everyday activities like cooking and even just making a sandwich – shapes and fractions can be demonstrated in how you cut up a sandwich or fruit.
Investing in a few dedicated maths manipulatives is a good idea, such as a base 10 set to teach place value. Whatever and however you use them, manipulatives are fun and highly useful in learning maths concepts and help extend the theory into everyday life.
4. Reinforce concepts in daily life
Life is busy with kids and real life opportunites to teach maths can go unnoticed. However, learning how to apply maths in everyday living is essential for children to see its relevance. Here are some practical ways children can practise maths skills:
Measurement: Have your children measure their height and weight, or the area you want to turn into a veggie patch, the space you need to fit a new oven into, etc. The list is endless.
Money: I’m sure many of you take your children shopping with you often, but how often do you use cash? Make an effort to use cash on a regular basis or use play money at home. Spending, saving, budgeting, and for older students, inflation, paying bills, investments, compound interest. Include your kids in your discussions and decision making regarding expenses and spending as well as mortgage and refinance. Teach the realities of how much money is needed for daily expenses – multiple maths skills are used in these.
Conversion: Converting measurements in a recipe and shopping online in another currency are just a couple of examples where you can assign the conversion to your kids.
Fractions: So, your kids are going to have to share some things – teach them how to divide things equally between them. Cut up a piece of fruit or sandwich and tell the name of the shapes and parts. Teach older children how to multiply a recipe to make enough for your crowd of visitors (or your large family) – how much is 2 x ¾ cup of flour, etc.
5. Word problems
Word problems are probably one of the things most neglected when teaching maths, and that’s because most of the time they’re hard! One way to make them easy is to make up your own, so you can begin to see how each story has an equation behind it. Choose an equation, and make up a story that includes each number and process involved. This will take a bit of practice, but after a while it’s a lot of fun and will demystify word problems. Give it a go!
Another help is to get a dedicated word problems book and do word problems on a regular basis – preferably daily. Start with one a day, perhaps first thing in the morning while brains are fresh and uncluttered.
6. Teach them to check their work
Checking your work saves everyone so much time and angst, often making the difference between passing and failing a test. Drum this practice into your children! Before you check their tests or lessons, make sure they have checked their answers – it’s as much a habit for you as it is for them.
Don’t assume that your kids know how to check their work. Firstly, you both need to differentiate between computational errors and conceptual errors. Computational errors are a result of not copying a problem correctly, mistakes with adding, etc. They may understand how to do something but get it wrong due to carelessness. Don’t let your child fail at maths due to avoidable computational errors. They can avoid these by general training in carefulness, checking they have copied the problem accurately, then, check every step by redoing.
Messy writing can make checking hard work. A grid notebook will help your child line up columns which will reduce computational errors. It’s also useful for drawing tables and graphs, and generally assist with neatness.
Computational errors will slow your child down and you’ll waste time that you could be spending on improving conceptual errors (mistakes made due to not understanding a concept).
7. Quickly review the previous lesson
This should take only a couple of minutes. After you’ve done some maths drill, spend a few minutes going over the previous lesson. Ask your child what he remembers learning and to teach you how to do it. If this is too much for him, redo a practice problem together to demonstrate the concept if necessary. Don’t spend too much time on this, as it will most likely be revisited in the next lesson anyway, but it’s a good habit for your child to learn to pay attention if he knows he has to give an account of it the next day.
8. Use mathematical terminology
Learning proper maths terms goes a long way in building confidence and clarity of understanding. Nature study provides many opportunities to use mathematical language.
For example, the radial symmetry of flowers, angles of stems, spiral shells, the three dimensions, etc. Measuring out your vegetable patch, measuring the height of new plants as they grow (linear measures), weights of produce from your garden (mass, volume, weight). Make it your practice to use the mathematical terms such as “subtract” instead of “take away” and so on.
9. Be sure they understand the concept
Mastery is important if a child is to move forward with maths skills. Practise a concept until the child understands, and can explain it to you, or teach someone else how to do it.
Homeschooling allows you the opportunity to go at your child’s pace and not have to keep up with other children. Slow down and stay with a concept as long as you need to.
10. Use a number line
Using a number line is not only helpful for beginning counting, but is invaluable when learning negative numbers and plotting graphs. When teaching your child to add and subtract positive and negative numbers, find a good simple explanation that your child understands and stick with it.