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All the math she needs

I saw links to this Psychology Today piece all over the place today. Actually, I haven’t gotten yet to the digests of my e-mail lists, but I bet it’s there, too.

The piece is called “Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning,” and it’s all about things that I know: Kids who aren’t force fed math like it better. Almost all elementary level math will be learned by a child in normal, creative play if you let him and encourage fun with numbers. As long as a child is learning in a rich environment, anything can be learned in a small amount of time when they really want to learn it, even if that thing takes years of standard public school curriculum.

Yet, the other day, there I was at the breakfast table, a.k.a. schoolroom, with my daughter, slogging it out over fractions.

When I first started homeschooling her, I was so frustrated I hired an educational consultant to tell me what I knew already. One, she’s a fantastically quick learner who sucks up anything she wants to. Two, she learns in an integral way — that is, she’s not interested in facts or skills themselves, but how they relate to something that she loves or a project she’s doing. Three, she is verbally quick and creative, but absolutely uninterested in doing things in any linear, organized fashion.

In other words, she’s what’s called a “visual spacial learner.” For me, she might as well be called a Martian.

Well, OK, that’s exaggerating. Because when it comes to learning, I’m pretty clear on some of my own idiosyncrasies, such as the fact that I seem unable to learn something, absolutely unable, if I don’t really care about it. My daughter shares this particular trait with me. How many yards are on a football field? I dunno. What are the specifics of post-modern literary analysis, in great vogue when I was a student? Well, I might be able to give you a vague outline, but frankly, I don’t have space in my head for it.

The way I learn things is that I jump in and do it. Manuals? I’ll use them for reference, but I’ve never read one from cover to cover, or even consulted one before I started doing the thing I didn’t know how to do yet.

Nevertheless, I was a good and pretty passive student when I was a kid. I believed my teachers that one type of learning was the right type (aural sequential, I think they call it), and I learned that way, darn it. I got great SATs and went off to Stanford, took a few tests, then got myself into the sorts of classes where you talked about interesting stuff, read ideas, wrote about ideas, spent lots of time in coffee houses arguing with your friends about ideas…

And then (fast forward), I got this kid. And here I sat at the breakfast table with her and darn it, she was just going to learn to add fractions with different denominators because I knew she knew it. I had seen her demonstrate the knowledge when cooking and playing with blocks.

And she, well, she knows who she is and what she wants, and it is not sitting at the breakfast table giving in to Mommy’s need to prove that she can do a darn worksheet. Even candy didn’t help.

The babies all suited up for the Baby Space Program (note the flag: BSP)

The babies all suited up for the Baby Space Program (note the flag: BSP)

So back to that piece about learning math. If I am to believe — and I do believe — what I have read over and over, my daughter could learn all of elementary school math in a month when she’s 13. She could do no formal math at all, then one day master every concept needed in order to do something that she wanted to do. Heck, she could probably do that now, if she wanted to. But how many seven-year-olds want that? Some do — I even know them. Their parents ask questions on gifted education lists like “where can I get great trig curriculum for my eight-year-old?”

I’m jealous, and then again, I’m not. My seven-year-old has some of her priorities damn straight, as far as she is concerned. Do math when she could be out riding her bike in the new sunshine, finding out where the sound of the chainsaw is coming from? Do math when she could be playing Legos? Do math when she could be making space suits for her baby dolls?

It’s my priorities I need to fix: Is it really worth fighting over adding fractions when it’s just not what she interested in learning today? The day she wants to do it, she will be able to — of that I am certain. And that day could come soon, when she’s having a conversation with another kid and they reveal something that they know that she doesn’t (she hates finding out that she doesn’t know everything!). It could be the day that she really needs to know: if she needs 2/5 of one plastic bag for a baby space suit bottom, and 7/10 for the top, how much total will she need to make a full space suit?

And on that day, she might just need to calculate how long it will take them to get to her favorite galaxy, far, far away, and she’ll be off, learning all the math she needs in spite of our breakfast table struggles.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling, Parenting.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. More on math – Avant Parenting linked to this post on April 18, 2010

    […] Green Living Expo will take place this weekend, April 24 (11am[LIParentSource Blogs]4/18/10 4:04 PMAll the math she needs – I saw links to this Psychology Today piece all over the place today.[Suki Wessling]4/16/10 9:04 […]

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