Math K Hurdle

In the post called “There and Back Again: Definitely an Unexpected Journey“, I wrote about how my Kindergartener was whizzing through his Math-U-See Primer workbook when he  began it sometime in June (about the time our past school year came to a close).  Maybe it was because of his exposure to Saxon Math K, which he always enjoyed. He hadn’t turned 5 then and I had meant to go slowly since I had sold our Math-U-See Alpha level and just wanted to stretch the Primer level a bit.

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After tackling topics on number recognition (and writing numerals), geometric shapes (rectangles, circles, triangles, squares), place value (units, tens, hundreds), and simple addition (sums below 10) as well as familarizing himself with the unit bars (colour-coded Math-U-See blocks from 1 to 9), he began to show resistance when we reached “Lesson 17: Counting by 2s”.  Sensing his apprehension at a glimpse of the student book, I have had to keep it out of sight for now.

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This is not the first time I have encountered such a reaction, this K-er being the fifth child.  It was normal that sometime during our school year, a child would hit a wall, so to speak, in a current subject.  More often than not, that subject was math.  On hindsight, one of the reasons for this occurrence is the child’s engaging in material that may be way over his or her head.  It has happened more than once that a child begins math exercises of the appropriate level, accelerates quite rapidly for some time, and then suddenly hits a wall at some point.  My 11th grader, who is completing AP Chemistry, has also recently come to such a critical moment in her science career.

Another child had a similar experience with science recently.  Sonlight Science E (Electricity, Magnetism and Astronomy) is a Sonlight core suitable for children in grades 4-7.  Two previous siblings completed this core at grade 6 and grade 5, respectively.  This child was about to begin the same core at fourth grade, currently.  A week or two into our new school year, this child was exhibiting signs of distress trying to grasp the science concepts presented to her.  And why did this come about? Simply because this child was able to complete prior science cores from A to D at an age younger than the older ones did. It is a good thing I quickly realized the issue and told this child to put this science course away for the time being.

It takes time to recognize the reasons for these stumbling blocks.  In my earlier years of homeschooling, my first reaction was always, “This isn’t working.  I can’t homeschool.  My children are better off in school. I have to find a better curricula.”  While it is true that children learn differently from each other, and what worked for previous children might not work for another child, it may also be true that all that is needed is time for the children to mature or mom to try and supplement the current program by finding ways to present the material in an appropriate way.

Moreover, the “better late than early” philosophy is sometimes a good one to heed.  Children of mine who, by virtue of the timing of their birthday within the year or the consistent pace at which they worked (not too fast, not too slow), engaged in material at the correct level in skills subjects (math, grammar, writing) or a level below them for content subjects (history, science) were less likely to experience such frustrating scenarios as being “stuck”.  On the contrary, mom introducing a subject matter before the child is ready more often causes anxiety on both parties.

Then again, “growth spurts” in their learning capacities should not be stifled either.  As my husband loves to say, “Strike while the iron is hot.”  Thus, these “hurdles” must be expected as realities of homeschooling.  And as they will necessarily arise, it is helpful to be aware of them and to have a set of options handy to soften their blow.  What are some of our time-tested alternatives for such disconcerting situations?

BACK TO WHERE YOU STARTED:  After we’ve been using curricula for years (or perhaps, somebody you know is using a particular level for a child who is similar in age as yours), I tend to assume that it is the correct level for a certain child.  In this case, I usually have to go back to the website and research about the suitability of my match.  Math curricula websites usually have placement tests to identify your child’s appropriate level.  If all is well then maybe all that needs to be done is go back to the Teacher’s Manual.  Have you checked lately that you are teaching the material accordingly?  Sometimes, instructor’s guides have extra methods of presenting a lesson to a child.  I have to admit that I don’t get to read all the manuals we have but they are my “go to” place when we have one of these hiccups.

CHECK YOUR SHELVES/RESEARCH:  You might find the exact topic stumping your child taught in another way in one of the books tucked away in your shelf…or maybe another child’s material if the sibling is using or has used something else.  Distressed child mentioned above is now happily completing another science book her older siblings used perfect for her age.  The Well-Trained Mind boards (K-8 or high school) has a wealth of information about almost any homeschool topic/issue you can encounter. It’s my other “go to” place when I’m stuck.

IMPROVISE:  Defined as: a little more effort from mom.  A child who has started to dread black and white worksheets for math may just need to see the concepts in practical and concrete ways.  The hard to grasp science principles can be illustrated more clearly via an experiment.  The usual flash cards to drill math facts can be replaced my a deck of cards or a computer generated drill (there is one on the Math-U-See site). The child unprepared to hold a pencil can form his letters on sand (or mom’s back) instead.

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5-yr old who likes to color helped me with these dots

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seeing dots this way made it easier to see “4” than the 2 orange blocks in the above picture

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he already knew 4 and 4 make 8 so counting by 2s to 8 was easy

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with the first 10 in one row and beginning a new row, it was easier to see 12 and the pattern

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helping Noah with his pairs

counting shoes by 2s

counting shoes by 2s

STEP BACK FOR AWHILE: Sometimes, all it takes is a little time. Time to make the concept set. Time to allow the mind to mature.  Time to take a breather.  I wasn’t much help to my 11th grader except to encourage her that she was ahead in her text anyway so she can take her time.  So, she decided to do some reviewing of her first Chemistry course and tells me she’s back on track now.

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Lately, instead of “Let’s do math!”, I’ve been hearing my K-er say more often, “Let’s read My Father’s Dragon“, our current read-aloud from Sonlight Core A (or what used to be Sonlight K). Instead of bringing out his Math-U-See student book, or even the Math-U-See blocks, I improvise and utilise the numbers mentioned in the read-aloud to do math.  The main character in the book set out on his adventure beginning with 31 tangerines in his knapsack and eats them slowly throughout his exploration of Wild Island.  This kept us counting (actually subtracting) as we skimmed the chapters.  In yesterday’s reading, the protagonist met 14 green eyes in the dark as he explored the jungle.  These were really 7 tigers.  The turn of events in our story became an opportunity to count eyes by 2s without any resistance.

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So, we are taking a little break from our Math-U-See Primer book now.  Perhaps we’ll get back to our Saxon Math K and work with math manipulatives again. Actually, I only abandoned this practice because it was easier for me to hand over the workbook and have my 5-year old fill them in rather than do math with him using teddy bear counters, coins, pattern blocks, linking cubes, etc.  He’s obviously not ready yet.  But we’re going to get back on track, surely encounter another challenge soon that will need our focus, have things running smoothly once again, and so on.

Otherwise, maybe I really need to rethink some things. Does my child really need to learn this at this point in time or can he learn this some other time?  I have a child who learned to tell time quite later than the rest and that didn’t really matter.  My high schoolers didn’t do any science or art program officially until they were about grade 4 or 5 (we just borrowed books and resources from the public library) and that didn’t matter either (see How We Do Science and Sights and Sounds of Learning for glimpses of where my high schoolers are at in this area).

Or maybe, there really needs to be a curricula change? If after having gone back to Math-U-See the black and white, almost “picture-less” student book really becomes a stumbling block to my more visual and artistic child, then I would have to find math worksheets that will make math more interesting to him…although not necessarily abandon the Math-U-See way of teaching.  But, that is yet to be proven.  Until then, we plod along and try to make what we have work.

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2 comments

  1. What a helpful post! I often find myself improvising a lot and finding a material that’s hiding in one of our shelves… I tend to forget stuff we already have unless I’m cleaning up! “Better late than early” is also one of my favorite ideas. There’s really no need to hurry a child… but your husband is right… strike when the iron is hot! Love that. 🙂

  2. Donna Simpao

    “Hurrah!!!” for the successes, the stops, the pauses and yes even the failures. All indeed by GRACE and God’s gifts of creativity , 2nd chances, alternate routes ! Better late than early indeed!! Love love love what you had shared winnie.

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