More than 10 different ways to teach maths to your child

I recently posted a huge answer to a mum on an e-mail list who was using Targeting Maths (often used in NSW schools), Excel workbooks and IXL for her child. I haven’t tried IXL but I am unimpressed by the ‘Targeting’ series and the Excel books. I love maths myself but I spent ages trying various maths books and approaches with Pokemon Boy before I settled on what we use at the moment. I thought it might be of help to some other homeschooling parents to read what we use.

Pokemon Boy (my eldest) loves Math-U-See because he is keen on logical, sequential activities and he likes to see how far he is along a program and to ‘master’ one skill before he moves on to another. Math-U-See is a ‘mastery’ program. When you learn, for example, addition, you really learn it. You don’t just learn all the number bonds to ten and then go on and do some other kind of maths. You learn number bonds to 10, number bonds to 20, column addition of more than two one-digit number, column addition of two, three and four digit numbers etc. By the time you have finished addition, you really get it! Similarly with subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals and percentages. It’s worth also buying the manipulative blocks, which are like a combination of Cuisinaire rods with base 10 blocks. They help hands-on, kinaesthetic learners to give concrete form to the theoretical concepts they meet in maths. The teacher package for each level includes a DVD of Steve Demme teaching each lesson to a small group of children. You can either watch them before your child does the lesson, watch them with your child or let your child watch them on their own. Pokemon Boy enjoys the videos but it’s not essential to watch them and we usually do the lessons just by trying out the questions and then referring to the teacher manual if necessary. We also usually go straight to the test booklet. We rarely do all the practice worksheets that they suggest, but it’s good to have them there just in case Pokemon Boy needs to go over one aspect of the work in more detail.

Khan Academy maths lessons are free and you would have thought that, enjoying computer based work and videos, Pokemon Boy would love these too. But he is also a perfectionist and he has refused to go back to it as he once missed one of the ‘cards’ that they ‘reward’ you with for completing an activity (due to a glitch in the programming or our internet connection dropping out). 

My other two boys have also done some Math U See work but this slow, steady approach really doesn’t suit them. They grasp concepts very quickly and like to jump around between topics. They are both using the Life of Fred books at the moment. You can either look around on homeschool forums to get second-hand books, or order from the US, from Z-Twist books. They are very reasonably priced as long as you order them in twos or threes so they fit in one cardboard envelope and postage is not horrendous. They are not workbooks so they are easy to resell. Life of Fred books are very humorous and quirky and don’t suit all children. There is very little ‘drill’ (which is good as my boys don’t like this) but you do meet the same ideas a few times (maybe in different books). 

All my boys love Manga High (computer-based maths activities, including games and more structured instruction) and I’ve found it far better than Mathletics, although we do tend to only use it to supplement whatever other maths curriculum we are using. Each boy has a game that they excel at. For Pokemon Boy it is ‘Sigma Prime’, a kind of space-invaders type game where you have to shoot each meteorite with a number that is one of its prime factors. The number is divided by that factor and then you have to shoot again until you get to one. You can bet that after playing that game over and over, when we came to do LCM and HCF in maths he knew exactly what was going on. 

With Reptile Boy I have also used ‘Mathematical Challenges for able pupils in Key Stages 1 and 2‘ which was produced in the UK for the National Numeracy Strategy in 2000 but is available free to download online on a few English sites, e.g. here: It’s not like normal books. I doubt any children could answer these questions by following routines they are taught in school. There is frequently more than one answer. For example, one question is to take ten cards numbered 0 to 9 and arrange them in a particular pattern so that no two consecutive numbers are next to each other either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Then the children are asked how many different ways there are to do this. I love problems like this which really help children to think mathematically and look for patterns, rather than to follow instructions. 

There are similar problems in Maths Warriors, also available to download for free, although they mostly start at Year 3. The problems are in the section called Work Cards and Worksheets. I print them out onto A4, cut into A5 sized cards and the children can choose one to do if they like. To be honest we haven’t used them for a while but they are fun now and then. 

Drama King did the Mathematics Challenge for Young Australians this year, which also starts in Year 3 and provides problems where the children have to think ‘outside the box’. You can buy past challenges and there are always extension activities suggested.
Oh, and for a while we also used Bedtime Math although we used it as Dinnertime Maths instead. Again, I printed out the questions onto paper and cut them into ‘cards’ so the kids could chose which problem to do. 

Then we all use mathematical language in our everyday conversations (I’m an ex-scientist and my husband is an ex-engineer) and sometimes I plan ‘fun maths’ activities with the children, usually hands-on, such as making hexaflexagons (see Vi Hart’s YouTube channel) or making 3D shapes in origami, or trying the one-cut problem (but don’t scroll past the point where the blogger says about the classroom being a total mess, or you will see he kind of gives away the solution). 

If you join the Rockpool Homeschool forum there is a great summary of nearly all the maths approaches out there, by the mum who set up the forum. 
I’m also starting to look into Living Math and I have joined their forum, but I can’t say much about that as I haven’t used any of their suggestions yet.  
Having said all this, you could actually leave maths until the child themselves wants to do it. You might be surprised by how many people support this approach, with good reason. I was recently pointed towards this article and found it left me with a lot to think about: When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School



About scimumsam

An ex scientist living in Australia, currently tutoring maths and science and homeschooling my own children. I blog about science and maths education on, and homeschooling (infrequently) on lookingslantwise.
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