Exploring Homeschool Math as a Family

Are you tired of teaching homeschool math lesson after lesson, one after another, one child at a time, with every one separate and learning in isolation?  I was.  With five school-aged children (and a 3 year-old who thinks she is), math lessons can take up to 5 hours of our day when completed individually.  It took me only a couple of days of this grueling schedule to know, without a doubt, that teaching math individually, every day was not going to work for us.

This doesn’t mean we never settle in for long days of one-on-one homeschool math learning, but learning math together allows each child to progress at their own pace without confining them to what is presented at their grade level.  It allows them to review material while listening in on what is being taught to less experienced siblings.  And vice versa.  Younger siblings who may not have typically been exposed to more advanced topics (because of leveled curriculum) will take in what they’re ready for. The seeds are ready and waiting when they encounter the topics again.

Over the years we’ve created our own unique approach to making math a whole-family subject.  Our family has  experimented with ways to bring math to life and creates an opportunity for us to connect as we learn together.  Here I’m sharing our favorites.  I hope you find a nugget, a gem, something to help you bring your family together through math.

1. Exploring Homeschool Math by Topic:

One simple change that can be made right away is narrowing your math focus.  We’ve been taught to believe that math skills need to be covered in a specific scope and sequence, but in actuality, we have much more freedom in teaching and learning than a pre-scripted curriculum suggests. Since all areas are inter-related and connected, supporting one another, we have the ability to create a math education that works for all the learners in our homes.  Rather than discuss this abstractly, I will focus here on multiplication, but the ideas shared here can be applied to other topics.

In our homeschool, we have children with varied multiplication experience.  Our oldest two have most facts memorized and are now using multiplication in pre-algebra level work, such as finding factors and multiplies.  Child #3 has learned some of his facts and is quickly memorizing the rest.  He is exploring ways of multiplying larger numbers.  Child #4 is right on his heels, gaining a solid foundation of the multiplication concept.  Kiddos #5 & #6 are at the very beginning of their multiplication journey, still learning about the basics of addition.  It may sound like an overwhelming task to incorporate all of these needs but with a little planning, learning can happen for everyone.  At the same time!

2. Exploring Homeschool Math with Games:

Math games are an engaging and encouraging way to bridge the gap in math skills of various learners.  There’s no need for games to be complicated or require special game boards and pieces.  Most math games can be played with a deck of cards, dice, graph paper, and a pencil.  A few of our favorites are on the Pinterest board “Multiplication for the Whole Family.”

3. Exploring Homeschool Math through Art:

Pattern, symmetry, line, curve, shape.  All of these words could be used to describe both art and math.  The beauty found in both encourages us to find the places where they overlap.  Creatively exploring multiplication allows us to see that beauty.  And the best way to explain it is visually.  The photos below link to the Pinterest board, “Multiplication for the Whole Family,” where I have collected ways to explore multiplication as a family.

4. Exploring Homeschool Math through Projects:

Sometimes we need to step away from pencil and paper and get our hands dirty!  Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’re stepping away from math.  By intentionally choosing to pursue a specific project, we can put the math into context and help all those numbers and concepts make sense.  For multiplication, we chose to get a head start on planning our spring garden.  We measured the dimensions of our current garden to find the square footage.  After drawing it out on graph paper, we had a visual picture of the area of the garden plot.

“Do you think the area of the garden is bigger than our living room?” I challenged the kids to find out.  “Is it bigger than the kitchen?”  “How about the bedrooms?”  This led to some interesting problem solving and discussions when they realized not all of the rooms are rectangular.  Out came measuring tapes and calculators, more graph paper and colored pencils.

To my older kids, I asked, “Which 2 rooms, when their areas are added together, are closest to the size of the garden?”  This had them measuring and computing area with the rest of us but thinking a bit deeper.

The one thing I have learned about exploring math as a whole family is that problems and questions can always be made more or less challenging to meet the kids right where they’re at.  Allowing for creativity and freedom in posing problems and creating solutions, allows us to learn from each other.  We no longer need to be stuck in a one-size-fits-all, one-way-to-solve-it mindset.  We can embrace the originality of methods and thoughts so that our children become flexible thinkers who can approach problems from multiple perspectives.

Array cards provide a visual picture of multiplication facts.

5. Exploring Homeschool Math with Manipulatives:

Ahh, manipulatives.  Those beautiful math toys that beg us to sit and play and oh-so-stealthy explore math.  Many people assume that these hands-on math tools are just for young ones just learning about math, but the truth is, they’re great for everyone.  Manipulatives make math concepts tangible, visual, real.  They level the playing field and create space for exploration.  Some of my family’s favorite manipulatives for multiplication are a set of Cuisenaire rods (especially the ones that can snap together), an abacus (or two or three), several sets of Snap Cubes, and array cards which we made ourselves.  With these tools, we were able to play with multiplication in many ways.  We held multiplication problems in our hands after we built them with snap cubes or on the abacus.  With Cuisenaire rods, we showed how multiplication is the same as repeated addition.  Array cards allowed us to visually compare multiplication facts as we challenged each other to memorize them.

While my youngest kids worked on adding doubles, my middle two explored relationships within fact families, and my oldest two played with factors and multiples.  Each child, working at his/her own pace.  Each reviewing or stretching their knowledge, and often doing both.  By making the manipulatives readily available and using them right along with my kids, none of them see them as something just for little kids.
They are tools for understanding.

6. Exploring Homeschool Math through Stories:

I blame it on being a word geek, but I’m always on the lookout for books on every subject under the sun.  Math is no exception.  Considering that math surrounds us in our daily lives, it’s not surprising that countless stories have been written that gracefully invite us to explore math concepts.  Many of these are picture books, but just like manipulatives, they can be shared with all ages.  The depth to which the book is appreciated is related to the math experience of the reader.  Therefore, the more math you know, the more the book will be enjoyed.

A few of our favorite math books about multiplication are:
Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream, by Cindy Neuschwander
The Best of Times, by Gregory Tang
Multiplying Menace: The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin, by Pam Calvert

7. Exploring Homeschool Math through Poetry Tea Time:

It sounds fancy, but really, it’s simple.  Set out some treats, tea (or hot cocoa) and poetry books and enjoy them together.  Finding math poetry books is a bit tricky, but with a little digging, I found some gems.  The good news is that each one is full to overflowing with math poetry goodness!  They could keep you busy for weeks or months depending on how often you feast on them.  Here are a few math poetry books we have enjoyed:

8. Exploring Homeschool Math through Family Math Night:

Once a week, once a month, bi-weekly, quarterly, however often works for your family, host a family math night.  Invite friends, grandparents, cousins, or keep in quieter with just your own family.  Do what works for you.  The important thing is to create space for math exploration.  Make it special, challenging but not impossible, and most of all – fun!  Using any of the ideas I’ve already shared, you can personalize math night for your family.  Some other resources that you may find helpful as you get started are:

So there are my ways to explore math as a family.  Each of them alone will enliven your math learning so take your time.  Try one to see how it fits, then add others if/when you feel it’s necessary.  Learn together and watch your family connections multiply!

About Angela Awald

I’m Angela, a homeschooling mama to 6, certified teacher, writer, and doula.  My days brim full of learning, loving, and laundry (lots and lots of laundry!!) I believe that nurturing my children means helping them to see that all of life is about learning – from our mistakes, from each other, and from great books!

Over at my blog, Nurtured Roots, I share what I am learning along the way in the hope that it will bless you as you nurture your own family.  You know, the important stuff – like how to keep my sanity when the toddler keeps emptying the bookshelf or when my gaggle of boys tromp across the newly mopped floor with muddy boots or when it’s the middle of winter and the “shorter days” feel sooo long.  And other important stuff – like amazing books and how to connect with our children through learning together.

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