# Making Math Easy

Math has been quite an adventure for us over the years.  There are a lot of things I learned along the way with the older kids that made it easier with the younger ones.

Here’s what works for us for all the kids’ various ages for math….

Making math fun and accessible: From when the kids are toddlers, I try to keep lots and lots of hands-on math gadgets and tools around for them to play with.  This includes everything from adding machines (the clicking noise just adds to the allure!) to thermometers to stopwatches to playing cards.  Here’s my list of 50 awesome household objects that will help kids love to play with math and numbers.

Teaching numbers and math through life and play in the early years: When our kids are young, we use books, money, cooking, games, counting and such to help them master math and numbers easily.  See Easy ways to teach numbers, counting and math for lots more ideas.

Khan Academy: If you haven’t been to KA lately, go check it out again.  It’s even better than the original, with all sorts of tools to help kids and parents make the most of it.  With Jack (10), Anna (14) and Toria (15), I just ask them to log some time every day at Khan Academy.  They can pick and choose from their own dashboards and do mastery challenges, learn new topics or hop around however they like.  KA sends me a summary each week of what they’re all doing, and I always tell them which kid logged the most time in math.  I’m not about to pass up a chance to play on their natural sense of competition with each other.  😉

Finding alternative ways of doing math: My kids really love learning better ways to do math, and there are a surprising number of really good methods out there that we find far easier than traditional methods.  For example, I stumbled upon a site about short division years ago and Anna became such a fan that to this day she asks me to give her division problems to do for fun.  (See Short division makes math easy for how to do it yourself.)  My kids also loved playing with Russian peasant multiplication to multiply big numbers before they learned their math facts.  Vedic math is another example.  We got some really fun and simple math shortcuts from the PDF book here:  Teach kids how to make math faster and easier with Vedic math (free PDF book!)

Making it fun and hands-on: For things like learning math facts, my kids aren’t big on sitting and using flashcards or doing rote memorization drills for hours.  We have way better luck with things like math games, counting stars and multiplication tricks.  See 22 Fun ways to help kids learn their math facts for lots of fun ways to help kids with that sort of thing.

Math games and activities: We use tons of hands-on games and computer games to help the kids gain math skills.  Math Live is an example and I have lots of other games and activities pinned here.  We also talk about math and make up really zany math problems like the ones here: Mad math! (yes, we helped our kids figure out how many Minnesota Vikings would fit in a swimming pool).  🙂

Free online textbooks and thrift store textbooks: I love the variety of good quality teaching materials that are out there these days, and we use them for the older kids when needed.  We’ve used this intro geometry book and CK-Foundation flexbooks and tutorials, plus we’ve also used college textbooks we picked up for two or three dollars from thrift stores.  Those are especially fun because the kids can highlight, draw, alter and otherwise mark them up to help retain the information.

Life: This is the biggest way we teach math around here.  The kids use it to cook, garden, plan projects, budget their money, play games, figure out how many days are left till their birthdays, and so on.

I’ve also learned not to sweat the core standards or typical math timeline. We have mostly unschooled math all along with all of our kids, and not one of them has ever tested below grade level in math.  I learned the hard way that if I tried to follow the traditional school path of math instruction (first you learn this, then this, then memorize these and these, then move on to this…) that kids can get hopelessly stuck because of one small area and can incorrectly assume that they’re bad in math.  Don’t stop introducing new math concepts because one area hasn’t stuck yet. For instance, if they don’t know their multiplication tables, stick a chart up on the wall and keep going.  And if one area of math is no fun right now, switch to something different like geometry or graphing. The more kids learn to love math, the easier all of it will come.

It turns out math is way easier than I thought, once I learned to ignore how everybody else does it.  🙂

# Our January Homeschool

It would seem insane for my cold-loathing self to love January in Minnesota, but I have finally come to embrace that fact.

I love winter this year.  I love the temperatures that are so bitterly cold that Daryl and I made vaporized hot water clouds in the street over and over again for the kids.  I love having so much snow that schools are canceled again.  I love going for a walk with the dog and my hubby in a world so white and blustery that we feel as if we’re the last people in some strange snow globe world.

Every time one of my Facebook friends posts another gloating message about how fun it is to live in Arizona or some other place that gets no winter, I think to myself that they just don’t get it.

Yes, it’s brutal.  It tests us.  We miss the sunshine.  We miss being able to spend lots of time outside.  We miss our gardens.  We get cabin fever and we snap at each other and drive each other a bit mad.

But it’s also so much more than that. I talk all the time about how we homeschool by the seasons, and I do believe there is a need for every season that we live.

We are so busy as a family during every other season.  Spring is full of gardening, traveling, rejoining the world.  Summer is pageant time, nature studies, gardens, foraging and a million opportunities that never seem to come up any other time of year.  Fall is harvest season, more foraging, more travels, more opportunities, conferences, our anniversary (and new wedding every year) and so much more.

And in winter, we rest.

I love the forced solitude and quiet of winter.  You’ll stay home, inside with your family, like it or not. 🙂

Sure, we get out a lot to trek to the science museum or go grocery shopping or meet up with other homeschoolers for tubing and winter fun.

But we also hole up inside…

We read piles and piles of library books we’d never get to any other time of year.

We do melted crayon art experiments.

We play on the computer.

We watch family movies.

We talk.

We play piano.

We do homeschool projects.

We take pictures of frost on the windows.

We simmer pots of scented water on the stove all day to humidify the air and then track the difference it makes on the gauge on the wall.

We take long baths with books and magazines.

We take silly selfies with each other.

We assemble racetracks and marble runs and makeshift forts.

We cook and bake with all those wonderful treasures we grew and foraged and carefully preserved last summer and fall.

We learn new things.

We sleep in.

We have long talks.

We breathe.

I’m getting ready to head out in the morning with Anna and Fiona for a week in the Twin Cities with friends (old and new).  It should be fantastic fun.  I am so glad that it’s in the midst of this calm so we can truly savor it.

And I’m so glad that there’s lots of cold, gray, white, miserable winter left before life bursts out for us again.  🙂

# 30 Days of Poetry Assignments to Get Creative Juices Flowing

Anna is really into poetry lately and Toria has been having fun writing some poetry too.

I used to be quite a prolific poet, with over a hundred poems published in my angsty younger days (mostly in small journals).  I minored in creative writing in college and did poetry readings in coffee houses in slightly scandalous clothes.

I also used to have fun doing poetry assignments with friends, challenging each other to write in different voices or with strange requirements.

I thought it would be fun to make up a list of a month’s worth of poetry assignments for my kids, and post it here in case anybody else wants to play along — parents too!

If you or your kids do take part and you want to share any of the resulting poems, please do!

Remind the kids that the only rule of poetry is that there are no rules. Poems don’t have to rhyme.  You don’t have to use proper capitalization or punctuation.  You can break sentences in the middle of the line (and it’s often a good thing!).

In the spirit of no rules, let the kids know that they’re free to substitute their own assignments or change them up on any day, too!

30 Days of Poetry Assignments

1. Write a poem where every line starts with the same letter.
2. Write a poem from the point of view of a plant.
3. Write a poem that uses a great deal of alliteration (here’s a refresher what alliteration means).
4. Write a poem to yourself.
5. Write a poem that starts with the first three words of a song lyric that you like.  End it with three more words from the lyrics.
6. Create a found poem.  Here’s a refresher of what found poetry is.  Experiment a lot with where you break the lines and end the poem in order to make the biggest impact.
7. Write a poem with lines that all have odd numbers of words, and no repeat of numbers (for instance, lines could be 7, 5, 9, 13 and 1 word long).
8. Write a poem about a historic figure.
9. Write a poem that retells a fairy tale theme in a new way (for instance, from the perspective of the wicked witch, or with Snow White choosing a different ending).
10. Write a twitter poem — it must be 140 characters or less.
11. Take an old poem of your own and replace at least 50% of the words with new words (they can be synonyms, antonyms or any words at all).  See which version you prefer.  Then write the poem again with whichever words you prefer.
12. Do the same exercise with a classic nursery rhyme.
13. Write a poem that is exactly 16 lines long and starts with the word sometimes.
14. Write a haiku about winter.  (Remember, a haiku is generally 5-7-5 syllables long.)
15. Open up a book and put your finger on a random word.  Do it 9 more times.  Write down those 10 words and use them in a poem.
16. Write a poem that includes the words other, mother, smother and/or cover at least 10 times (any of the words or all).  Feel free to add other words and phrases that sound similar (such as brother and of her).
17. Write a poem as an elderly version of yourself looking back on these years.
18. Write a poem that starts with the word and.
19. Find a photograph that you like (that you took or found) and write a poem to accompany it.
20. Write FOREVER down a sheet of paper.  Write a poem with each line starting with the corresponding letter.
21. Pick one of the 24 poets every child should know and read at least 5 poems by her/him, then write a poem about a subject in one of the poems while the poet’s voice is still fresh in your mind.
22. Write a gravestone poem — a poem about someone who has died (made up, real, historical, anyone) that would fit on a gravestone and sum up that person in just a few short lines.
23. Write a poem about an aspect of yourself that is made up for the poem (for instance, what it’s like to be an immigrant or the time you saved the world).
24. Write a dice poem.  Get out one or two dice and roll to see how many words each line should be.  If you like, roll to find out how many lines long it should be, too.
25. Think of a popular ad slogan and work that into a poem.  Try to use the phrase in a totally different way (for instance, making “good to the last drop” be about tears).
26. Write a poem about a childhood memory.
27. Set a timer for 3 minutes and write a random poem about anything that comes to mind nonstop with your non-dominant hand (for instance, your left hand if you are right handed).  When the timer goes off, recopy it with your dominant hand and add three lines anywhere in the poem.