Does the idea of teaching homeschool math spark a little fear? Do you sometimes build it up in your mind as nearly impossible? Does it feel too hard to teach math because you struggled with it in school yourself? You’re not alone. So many of us come into homeschooling with a mix of insecurity and even bad experience with our own math education journey, and often this saps our homeschool joy and confidence before we’ve even begun.
That’s why we love Navi Riar from @mathteachermomblog. As a credentialed math teacher with over 16 years of classroom experience, Navi is on a mission to give math a makeover. She is passionate about making math accessible for all children using a hands-on approach and sharing best practices from her own teaching experience with families everywhere. We started following Navi pretty shortly after launching the Learn + Live Letter and were really drawn to her method of super simple, hands-on activities that could work for a variety of ages (and usually use materials you probably already have in your kitchen or your homeschool supply closet), and we were so excited to share her relaxed, fun perspective on this subject that can be tricky for so many families in a recent IG LIVE. (Click here to view the whole chat!)
Here are eight things we learned in our conversation about how to bring more joy to math lessons (and why we’re probably overcomplicating it):
#1: A good math experience starts with you.
As with most homeschooling challenges, the key to success starts with us, the homeschool grownups! Navi’s first piece of advice was to work through our own math anxiety. We may have had a negative experience with math when we were students, or we may have been influenced by all those teen movies in the ‘90s that depicted the math teacher as the “school bad guy.” Either way, work through this first so you can come to homeschool math with a clean slate. Most importantly, give yourself permission to make mistakes―it is more than okay to learn and grow with your child!
#2: Turn what you perceive to be a weakness into an asset.
In this case, the weakness is often our own aversion to math―but it can actually be a useful tool! Show your child your own perseverance as you work to understand and teach them math. Think out loud and let your child see your struggles and your successes. Literally talk out problems to let them hear your thought process and model what it’s like to work to understand something difficult. Remember: Our brains are designed to learn and grow. So don’t feel like you as the adult can’t learn the math right along with your child. This method is especially helpful if we have a perfectionist child because it helps them see that we make mistakes, too. (And that’s totally okay!)
#3: Watch your tone when it comes to doing math together.
Remember how we set the tone for learning as the adult? Sometimes we mean that literally. If you hear yourself becoming negative or frustrated during math lessons, STOP! Don’t force it. You can even skip math on your bad days! That’s because children will internalize your attitude and it will often become their own perspective on learning math or doing math lessons. Learning math (like any subject) is a process, and it takes time. So if you need a break, take it! As we say often, you aren’t running out of time.
#4: Bring math to life by making it more hands-on.
You already know how much we love hands-on learning at Learn + Live Letter, and Navi takes a similar approach to bring abstract concepts to a concrete level for her students. Using hands-on elements to bring math to life, instead of worksheets that simply drill memorization, provides children with authentic understanding of the concepts. As they play with math and practice explaining it, they will truly comprehend the meaning behind the numbers. (And become more confident in their abilities!)
#5: Change the environment and fold in more fun!
So what do you do on a day where you’re met with math resistance from your child? Don’t do the same old thing! Navi recommends switching up your lessons in a way that injects fun into the activity. This can be done by changing the environment (take math to the cafe, the park, the backyard, or even the floor!), switching the medium (instead of paper, try a white board or sticky notes where it’s easy to make a change if you make a mistake), or even changing position (there’s actually a lot of research that shows children perform better in math when they’re standing!).
#6: Disguise math with play.
If math resistance has already become a consistent part of your homeschool, sometimes just saying the word “math” can be enough to set off a bad homeschool day. So don’t tell your child you are “doing math”! Instead, change the narrative and invite them to try a puzzle or a playdough activity. Instead of saying “it’s time to do math now!” try, “Want to play with…” You might be shocked at how their reaction changes.
#7: Show them the practical value of what they’re learning by bringing math into the real world.
We all know that children immediately want to do something when you tell them you need to do it alone. So let your child “find” you doing math, like working on a math puzzle or figuring out a budget for groceries. Once their curiosity is peaked, invite them to join you! Demonstrating that practical value is often much more effective than simply telling children they need to know something. Invite them to work on family projects that involve math like budgeting vacations or measuring a room before you buy the paint.
#8: Prioritize understanding and critical thinking over getting the right answer.
The trouble with math is that there is usually a right answer―but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the focal point. Instead, Navi recommends shifting our mindset to prioritize raising children who think critically, see patterns, and grasp the bigger picture of how math adds value to our lives. And it starts with how we teach it. She recommends avoiding curriculums that focus on too much repetition, like those worksheets that drill the same skill over 30 problems. Instead, look for a curriculum that allows them to think and play through hands-on activities that expose your child to math’s practical value and engage their natural curiosity to learn. (She also loves YouCubed.org as a resource!) Especially for those early elementary, fundamental years, math needs to be internalized. Allow them to play and see that it is okay to make mistakes―it’s all learning! When you’re teaching math, don’t focus on the right answer, focus on true understanding by making mistakes and recovering from those mistakes.
The result will be a child who not only understands math, but has also gained crucial skills like perseverance, critical thinking ability, and a deep love of learning.