Okay, I stray: math part two

continued from previous post

I put away the math books when math lessons became a struggle between my daughter and me.

What's the deal
Last school year was not the best in my family's homeschooling career. I kept telling myself that the reason our school year wasn't great - and the reason math in particular wasn't working for us - was because of the pressure to do too many activities.

We spent our days last year running this way and that way, and while the activities were perfectly fine (most of the time), we had too many of them on our schedule. While at one activity, my eyes where on the clock to make sure we got to the next. I never felt "there" anywhere, and our cozy home began to feel like a place in between other places.

When I thought about how math wasn't going the way I wanted, I blamed our schedule. I blamed the fine people who gave their time to organize all the events that interfered with my personal homeschooling plans. I blamed other families who didn't homeschool the way I like to. I blamed other parents for not pulling their weight at the activities, making more work for me. I blamed what I lazily called a learning-style difference between my daughter and me. I blamed the ugly and loud subways where I spent too much time, I blamed the dishes and laundry that piled up, I blamed the expectation that I cook dinner for a hungry family (they are hungry every day, geez!), and I might even have blamed my two cats.

a + b = c
One evening when I was listing all the things to blame for my homeschooling discontent and when I once again whined that my schedule was crazy overbooked, my husband asked, "Who made the schedule?"

That's all he needed to ask me, and I am grateful he didn't belabor the point that I made my own schedule. Overbooking our schedule to the point that I couldn't cover math topics with my daughter in a pleasant and effective way was nobody's fault but my own.

And overbooking really wasn't the problem anyway.

The simplest solution = the best solution
The problem was I was giving away my attention to things that didn't matter to me. I was giving my time and attention to all the group activities, and that attention made their influence grow and flourish.

And as a result of giving all my attention away, I didn't have any to give to things that did indeed matter to me, and those things suffered from the neglect and they withered. It's humbling to realize that our math struggles happened because I didn't pay enough attention. I mean, how hard is it to pay attention??

At least the solution was simple enough: put my attention on what I wanted to flourish. I wanted my relationship with my daughter to remain strong, I wanted our days to be smooth, and I wanted our studies to be productive. All I had to do was put my attention on those things. (I'm embarrassed that I had neglected to do that! It seems so obvious, but I had to learn the hard way.)

Found a pattern to repeat
I might have been better off reading what Charlotte Mason said about math rather than skipping those bits, but it's reassuring to me that my solution to our math dilemma was to slow down, observe, pay attention, which seems Charlotte-Masony enough to me.

Still, I don't follow CM with our math studies. I don't do short lessons, for example. Here's the approach I took for this school year, and which has worked well for us.

Last summer, I put the priority on learning the math facts better. By this, I mean that I committed myself to spending time with my kids as they learned the facts. Both my kids did flash cards every day last summer until they got the facts down fast. Believe me, it tries my patience to go through a stack of flash cards and not get bored, but I began to see the summer flash cards as lessons for me just as much as they were lessons for my children. My kids improved in their math facts, and I improved in my patience.

And what do you know, things went better when I paid attention. Duh.

After the summer when we began the "real" school year, I put a bigger priority on math (and science, too) than I had in the past. For the past school year, we've started our day with math as the first thing we do. In fact, this spring we've been starting at the breakfast table with math sprints. Then I spend time with each kid one-on-one going over that day's math. There are plenty of days when they do their math 100% on their own without me, but I'm ready this year - unlike in the past - to take whatever time is needed to go over math topics with them. And, instead of doing just the text and workbook, the kids are doing extra practice books as well. This takes us much longer than the short lessons advocated by Charlotte, and I'm okay with that.

And, I recommitted to making the math sessions pleasant like I did when they were first learning to count and add. We have private jokes, little funny routines, encouraging notes, and occasions to play math games in our week. I'm not a song-and-dance type of mom who entertains her children, but I'm willing to lighten things up and have fun with our studies. And my kids - like most all kids - thrive when Mom is smiling and laughing with them. 

A few months ago when my daughter was working on a word problem that took several complicated steps to figure out, she shouted from her table, "Hey, this is really fun! Come see this problem I just did. It's so cool!"

I wanted to jump for joy at the transformation from one year to the next. Our struggles turned into success and a big reason why is because I started paying attention again and "being there" alongside my kid for as long as she needed me. She now pushes me away from her math studies, not out of frustration but with the words, "Mom, I can do this by myself. It's easy!" That is indeed success to me. (And, her standardized test scores for math jumped. I don't care about the standardized tests, but, come on, that jump is rewarding to see.)

I can't say I'm happy to have experienced unpleasant times with math, but I am happy to say it was rather easily fixed. All it took was time and attention from both child and parent.

Top: Mosaic on column at a subway station.
Second photo: My two cats.
Third photo: Wall of a synagogue. I like the pattern of the place, and when I walk past it, I notice birds in the cubbies.
Bottom: Math is important, but so is noticing the pattern of the seasons: a tree in bloom in Central Park this week.


  1. So happy to hear that things have improved!

    I've seen it multiple times in my own life and have been reminded of it here from you: to look at myself first before I lay fault or criticism anywhere else. Thank you.

    We also put math first in our homeschool day ;)

    Very glad you shared your mental journey on teaching math with us!

  2. I'm glad you posted this. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to do my math next year, but I knew my children needed some extra attention with it. I've thought about slowing the pace, but wasn't for sure. Now I'm sure that's what I'll do. One day at a time we'll take it slow and steady, keeping all the frustration down.

  3. Melissa and Traci - thanks for your comments. I'm very encouraged by knowing others are out there, tackling similar issues. Let's continue to encourage each other - and to encourage ourselves!