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Maths is part of life

22 July, 2010

As a home schooling parent (who is also re-teaching the trained-teacher side of herself) I try to teach as part of every day life as much as possible, with only what is necessary as “formal” lessons (if occasionally schooling children in their pyjamas counts as formal). Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to turn everything into a “learning experience” forgetting that life *is* a learning experience.

Life is full of examples of mathematics. Last Sunday, for instance, we were on our way home from church when we needed to buy bread. Mark (my awesome hubby) gave me $5 and I went off to the bakery. When I got back to the car, I gave Reuben (our five-year-old son) and Zoe (our almost-seven-year-old daughter) this problem.

“The white bread cost $1.80 and the wholemeal bread cost $1.90. How much was it all together?” Zoe added the dollars together and started with $2. We talked her through adding 80c and 90c and adding it back to the $2 she started with. There was no pressure, no forcing her to work harder than necessary, just talking through the problem like we would talk through any other issue. Then I added the next part.
“I gave the lady $5. How much change did I get?” and challenged Reuben to answer the question. Since the bread cost $3.70 we first worked out how much change we would have gotten from $4 and then $5. Again we talked the problem through and helped our budding mathematicians to succeed.

Finally, they asked Mark how much change we got (since I was, by this time, driving) and were pleased to discover that we had arrived at the correct answer.

Our children were willing to participate in a learning activity on this non-schooling day for a few important reasons. Firstly, there was no pressure on them – we were in this together. Secondly, it was not something manufactured by text book writers. It had meaning to them and to their lives – it was relevant to them. Thirdly, they felt as though they were doing something useful and helpful.

Not every mathematics “lesson” so conveniently fits in with every day life, but as much as possible we’ll use our lives to teach maths, and by bonus, teach them that maths is a normal part of every day life.

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