I homeschooled an only child, whom I will call kiddo. For my child, homeschooling was a fantastic opportunity to go deeper into math. And by deeper, I don’t mean working on lots of math contests or curriculum. Homeschooling allowed time for kiddo to discover a passion that school would not have provided time for. It is quite ironic because kiddo’s passion is a very academic subject.
From about 4 years old, kiddo started to love codes and ciphers and chose to do that for large swaths of time. At that age, it wasn’t completely obvious to me just yet and it was only later that I realized math for kiddo is a journey of discovering intricate patterns. Kiddo wanted time to immerse himself in math, thinking about it, observing how numbers behave and how to find relationships between them, and how, using those very pretty and colorful 1-inch math manipulative tiles, you can create sequences where no two tiles of the same color or vertices were touching. It was not always about solving a puzzle but about the journey getting there.
When it came to enrolling kiddo in kindergarten, every school we explored at that time had rigid schedules for lessons and taught math in just one period a day. It also seemed as if every single school expected math-loving kids to automatically also be contest-loving kids. It was not that my child hated problem solving. Kiddo wanted more time to think about problems rather than being timed while solving them. Timing a math activity created an artificial rule that seemed so out of place for kiddo–it was too incongruous a rule for my even usually compliant child to follow.
When we started homeschooling, I slowly realized through trial and error (i.e. frequently frustrated mom, frequently frustrated kid) that we could use time creatively, such as with a block schedule for other subjects, in order to set time aside for math. At kiddo’s urging, we split up math into different sessions throughout the day and from year to year, these sessions slowly grew longer in duration. I set aside a lot of time to watch math videos and read mass market math books written by mathematicians. As kiddo grew older, these sessions included reading from textbooks as well as Googling for math ideas, research, and unsolved problems.
I also learned to practice curriculum compacting with math. Here’s what a math day-in-the-life might have looked like in elementary school:
9.00am – 9.30am: Math practice lesson for the day with a whiteboard and favorite curriculum of that week (we mixed and matched from various popular ones). I chose 2 easy practice problems, 2-3 medium level problems, and 4-5 hard problems for kiddo to complete every day. Anything not finished was carried over to the next day.
9.30am – 11.00am: I wrote a checklist of things I wanted kiddo to learn every week for writing, science, and history and we chose 1-2 of these topics without worrying too much about which subject it was.
After lunch: We read aloud from math and science living books. We had lots of conversations, exchanged hugs, ate ice cream, looked up unfamiliar ideas on the laptop, pretended to talk in different voices as we read aloud, and played with math manipulatives or math games on the computer.
2.00pm – 6.00pm: We participated in various outside activities or did free reading, cooking, and had quiet time and playdates.
6.00pm – 7.00pm: We held dinner table conversations about anything that interested us. We used a world map table cloth and played pass-the-salt from country X to country Y. That also became a discussion on distance, weather patterns, geological formations, history, important landmarks, and political systems! This was our general education/geography/current events lesson of the day for years!
After dinner: A math video, usually a documentary, and more conversations. We wrote down anything mentioned in the video on our larger wall-mounted whiteboard to explore and research later. Over the years, these notes evolved into harder problems for kiddo to solve and lists of biographies for kiddo to read.
What Bedtime? Hey, We’re Homeschooling!
Once kiddo was a little less fidgety from around age 7, we were able to take time to attend lectures that local universities organized for the public and to participate in collaborative math club projects kiddo would not have had time for if following a traditional school schedule. These lectures and math get-togethers were usually in the evenings and kiddo could stay up as late as needed and wake up late the next day. Kiddo also signed up for local math circles. Life was sometimes difficult for us around then and we did not worry too much about attending every single session…we did what we could, hoping for consistency over the long term.
I sometimes wonder if as concerned parents, we let worries about what our kids will do in high school or for college get so much in the way that we don’t allow ourselves to break away from routine in the younger years. I know that I did have that worry in the back of my head but kiddo’s insistence on spending as much time as possible on math dictated our days. We were able to make learning into a lifestyle rather than as a strictly scheduled activity. I am so grateful we homeschooled.
Leaps Of Faith
It was harder to follow a more relaxed pathway when it was time for high school. In 9th and 10th grade, my kiddo had a very math-heavy transcript with very few other credits and that often worried me no end. Every day, we are bombarded with advice to make sure that we have well-rounded kids. When you are homeschooling, the pressure to do that might feel even higher because so much of that responsibility is on the parent.
It was hard to have faith that things will eventually balance out. It finally happened when kiddo started to realize what needed to be done to apply to college. Some kids don’t feel that need till much later and that ends up being a personal pathway. There are ways to work with it. Parents need to know that there are options and a spiky or lopsided transcript can be a good thing too.
When I started homeschooling, I did not want my child to fear math as much as I did. While I was homeschooling, I often felt pulled into opposing directions…should I allow more time for passions? How would we balance the needs of other subjects? I am so glad that I decided to go with my gut instinct to allow my child time for his deepest interests. This gave my child much more ownership over learning.
Be sure to tune in to Simplify’s Homeschooling Kids With Intense Passions podcast for more inspiration.