Saturday, November 20

Everyday mathematics

Earlier in the week I read  this post on Dayna Martins blog, The Sparkling Martins
The blog mentions Natural Math and it inspired me to write my own post about how my unschooled kids have learnt mathematical concepts.

When I first stared to unschool the kids I thought I would be able to let them learn most subjects naturally but would try to keep up lessons in English and Maths. It is common for parents to think this way. It took awhile for me to see that life (and learning) isn't divided into subject areas and that children are often learning many things simultaneously. And I also had to trust that they would learn about mathematics when they needed to.

As Dayna mentions there is a lot of faith involved in the process of natural learning; to be able to let go of ones own schooled beliefs that children will only learn if forced to learn and that they must master mathematics to be a worthwhile adult etc. To just let go is a leap of faith when you have no prior experience with others who have unschooled.

So as much as I do believe in the process of natural learning it is gratifying to be able to watch my children learning over the years without being made to sit still and rote learn.

My children have learned mathematics when a situation has come up that they want to understand.
They learn basics naturally when they are young. They learn counting and basic number skills by hearing others count and by needing to add things together and by learning to tell the time. They learn through using money. They learn about fractions when cooking and angles when building.

A couple of real life examples of learning maths follow.

One day driving in the car Rain asked how long it was going to take to get to x. I answered that it would depend on how fast I drove. That if I was driving 100kph it would take 1 hour to drive 100kms but if I was only driving 60kph it would take an hour to drive 60kms.
This lead to us working out together the speed limit, the distance we had left to travel to our destination, and the time it would take to get there. We didn't use a pen and paper but were working it out in our heads.

We didn't need to repeat the lesson over and over to ensure that she understood, she did. The repetitiveness of schooling annoys me. As an adult I can usually grasp a concept after it has been explained to me once if it is something that I am interested in. If I need clarification I will ask for it. But if I was forced to sit and repeat my lesson ten times and then do so again the following day I'm sure that after awhile any enjoyment I had in the subject would soon evaporate. I don't think that children differ in this.

Another example of kids learning math when they want to know something occurred with Zan. He had earned some money working for our friend and was reading through the news paper one day and saw an advertisement for a term deposit account at a bank.

He asked about these accounts and I told him that you get a really high interest rate because you agree to put your money in the account and not touch it for a fixed period of time.
I then showed him how to calculate interest and he worked out how much his money would grow if he put it in for 5 years and then ten years.
This then lead to a discussion about how much interest we pay on our mortgage and a discussion of the difference between simple and compounding interest.
He then worked out that over the life of our mortgage we would end up paying twice the original amount because of interest!

If Zan had been sitting in a classroom and a maths teacher had started discussing interest I wonder how long he would have remained interested (pun intended!)?
But because the learning came from his own curiosity and was about something he could relate to he enjoyed learning about it. AND again we didn't have to repeat the lesson and do 100 different examples just to prove he knew because he did know. And he has used the knowledge again since without any help.

These are just two examples but there are many more. I think my point is that just because you don't study mathematics as a subject doesn't mean you won't learn maths. You may not learn calculus unless you seek it out or it relates to something you are doing but we are all exposed to many more maths concepts in our daily lives than we realize.

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