Google+ Authentic Parenting: How Will I Teach My Child Math When I Don't Understand It and Do They Really Need Math - Unschooling Questions Answered

Monday, June 2, 2014

How Will I Teach My Child Math When I Don't Understand It and Do They Really Need Math - Unschooling Questions Answered

I recently got the above question in a Facebook group I'm active in and wanted to share the answer
with you, as it is a recurrent question.

First of all, my husband is an engineer and I followed Latin-Sciences in High School (what we call Secondary school in Belgium), which is quite a lot of math...
Am I now using math? Yes, a little, since I'm working with payments and budgets etc... but even more so since we're renovating a house. But that's indeed basic math, and even my husband doesn't use the advanced equations you see at the end of High School, and he is an engineer!

On the other hand, a certain knowledge of math is necessary in life, because you DO need it everywhere: in cooking, construction, shopping...

So what's my view on math as an unschooler? The philosophy of unschooling is that you learn what you need, when you need it, because then the interest is there.

Like what this boy talks about.

My daughter has phases where she wants to do math, true math, pure math, the boring kind in books with no images, counting, substracting... and then she forgets about it for a while. And yes, she 'still' can't count to 100 (she's nearly 6), but she can add and substract and sometimes thinks about these things.

In unschooling, 'math' isn't something separate, it is just a part of life. Like when I buy 5 ice creams for the freezer and she eats two, she'll want to figure out how many are left. And when my husband leaves for a month, she'll want to know how many nights, and will substract each night she slept until he comes back. Interest in math is there in kids, it's just squished by the 'system'. The system which strips away clothes, shopping, icecreams, construction and turns math into something abstract, something that makes 'will we ever need this stuff' a valid question.

As long as there are no subject matters, that question isn't there. It's not 'math', it's life.

I won't sit at the table and make my daughter do math quizzes and offer her a gold star when she finishes, but I will make sure to have age-appropriate things in the house that has something to do with numbers, some things pretty formal, others not so, and I'll also use the occasion when my kids show an interest... But I won't spin it out or push the question just because it's math.

So what about when you as a parent don't grasp math yourself? When your child reaches a point where your immediate knowledge isn't enough to satisfy their needs, reach out.

As an unschooling parent, you are not the teacher, you are a guide. You're there to help your children collect the knowledge they need when they do, but this doesn't mean you need to provide the knowledge, bite-size. It means reaching out to people who are active in the field, going to the library to find books about the topic, buying them an illustrated book about thermodynamics for their birthday...

Step out of the idea that there is one answer to each question and into the thought that your children have the drive - with steering and some help - to find the answers themselves.

This is the video that sparked this conversation:



  1. Elias (who is almost 9 yo now) loves every topic taught at school. And he loves when we can look up stuff together at home, he and me.
    Math is awesome, we love the pure, "boring" math as you call it :-) We have been having fun with divisions and negative numbers, and then surfaces and pythagorus theorem. I don't have to rely on anything because I know all the stuff.
    French is awesome too, and we are studying rhetoric these days, and we are using internet to get information. I love (re)learning all that with him. And yes, I don't need to know it all to guide him towards knowledge, you are very right about that !
    Nina is busy learning with me how to read and write, and how to add and substract and multiply, too. And about the different states of matter (solid, liquid, gas).
    They go to school, but I "unschool" them when they are with me at home and I love it.

    1. My daughter surprisingly likes the 'boring' math, then again, she's never been told it's boring. I actually liked it up until I was about 16 and it wasn't very cool to like math anymore.

  2. I didn't love math and I didn't hate it. It was something that I had to work hard to get - just like everything else in my life, but I don't regret taking linear algebra in college, even though I don't use it. Math is a way of thinking more than anything else. I do think exposure is key. I love your suggestion of reaching out.

    I don't like art myself. I'm not good at it. I don't enjoy it. However, it doesn't mean that my kids shouldn't do it. Just because I don't know anything doesn't mean that they shouldn't. I asked another mom in my community to help my kids with art. In turn, I can help their kids with advanced math, science...whatever. I think it's very important that we don't limit our kids because of our own personal limitations.

    Thanks for this fantastic post, Laura!


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