Sunday, April 3, 2011

bye bye maths fear!

The fear has gone.

YES. I'm not kidding. It's gone. 

I've been looking and it's not anywhere.  

And what has been left in its place?


Great grinning gobs of it. 

I don't think I've ever posted anything more beautiful!

After enduring almost a year of math phobia—which was becoming crippling and filled with such sadness—my girl has made her way out. Slowly, carefully. With a "one-step-forward, sometimes a few back, bit-by-little-bit" approach that has literally drained the fear from our days.

What did it take?

Well. Stories, and lots (and lots) of talking, for one!

I remember a big talk we had about a month ago, with my girl on my lap. She just could not see the purpose of subtraction. Near tears, she said, "What's the point?" So we talked about when you might use it, or need it. We imagined how she might need to use it, for example, if one of her dreams—of running a pet shop—came true. 'Cos you need to know, when you've sold 5 bags of kitten food, don't you, how many bags you've got left? That led to a big old talk, about pet shops and bags of kitty litter, about stocktaking and kittens! and my girl began to smile.

I also remember another talk in the car the other day, about perpendicular lines. My girl said she just did not get them. What were they? So I described two dudes, Fred and Bob, two perpendicular lines. I did a whole conversation pretending to be them—with the two of them talking and planning to get together. The cool thing was, Fred and Bob COULD meet (at right angles, of course) because they were perpendicular! Whereas Sally and Mary, two parallel lines could not. They'd NEVER meet. They were destined to travel side by side forever, calling out sadly to each other across the gap.
Ah. There I was at the lights, gesturing wildly in the car, doing voices, both of us laughing. It was glorious.

Then there have been all the games.

Games like

Duck Duck Bruce
Zeus on the Loose
The Sum What Dice Game (and others!) from Family Math
Chess (just learning!)

our very own, home-made Kittenworld game :)

There's also been

a whole lot of computer learning on MathsBuddy 

which is uncomplicated and simply good. There's nothing flashy about it, and it doesn't use competition or prizes to get you motivated. It gets to the point, but it's also kind of sweet—we love the guy's voice who teaches the lessons. He sounds like someone who smiles a lot. :)

Then, there's the thing that seems to have clicked everything into place.

And it has been one of the simplest things of all.

Addition Practice.

A while ago, I realised my girl's fear boiled down to not comfortably knowing her addition facts to 20.

When you don't know your basic addition facts, it means when you get to harder maths, you don't have the building blocks to do it. You can't do big subtractions, you can't do big additions, you can't do multiplication, and you start to doubt yourself.
You start to believe you don't know things. You start to believe you will make mistakes and never know the answer. And the fear finds that simple, ordinary hole, and creeps in.

So what did we do? We started at the very beginning. Which was a very good place to start!

And we went to an unbelievably simple tool on called

Math Trainer: Addition.

How does it work?
Well, it's just a little bit of practice. It's something my girl and I talked about doing and decided would help, so it doesn't feel coercive. Just ten minutes, most mornings, never any longer. It's a tiny part of our day. Just like brushing your teeth, or practicing a scale or two on the piano. Ten minutes, sitting together at the computer, then it's done.

Then you go on, if you want, to whatever other maths thing you feel like doing for the day (like Games! More games! Mathsbuddy!).

When you go on it, you get to choose how long to "train." They suggest 5 minutes 3 times a day. We just do the ten minutes once, in the mornings. We don't do it every single morning—sometimes other things feel more important (like story writing! Sewing! Pottery class!).

You get to pick how hard the questions will be.

You can take your time. If you write the incorrect answer, you get that question again, just a few more times than the rest, to make sure the learning comes.

The idea is to eventually make your answers automatic, so in the end you don't have to count on your fingers or use a chart. Right now, my girl is using our beloved Penguin Theory for adding nines to things, but you can tell she doesn't have to think for long.

Things are popping straight into her brain, and the other day she did the Trainer by herself, for the first time.

She whizzed through! When we began practicing a month ago, my girl managed about 50 answers in ten minutes. On Friday, she answered 135 questions. All correct.

How big was her smile then? Out of this world.

My girl knowing her addition means

we've now gone right through year 3 addition and subtraction on MathsBuddy and are now onto multiplication!

(and shapes, lines, and angles and more!)

It means she isn't afraid of something new when it pops up. We talk every new thing completely through, and she trusts that it will be okay.

It means she wants to play games that have maths in them,
read books about maths,
and use the maths she knows to figure out something she doesn't know.

Like: "Mum, I knew 8 plus four was 12, so 8 plus 5 was just one more—13!"
And, "Mum, I knew 5 times 3 was fifteen, so 6 times 3 would be 18!"

And it means when we're out getting ice-cream at the harbour on a beautiful sunny Sunday,

and she finds out the ice-cream is $3 each, she says,

"Mum, 4 times 3 is 12. So it's twelve dollars."




Right all the way through to your bones, my incredible, tenacious, beautiful girl.

I am so, so proud of you.

ps and such:

• the other thing about the Trainer is you can use it for multiplication, division and subtraction too. My boy used it two years ago for his multiplication—this was his big maths block when we took him out of school. And within the month, he was cruising happily along and hasn't looked back. I know, I know; I sound like a knife salesman on t.v. but Yes, the Trainer could do it for you too! See how it cuts through cans? And I'll throw in a paring knife for good measure. Call now! :)

• Finally, I've heard that when you tout a product on your blog you're supposed to say, "No-one paid me to write this, etcetera". So, yeah, that's what I'm saying. I am so unpaid it's crazy! 


  1. I'm so happy for you! And your baby!

  2. This post makes my heart soar with gladness for you and your daughter! There is nothing more beautiful than finding joy in what you are learning. And I LOVE your stories...might borrow the perpendicular friends meeting at right angles part! Love it! What a lot of great resources. I love Family Math book and right now, I'm reading First Grade Diary which introduces the Miquon Math. I'm thrilled to find something that is non-coercive and goes at the child's developmental pace. They are so positive about it too...recognizing that kids go through leaps and bursts at different stages. It sounds like yours have just been through a huge math spurt! Congratulations!!!

  3. Hi,
    I've been catching up here on some of your posts...wonderful journey you are on here!
    You're blessings remind me of mine... Good strong love, friendship among the tribe and watching the seeds of creativity grow in your children too!
    Love it!

  4. You know that old saying ~ that which does not kill us will only make us some ways that applies to homeschooling. We all stumble upon something we love right away. For us it was history. We loved it from the start. But in math and science we struggled to find what we liked and what was a good fit for us. For me those are the accomplishments. When I look back on this past year, even though history is my favorite subject, it is not what comes to my mind first. I think of the struggle Grace went through with math and how we made it through stronger than ever. I think of the science programs we started and abandoned before finding botany which we all love so much. Those experiences have made us all stronger and more committed in this choice of learning!
    I am so glad your journey through math ended the way it did, with a girl who is confident and proud of herself and a momma who helped facilitate that!

  5. ::throwing confetti and streamers::
    YAY YAY I am so glad, so proud of your girl, so proud of the Mamma you are to keep trying until she got it. Isn't that the best feeling ever???

    I will check out the "Trainer" series because I made the mistake of teaching Kei her multiplication tables using this rhyming method...she knows them but she has to stop and 'think' about the rhyme. As you said, some math needs to be memorized not thought out.

    Give your girl a hug from Karen and Kei in Alabama and tell her we are SO PROUD OF HER!

  6. That is a cool story :-) My girl LOVES maths, but her phobia is writing - so I know where you're coming from. How fabulous that in your homeschool you were able to start at the very beginning, use a variety of tools and work on what needed to be worked on. Love it!

  7. Helena I think this is one of my favourite blogs ever. Congratulations over and over and over again to you both!


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.