In all of my love for the unschooling philosophy and lifestyle, I will admit that I have harboured one main anxiety: math. If I’m being honest, it stems from the classic problem of parents wanting to share all their greatest passions with their children—the same root, I’m sure, as my need for my children to know how to sing. Although singing has always been a personal need; math, because of the importance our institutions put on it, has manifested more as an anxiety.
My solution to this anxiety was simple and relaxed: read the Life of Fred series with the two oldest children on a somewhat regular basis. It worked quite well for a couple years. But recently it has begun to unravel. G was happily complying with my demands—probably a combination of personality and a shared ease with mathematical concepts—but E was beginning to resist. She would groan when I announced we would read another chapter. She would proclaim that she “hates math”. Frustrated, I would respond with lengthy orations on the ubiquity of math and patterns in every aspect of the world—insisting that it is impossible to dislike something that is simply a representation of LIFE!
I told you, I’m a die hard geek for all things math. It’s beautiful and exciting.
But then something happened, and it’s an example of a by-product of this lifestyle that is truly beautiful: Amy wrote a post, and I was duly rebuked—inspired to change. Especially when I recalled how much the situation was reflecting E’s experience with reading: how I saw that she was capable of overcoming the illiteracy hurdle when she was six, if only she would put some effort into it. How I tried very casually to “help” her by finding simple books and having her read them with me. How she began declaring that reading was boring and that she “hates reading”. Here’s what I did in that situation: I stepped immediately back. I thought, “Oh no, this is exactly the thing I was determined to save my children from.” And I stopped all efforts and left it. You know what happened? Within six months she was reading on her own, dramatically proclaiming in that classic E way, “reading is my LIFE!”
Stupid as I am, it took much too long to make the connections with the math thing. But I got there, and that very day I was able to correct course. What I did, see, was I stopped Life of Fred. I plan to start again, but it won’t be compulsory this time. Also, a downside to this hyper-regulated homeschooling system in Alberta: I had started making the kids write down the answers to the questions at the end of the chapter, instead of just chatting about the answers like we’d originally done, and I think that was a mistake. Alberta Education can shove it. It’s not worth it! Maybe I’ll find some kind of compromise that’s less tedious and demanding. For now, I’ve completely dropped it while I reassess, and while E recovers from the math trauma I was foolishly fostering all these months.
That’s not the end of my story though. That’s just the story of my rebuke. The real story is the evidence of the correctness of that rebuke, which happened only a few days later.
The first incident occurred when G, who is seven, was talking to L about this Terraria game they’ve all got themselves excited about lately. E had bought the game for $7, and G was working on getting his own $7 together so he could play too. I guess L had jumped on the bandwagon, because G said to me, “Mom, what’s 7×4?” I told him the answer, and he turned to L proclaiming, “So in 28 weeks you’ll have enough money to buy Terraria!” I realized he had understood that if L earned 25 cents per week, it would take four weeks to earn $1, so to figure out how many weeks it would take to get to $7 he need simply multiply four weeks seven times.
Shortly thereafter, E, who has been making recipes and measuring things for years now and has been demonstrated to with all sorts of examples and diagrams about fractions and yet still could not seem to grasp it, and who now through my own stupidity was exhibiting signs of math anxiety, asked, “Mom, does 1/3 plus 1/3 make 2/3?” OH. MY. GOODNESS. I’m not sure who else heard the angel chorus just then but in that seemingly innocuous moment was the most profound confirmation: leave the child to live life; give her the tools she needs and the answers she seeks; she will figure it out.
As further evidence, a couple days later while driving to the grocery store, E gave L a detailed explanation, complete with on the spot mental calculations, of how making change works (L still is like the child in that Shel Silverstein poem who feels that amount of coins is a better indication of wealth than value of said coins).
Everything is going to be alright.