succulent plants decoration in a frame
by Kay Chance
green succulent plants in a frame
succulent plants decoration in a frame
by Kay Chance
Being Bold Enough to Teach Math Naturally
I was bold when it came to teaching language arts. I chose a natural approach, and we thrived with it. The same was true for other subjects, such as science and history. But then there was…math.

Every generation of homeschoolers sees a particular curriculum recommended by all of their peers. When it came to choosing something for math, I listened. I bought. We did it.

And it is one thing I regret . . .

My boys never liked math, but I don’t believe it had to be that way. I can’t help but think if we had taken a different approach they would have enjoyed it more when they were young, had a better grasp of the concepts, and developed the ability to think mathematically. Perhaps it still wouldn’t have been their favorite subject, but I have no doubt it would have been better than what we did.

Why? Because by doing it differently I would have chosen to be bold instead of letting my fear drive me—fear that I would leave gaps in their math education and fear that they wouldn’t have a firm foundation for the skills they would need in their middle and high school years. I would have been more diligent in seeking out what was best for them instead of relying on what others decided about how we should teach math.

. . . I wish I had been more bold.

top view of potted succulent
Being bold as a homeschooling parent means…
  • You trust that God will lead you to find what is best for your children.
  • You know that one size does not fit all.
  • You believe children are capable of learning any subject, although it may look different than how your friend’s children learn.
  • You realize that how kids learn is just as important as what they learn.
  • You recognize how you were taught a subject in school doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

Now, after having graduated my own kids—and seeing how God provided for them where I lacked in an area—I know even our experience with teaching and learning math wasn’t wasted.

My hope is that you’ll learn from my mistakes. That you will choose boldness when it comes to teaching math in the elementary years. That you will give them not only a strong foundation, but also inspire them to enjoy it. Whether your kids thrive with a more traditional approach or they are struggling, natural learning can be a central part of your overall teaching approach.

little girl in store holding two oranges
Teaching Math Boldly to Elementary Learners
Instead of (or in addition to) buying a workbook or textbook, consider building skills through more natural methods. Here are some activities you can do to lay a strong foundation in math skills and concepts that are hands-on and based in real life. These ideas include activities for your youngest learners as well as how you can continue to build on them as your kids get older.

At some point, you’ll introduce more written work. But even when you do, you’ll want to continue to incorporate math in more natural ways as well. By doing so, your children will see how math connects to their real life.

Play games. Kids will count, learn how to follow directions, and develop critical thinking skills. They add when they move ahead and subtract when they have to “go back two spaces.” There are even games designed to teach and reinforce specific mathematical skills.

As your children get older they can…

Play more advanced games that require more strategy and higher level thinking skills. Just consider what they are learning with these popular games:

  • Battleship teaches coordinates.
  • Monopoly teaches finance.
  • Blokus teaches spatial reasoning.
  • Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Pandemic teach strategy.
  • Sequence teaches sequencing. (That one was kind of obvious, I know.)
  • Risk teaches conflict resolution…oh wait, we were
    talking about math. I had a friend once tell me that early on they had to stop playing this game for the sake of peace in their marriage, so I always associate risk with that story.

Read fun picture books about math concepts. Young learners, as well as old, love stories. By incorporating math concepts into story form, kids understand them in a memorable way since our brains are trained to recall stories. It’s a fabulous way to take complex ideas in a simplified and relatable way.

Potted plants and gardening tools
As your children get older they can…

  • Write a story that illustrates a math concept to a younger audience to solidify their own understanding. People who write children’s books are masters at taking difficult concepts and explaining them in a way children can understand, so this will stretch your older students.
  • Read biographies about mathematicians and inventors.

Put jigsaw puzzles together. According to Dr. Susan Levine, “Puzzles are an opportunity for young children to explore key early math concepts, including shapes, sizes, and how and where one puzzle piece fits with another to make pictures or designs.” As you work on puzzles together as a family, you can prompt them with questions and directions like, “What would happen if you turned that piece the other direction?” or “Let’s look for a piece with two edges.”

Play with patterns. You can purchase pattern cards and counters in different colors at a local education store or make your own. Patterns help kids learn the skills of sequencing and develop the ability to predict what will come next.

Puzzles and patterns go hand in hand, so many of the skills will overlap.

As your children get older they can…

  • Work on more and more difficult puzzles.
  • Solve other types of puzzles as well—logic puzzles are great for teaching reasoning skills.

Go to the grocery store. Have your children count things and weigh the fruits and vegetables. Show them how to compare the prices. Ask them which product is bigger and which is smaller.

To easily implement these ideas, download the GrocerySchool printable you can use with your family, here.

various succulents in square pot
As your children get older they can…

  • Create a map of the grocery store. Then for the next shopping trip, they can plan for how to shop the most efficiently.
  • Organize the pantry before or after a grocery trip. They will be developing skills such as categorization, spatial recognition, and sequencing (oldest times up front, newer in the back).
  • Develop a system your family can use to know when you run out of something.
  • Look through the sales flyers (or online) to find out the specials of the week. Then plan meals based on the best deals.
  • Figure out what the best deal is on the shelf. Is the name-brand item on sale really cheaper than the generic brand? Is buying fruit prepackaged in a bag a better deal? And even if it is, will a lot be wasted because they aren’t as good as the ones you would have chosen?
  • Weigh produce and figure out how much the price will be based on the weight and price per pound. Let them check to see if they are right when you check out.
  • Estimate the total before checking out and
    then compare the estimates to the total.
  • Use a calculator to keep a running
    total instead of estimating.

Cook with your kids. Let them measure things. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters in sugar cookie dough. Count how many pieces they need to cut the pie into to serve each family member. Count the silverware as they set the table.

As your children get older they can…

  • Double and triple recipes.
  • Write their own recipes.

Hang a calendar on the wall. So many of us now use digital calendars that we don’t tend to have a physical calendar. But when you have a printed calendar, you can point out the months, days, and weeks. They’ll pick up on the ideas of finding out information based in a chart format, and even learn to read grids.

As your children get older they can…

Design and use their own planner for life and school.

Get a clock with actual hands on it. Instead of filling out worksheets full of clock faces, simply have one in your home and bring it up in everyday conversations. Have them look at it regularly and ask them to figure out what time it is.

As your children get older they can…

  • Use older clocks to recognize roman numerals.
  • Look at a digital clock like the rest of us!
Intentionality is key to doing math this way, though. But part of being bold is committing to what is best over what might be considered convenient (but in reality…is it more convenient to sit kids down with a textbook or to do life and learning alongside one another?).
Teaching Math Boldly with Middle and High School Students
Boldness doesn’t need to end once your kids enter middle and high school. Math may look different and more academic in a sense, but you still have a lot of choices. And with all of them, you can continue to help your students connect the subject of math to real life applications—from construction to finances to starting a business. They can learn computer programming and the art of animation.

Whatever you choose, do it with boldness.

Kay Chance headshot

ay Chance homeschooled her children for fifteen years. While teaching them, she discovered a passion for writing and developing curriculum resources. She loves sharing natural learning methods and creative lesson ideas with other homeschooling parents. Kay is the co-executive editor of Homeschooling Today magazine and the author of the older extensions for the Trail Guide to Learning series. She makes her home in Texas with her husband Brian.