It was a seemingly contradictory day today: we spent much of the morning doing practical Maths in various guises (but not Maths Whizz) - and I realised why I still feel the need to have the boys use an online Maths curriculum. Friends who advocate 'unschooling' or child-led learning often say that Maths is everywhere, and there is no need for a curriculum. They do have a really good point, but regular readers will know this is the area where I am least confident. This morning's fun at least demonstrated what they are talking about...
First of all, prompted by Middle's struggles with MathsWhizz addition/ subtraction using carrying (or "regrouping" for the up-to-date among you), I had bought a set of Cuisenaire Rods (a friend was going to loan some to us but then I realised how stressed I would get desperately trying not to lose any small bits, so we found a cheapish set to buy for ourselves!). He is such a visual learner, I think it will help him get to grips with the grouping/ carrying concept. Anyway, he found the set of rods first thing this morning and immediately wanted a go - the bright colours appealing to his creative side and the stacking rods appealing to his love of order (this was before we even had a chance to have breakfast). We went through the set finding out what colour all the different number-rods were, then we matched them up to see how many different ways we could make 'tens' - the teacher in my head was mentally ticking off 'number-bonds', while he was just playing and having fun! He then progressed to using them to play a game that basically revolved around times tables - not that he knew that. His enthusiastic squeals soon called his brothers, and next thing I knew they were all playing with "Mummy's New Maths Game" - amongst other things making one huge rod two-hundred-and-fourteen squares long (according to Eldest).
The rods had to go away for breakfast then, but were such a success, I'm confident Middle will be happy to play some more with them when we have another look at the Maths he got stuck on :)
Our next Maths encounter was a result of the car-boot sale I did at the weekend - I tipped out the coins onto the table, and the two older boys helped me sort them into piles, count the totals and bag them, ready to be banked :)
Following that, there were various maths-based games and puzzles, including Electronic Battleships (Eldest v the computer); a jigsaw puzzle aimed at 5-year-olds that Youngest did without batting an eyelid, and the Bus Stop game from Orchard Toys. Today was also Eldest's turn to bake, and he made some scrummy Orangle Drizzle cakes (after an emergency dash to the smallholding up the road where we buy our eggs) - there's plenty of Maths to be found in measuring out ingredients, dividing cake mixture etc - and we got to eat them too... edible Maths is my favourite!
Of course, it wasn't all Maths today - Eldest (who is recovering from some nasty virus picked up this weekend) and I had some lovely snuggle time on the sofa, watching our garden wildlife - including a very shy mouse and some beautful long-tailed tits - and we all played a game or two of Animal Soundtracks (great for encouraging listening skills), and Middle and Youngest spent a fair time on Reading Eggs too! It's just that it did help me to see how Maths really does fit naturally into our everyday lives, without them going near MathsWhizz.
So that said, why do I still feel the need for online (or even workbook-driven) curriculum, such as MathsWhizz? Well, bearing in mind that this is still all fairly experimental (we're still in novice-territory, so may well change our mind next month/ week/ tomorrow), it was partly a conversation that I had with Hubby that crystalised my thoughts. I can't remember how it came up, but he basically mentioned that he never learned his times tables at school (his family moved around quite a bit when he was young, so presumably it just fell by the way in one of the gaps between schools). This was supposed to be a positive point, showing that even though he didn't complete all the basic requirements conventionally expected by a formal education, he still went on to do very well for himself (got Maths A-level, has good job etc). On the other hand, I can vividly remember learning my times tables (mostly I remember a little green paperback book purchased for me by my Mum who wanted to help consolidate what I was presumably learning at school). Hubby said that not having learned his times tables hadn't hindered him at all - he could still work out whatever mental maths he needed to do; it just takes him a little longer than those who had learned them (eg me). So if I was in a situation where I needed to know - say - 6x7, I would instantly know the answer was 42. Hubby would still get the same answer (he's a clever chap), but he would have to work it out. Not much of a draw-back, really. It just got me to thinking then about when I missed two weeks of secondary school due to illness, and consequently never learned how to do long division. "No big deal" you might think, but you'd be surprised how many times it came up throughtout my adult life... not on a daily basis, but often enough to frustrate me that I couldn't do it. It wasn't until I needed to teach my students how to do it that I finally got round to teaching myself how to do it - and now it's another skill under my belt :) Of course, some may argue that my teaching myself is proof that my boys could teach themselves if they ever find themselves wanting to know how to do it - and they'd have a point - but all these little things come together to where I am at the moment, thinking that these maths skills traditionally learned at school actually do have value. If we didn't have MathsWhizz, would Middle ever learn to do "regrouping/ carrying"? Maybe, maybe not. How about times tables or long division? If he didn't, it certainly wouldn't be the end of the world - neither Hubby nor I were held back by our learning gaps - but how many so-called 'learning gaps' am I comfortable to risk him having? And basically, as we do have the opportunity at our fingertips for him (and his brothers) to learn those skills, as long as he is (they all are) enjoying it, we're going to make full use of the online curriculum available - and also carry on having fun seeing how Maths fits into our every day lives too... for now, anyway! It's not a set philosophy - I certainly wouldn't try to tell anyone else they should or shouldn't do it this way... it's just a record in my diary of where we're at right now ;)
And finally: I've said this before, but was reminded again today of one of the benefits of HE. Having had a nasty virus this weekend with accompanying alarmingly high temperature, Eldest seemed to be nicely on his way back to full health today. Had we been in school, I might have been tempted to send him in so he didn't fall behind academically (and so I could fulfil my teaching responsibilities). I'm so grateful we didn't even have to think about it. Sadly we did have to cancel a visit to some lovely friends who we were looking forward to seeing - but we're hoping to reschedule soon, and I was just so grateful that Eldest was free to take the day at his own pace, learning naturally wherever he felt up to it, and resting when he needed... and of course, I was on hand to keep an eye on him, for my own peace of mind. Thank God for Home Ed :)
PS For those who like to share such things, here are our favourite garden visitors from today...