My Crazy Ideas about Teaching Math

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Math is my first academic love.

From second grade until high school, I wanted to me a mathematician. And I might have majored in math if I hadn’t received an engineering scholarship to attend college.

So yes, I really love math. There is just something about math that excites me.


As a homeschooling mom, I’m trying to pass on that love of math to my kids. And I think my method of trying to do that is somewhat unusual, and maybe even crazy to some.

In short, my simple method, how I view math and how I teach math to my kids, is the following:  (I’ll add a little more detail about each below.)

Actually, when I’ve mentioned some of these ideas to other moms over the years. A few have vehemently disagreed with me. I learned quickly, in the real world, to let the issues go. But I didn’t change my mind on the topics.


  1. My Crazy Ideas about Teaching MathTreat math as a foreign language. (Not really a crazy idea.)
  2. Teach the younger kids, one on one, every lesson. (Not crazy.)
  3. Use as many different teaching resources as possible–including multiple text books. (To some, this is an insane idea.)
  4. Ignore some gaps. (Another insane idea.)
  5. Encourage students middle school and up to teach themselves. (Some love this. Some hate this.)
  6. Make sure they struggle before I help them with problem areas. (Foreign to some moms.)
  7. Have children grade their own math work as soon as possible. (Another crazy idea to some.)


1) View math as a foreign language.

Viewing math as a foreign language reminds me that it takes time for them to understand both the concepts and the terms. And just like when children are learning to read or speak, they’re going to get problems wrong. Lots of them. And that doesn’t bother me.

When I teach my kids math at young ages, I’m teaching concepts. If they don’t get a specific process, they’ll never get the right answer. And sometimes they can get the right answer, but not understand the process. So we focus on understanding what is happening behind the numbers. The answers are irrelevant.

To make sure they know that, I use whatever is at hand. Obviously, chocolate chips. I’ve talked about that in this essay on failure.  I use math manipulatives. I use pencil and paper. I use the tiles on the floor. Oh, and my favorite is the white board and dry erase markers. I love teaching with them, and I love letting them do their work on the board. Sometimes I have them teach me. First graders think the big white board is cool. And honestly, so do college students. Everybody loves the white board. 🙂

2) Sit with younger students for every math lesson.

For the youngest students, we sat together at the dining room table and worked every math problem. That was really the only way for me to accurately teach any concept and make sure, 100%, that my child understood the logic behind the problem. With each student, It’s been a team effort. And it’s time consuming. But it’s definitely paid off!

3) Use as many different math teaching resources as possible–including multiple text books.

I think when a parent doesn’t like math or is afraid of math, the parent doesn’t focus on the subject of math until it’s time for “schoolwork” or “homework.” That would, in my opinion, be a mistake.

When my kids were little we read a bunch of fun math readers. (We actually own most, but not all, of the math books at that link. My kids and I have read through them several times. They’re great for introducing topics in a non-threatening way. And I love to introduce topics way ahead of time. (Like other products I believe in, I used an affiliate link for those math readers.)

Books aren’t the only math resources, of course. I used videos as well. (My kids loved the Leap Frog math video and the Donald Duck one too, but the Schoolhouse Rock ones are our favorites. So another affiliate link, but remember you can find some of the videos for free on youtube–especially the schoolhouse rock ones.)

When they were in grades 1 to 5, I also used multiple textbooks.

Many, many years ago, I heard a parent say, “Don’t switch math books; it’ll confuse them.” When I realized how much we disagreed on the topic, I stopped talking. We’re still friends. 🙂

Here’s my thinking: If they’re that easily confused, they didn’t really understand the material.

We have switched textbooks, a lot. Over the years, we’ve used: Singapore, Spectrum, Horizon, Key to Fractions (etc.), Life of Fred, Right Start, Shiller Math, and the Khan Academy lessons. Usually, I jump back and forth between two or three of the books during one school year until they’re in pre-algebra. By the time they get to pre-algebra, we only use a second textbook for a different approach when they’re stuck on a concept.

(Note: If your student is doing well with the curriculum you’re using, please don’t feel the need to switch. I switched frequently because it works for us. It might not work for everyone. Don’t fix what isn’t broke.)

By the way, far worse than switching textbooks is giving up on the subject. I think more homeschoolers than we realize, do this.

4)  Ignore some gaps.

I attended public school. I know that children have gaps. I have a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and I still have gaps from high school math. No one is perfect.

Just to be clear, we don’t purposefully skip topics. No math book contains everything. Also, I don’t worry about them getting 100s on everything. We cover the material, some topics in more depth than other topics, until I believe they understand the concepts. Then we move on.

I say they have gaps because I am not perfect. The text books aren’t perfect. And my kids aren’t perfect. And I know, by the time they get to 7th or 8th grade, they forget lots of material. That’s why we review with pre-algebra. In my opinion, there will always be gaps. (By the way, there are plenty of gaps with the common core. Just sayin’.)


5) Encourage students, middle school and up, to teach themselves.

Around sixth grade, sometimes earlier and sometimes later (every child is different), my children take ownership of their math lessons. It’s tough on ’em. I know ’cause I’ve talked with my  17 year old daughter about it now that she’s finished Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 and taken the SAT. But I stand by my decision. She can teach herself anything. That is more important to me than her completing calculus before college.

When my kids are at about sixth grade, they start reading the textbooks alone and working the problems themselves.

Why? Being able to read a math book is a necessary skill. And I don’t won’t them to be afraid of failing at math. Or afraid of struggling at math. Which leads me to number six.

6) Make sure they have tried to solve a math problem before I help them with it.

When people are scared of math, they give up as soon as a problem gets hard. Children need to learn how to struggle. Even more so, they need to learn how to fail and then try again.

So before my kids come ask me for help, they have to struggle and try to work the problems on their own. They have to have a wrong answer before I help them find the right answer. 🙂


Conquering Homeschool Math

7) Have students grade their own math work as soon as possible.

I know a lot of people worry about cheating. I don’t.

I think because I have emphasized the processes so much when we were doing math together, my kids know that the right answer is only valid if you can actually get there on your own.

In college, from what I can remember, the math answers were always in the textbook. How do you know if you got it right if you can’t check the answers?

Just having the correct answer is easy. Getting there is the hard part. (Obviously, this doesn’t work if you give them a solutions manual to check their work. Then they’re just copying.)


I am sure this approach seems normal to some people, but probably a little out there for others. At least, my conversations with other homeschoolers leads me to believe so.


Even though this method is a little tough, and maybe not as efficient as far as covering as much material as possible, my main goal, as I stated earlier, is that my kids know how to teach themselves.

And this approach to math allows that.


Like many homeschoolers, my literature loving daughter scored very high on the reading part of the SAT. Although she doesn’t enjoy math as much as reading and writing, her math scores were also high enough to meet scholarship requirements. Not as high as her reading scores, but well above average.

More importantly, she enjoys math. She just doesn’t have the warm fuzzies about it the way I do. For us, this method has been successful.

I can’t wait to see what happens with my boys!