How I Started Math All Wrong This Year And What We Did About It

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Over the summer, my second-grader apparently forgot all the subtraction she’d ever learned. I’m really okay with this, though.

In May, she had just started her next workbook—complicated addition and subtraction with carrying and regrouping (respectively)—and I saw no reason to make her finish the book before we ended, so I put it back on the shelf. She was making great progress and we’re all fine here.

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Do you remember how Professor Dumbledore exhorted the Hogwarts students to go home over the summer and get their brains nice and empty to be ready for the next school year? He was very sensible, if you ask me. We did that too. Meg tackled math problems as they arose in real life and otherwise didn’t worry about math at all, which is exactly what summer vacation is for.

And then, somewhat naively, when August arrived, I pulled her workbook off the shelf and handed it back to her with no review. The first day was kind of hard. The next day was also kind of hard. And the next one. I tried to reassure her that having to re-learn things we’ve forgotten is a normal part of the learning life, and she didn’t believe a word of it. She just stressed out.

My teacher sense was tingling, but I wanted to give her some more time.

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By week two of this nonsense, Meg was making measured and reasonable comments like, “I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND THIS!” and “I FORGOT EVERYTHING!” and “KATE WILL GET AHEAD OF ME IN MATH!” (Kate is starting preschool this fall). Also, “WHY DOES SHE GET STICKERS AND I DON’T?”

Well, that last one was easy to fix. We found awesome dinosaur scientist stickers at Michael’s and started putting them on her pages, but they didn’t really help. You know it’s rough if a stegosaurus in a lab coat doesn’t make it better.

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I tried working through the problems with manipulatives, but by then, she was in too deep a funk to pay attention. Jonathan tried to demonstrate her math problems on the whiteboard, and she mostly writhed in agony of soul. One night at dinner I told Meg she was absolutely right and math was the worst ever and she was actually doomed, which was supposed to cheer her up, but I don’t think it did. She gets her drama from me, in case you were wondering. My mom makes remarks to this day about how potty training and math were the banes of her younger life. Soon Meg assured me that she hated all her school.

I don’t actually believe that math should be a source of daily drama. I won’t throw a curriculum to the wind over one hard day, but I also don’t think it should perpetually stress out the student. I myself had a series of lousy math curricula—crowned by Saxon Math—and I have nothing good to say about Saxon Math. I am looking forward to watching that rival company Norman Math to come in and remove Saxon from the face of the earth via hostile takeover, but I’m still waiting.

Math ought to be the most manageable and logical part of your whole day. As a grownup, I observe that at least math follows its own rules and has a right answer, which taxes and interpersonal relationships don’t. I mean, yes, it’s work and it takes character to do it, but it shouldn’t be impossible. If it’s that bad, there’s probably something wrong with your curriculum or your teacher.

It was high time to change up Meg’s math.

So we stepped back and did a different thing. Over the summer I had picked up a couple of workbooks on alternate topics. I gave Meg one of them and let her review counting by tens, comparing larger and smaller numbers, and reading clocks. I hadn’t really thought about telling time as math, but the workbook says it is, and I’m not arguing. Meg has started doing multiple days of workbook pages at a sitting and no longer laments her life. On other days, she logs into the Khan Academy website and practices regrouping and place value. Meg even gets to play video games again. When she has conquered this workbook, we’ll see if she’s ready to re-learn carrying and borrowing. Note to self: next time, remember to review after summer vacation.

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We are all living happily ever after. And we all get stickers for good work…even me.

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Photo Credit: First graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following images courtesy of author. 

3 thoughts on “How I Started Math All Wrong This Year And What We Did About It

  1. Not a homeschooler yet, not even married yet lol, but I’m a major planner & intentional learner so I love seeing other’s accounts before I find myself in similar situations! I’m pretty darn sure I’ll be a relaxed, year-round schooler. I completely remember my Mom making sure I was still learning over summer & other public school breaks, but I also remember all the review we had to do in the classroom when no one else seemed to recall how to do anything at all anymore! Thank you so much for sharing your math experience with certain curriculum(s).


  2. We cut back over the summer months, but we do math year-round, for exactly this reason. Even with that, we’ve had to backtrack some in math. Inevitably, the second time through goes much faster. Progress in mathematics is more of a spiral than a straight line, I’ve found! Thanks for sharing your encouraging story. 🙂


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