Math Doesn't Have to Be Fun

Have you looked at your kid’s math book lately?  Besides being outrageously large and heavy, you’ll find that’s it’s colorful and has photographs on almost every page!  Also little boxes with things like “fun math facts” in them.  It makes my head swim to look in these books.  Sometimes it’s hard to find the math.
Contrast this with a really old math book, if you can find one.  I have some vintage ones that I’ve picked up here and there.  They are tiny–small enough to fit in a coat pocket.  But that doesn’t stop them from being full of really hard math.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I open a math book all I need to see are rows of math problems.  (Well, a little explanation is nice, too.)  When I was a kid, our math books were somewhat larger and more colorful than the vintage kind, but smaller and less distracting than those of today.  I would have been happy to use the series we used most of the way through grade school for homeschooling, as I have reused other books from my own school days, but you don’t get to keep your math book.
When I began homeschooling, I kept reading about something called the Saxon math program that homeschoolers all seemed to love.  So that’s what I got and used for Teddy and Jake, and I will be using the same thing for Lorelei.  Besides being full of math problems and devoid of color photography, the Saxon series also just does a good job at teaching math.  Subtitled “an incremental development,” the series starts each new lesson by reviewing what you’ve learned in the lesson just before.  Concepts build on concepts, and nothing is forgotten from lack of use.  Each set of exercises is preceded by a clear explanation with examples, so you can work through it and teach it to your kid (and perhaps remember how to do it yourself if you’ve happened to forget!).
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You can buy the Saxon series direct from the manufacturer, or you can do what I did and get it on eBay way cheaper.  Now, you won’t get a workbook or a teacher’s manual or manipulatives if you do it that way, but I do homeschooling on the cheap.  It’s a drag not to have an answer key, although not such a big deal for me since I’m pretty sure I can still handle fourth grade math.
So is the approach effective?  Does it work?  I homeschooled my big boys for fourth grade, then sent them back to St. Joseph School.  Well, Jake was close to failing math in third grade.  He had no problem with the Saxon method.  I sat with him and wrote the problems for him because he has dysgraphia and he’d make a mess and get all frustrated before it was even time to start solving the problem.  When he took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills later in the year, he was ahead of his grade level.  Math never became his favorite subject, but he never struggled too much with grade school math again.  Teddy is basically a math genius.  He was already a year ahead when we started, and I think we got part of the way into a second book.  He went on to complete Algebra I AND Geometry before he even started high school.
Math isn’t Lorelei’s favorite subject, but she doesn’t have any particular problem with it.  I’m looking forward to using this book to help her become even more confident in her math skills.  And we get to do fractions!  I love fractions. [edit: Lorelei does NOT love fractions.  Or math of any kind.  I still love the Saxon series, but have had to resort to other means to get her past the mental block she has set up for herself.]

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  1. C.B. Dixon says:

    Math texts need to be simple without a lot of additives to the page to keep it from being confusing. I feel schools are trying to be cool then actually teaching in fear children wont like them.

  2. Clisby says:

    I don’t know anything about this math course, but this makes me sad: “Now I don’t know about you, but when I open a math book all I need to see are rows of math problems.”
    I’m not criticizing you. I’m 60, and that’s how I was taught in elementary school, and I did very well. If a kid really has no aptitude for math, it’s probably all he/she needs.
    I was in high school before I started to realize how fascinating math is. I was in my 30s when I went back to college to get a computer science degree; calculus, linear algebra, discrete math – they were all revelations.
    I’ve often thought what I would do if I won the lottery, and one of my options is always to go back to school and get a degree in math.
    What I really wish is that little kids would get this, too.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I think my original post–especially the title–was a little misleading regarding my actual feelings about studying math. I was already planning a short follow up that will address, I think, what you are saying here! Thank you for all your thoughtful comments, Clisby. I really appreciate them.

  3. Clisby says:

    Mathematics is an oasis of certainty in a desert of chaos. Your answer is right, or it is wrong. You know what you’re doing, or you don’t. Maybe I had to be older to appreciate the beauty of that.

  1. August 1, 2014

    […] I think I misspoke (miswrote?) when I titled my last homeschooling post Math Doesn’t Have to Be Fun.  It was catchy, which is a good quality for a title, but I probably should have said something […]

  2. September 14, 2014

    […] I told everyone I wanted to homeschool Lorelei this year, they said, “How will you possibly find the time to do […]

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