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Maths and 11 year olds

by Beverley Paine

A mum wrote in The Educating Parents Homeschooling and Unschooling forum about her 11 year old son who was no longer enaging with his bookwork, and showing signs of resisting learning. It was becoming harder to home educate him and she was getting ever more frustrated with his attitude. If this is something that is familiar to you, also have a look at my articles on Boredom and Motivation.

We home educators put a lot of time into worrying about children completing their book work, learning those things we know they should be learning if they were in school. Kids who don't learn those things in school fall behind and it isn't the school's fault, it's the child's. They simply get further and further behind. When our kids do the same at home it's our fault. Sigh.

What to do about it? There has been much posted in the comments above about stages of development and that's very important to recognise that any changes in behaviour, focus and attention can be due to children's growth. We can accommodate that - schools can only do a really rough job of attempting to accommodate children's growing needs.

I noticed in my two boys that at around puberty they had a real need to be 'doing' things, especially physical things. They needed to move. As toddlers leading up to about 5 years of age they just about ran everywhere - hardly ever walked. Then they calmed down again and spent a lot of time playing LEGO. As they grew closer to their teen years they started to express a need to develop their muscles - I noticed this because they started climbing trees, jumping over fences, wanted to help me with physical tasks like landscaping (using a mattock, moving wheelbarrows, lifting and placement of rocks, etc). They seemed happy to bring me a barrow load of firewood but not so happy to dry the dishes. I think they liked showing off their developing muscles! At about this time we started taking the garden spade down the beach instead of the plastic sandpit one...

Kids need to use their muscles. I think the drive to do this at this age is stronger in boys.

Making, creating, designing and building take care of learning maths. My lads learned maths by using maths, from needing to calculate to do the things they wanted to do. I see them still learning maths in their 30s for the same reason. They know how to look up how to learn anything maths related (formulas for making calculations, how to work things out, etc) and this is what they do. Neither of them did maths consistently as kids - especially the youngest. But both made and created, designed and built a lot of things. They learned maths by using their hands...

We are so conditioned to think that the only way to learn anything is by using the methods developed for classroom learning - teaching 30 kids the same thing at particular times in their development. This flies in the face of how humans have learned for millennia.

Schools developed those techniques and strategies because it is more efficient to teach 30 kids in a classroom that way. If the majority of kids make it through, good. If 2 or 3 fall through the cracks that is acceptable, in terms of efficiency. The budget doesn't really allow for everyone to excel at school.

What we need to do as educating parents is become more hands on with our children - stop expecting the books, the worksheets, the online learning programs are going to teach our children. We need to get creative and start making, creating, designing and building things with our children.

Who can deny the maths involved in learning to play a musical instrument or to read music? Who can deny the maths involved in knitting or crocheting (toys to give to a charity for distribution at Christmas)? Who can deny the maths in preparing a celebratory dinner?

Learning maths this way isn't easily recognised, or pigeon-holed into concepts - it is harder to tick to boxes on the school curriculum when children learn by doing and living, real life activities and lessons - which is why schools don't use this method of instruction. But we can. It means we need to take longer to do these tasks and activities - because while we're working through the instructions on how to knit that pattern we might spend a minute here or there learning a times table or talking about number patterns in general. But we have that time. We're not bound by deadlines or the class bell.

Home education gives us the opportunity to think laterally, to be imaginative in the way we help our children learn.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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