One of the questions we run into a lot, as a radically unschooling family, is** how will they learn higher level math if kids aren’t forced to learn the math facts traditionally**, especially if they want to go to college and go into a math or science field.

**Though my husband chose not to go to college he is in a math field**: 3-D object-oriented programming requires a ton of math, everything from trig, geometry, and algebra to physics. He uses maths regularly, usually in his head without ever looking up formula.

This is a man who never took more than business math in school (and never did homework there – you can read about his experience in his autobiography). **He is completely self-taught in programming and maths, and he does it because he loves it**.

Not only that, but he *understands* what he knows well enough to talk about it in a way that non-programmers can understand – and apparently *enjoy* – what he is talking about, if his blog is any indication.

**The thing about math that most people don’t even realize is that once you get past “learning math” – especially in math and science fields – it is mostly creative, conceptual problem solving rather than just “knowing the facts.”**

You do learn the facts, but that is because you use them regularly. If you can’t remember something you *look it up*. Shamus has memorized a lot of formulas now but that is because he uses them daily, not because he memorized them for a test. Our kids play with numbers with him regularly because it is fun and it is a natural part of life.

The difference between memorizing math facts and using conceptual math is like the difference between knowing how to diagram a sentence and knowing how to form a beautiful one. **Diagramming a sentence may be useful but it won’t help you communicate with written language.**

Then there are word meanings, the etymology of words, homonyms and homophones and synonyms, and all sorts of things that go well beyond basic sentence structure and colloquialisms, and, and, *and* …

These are the things that make words and language fun. **Math is the same way.**

**What we laypeople think of as “math” is not what people in the field think of as math**. I say this as a non-math person myself: I am a word person surrounded by people who love numbers and play with them all the time *and* who work in the field.

My brothers play with math regularly. My middle brother worked at NASA as an electrical engineer until just last month thanks to the changes in the program; my other brother is going into metal fabrication and blacksmithing and you would not believe the number use in that.

My dad was a math major in college (traditionally schooled) and a math teacher until he took on computers. My dad almost failed math all through school because he had no memory for “facts” but when he got to college and past the “basic math” he fell in love with the logic and concepts and the fact that math is really just playing with numbers and figuring things out.

My dad says, **“You can always look up the facts if you need them; the important part is being able to play with numbers.**”

**Part of deschooling is learning to see math not as scary numbers but rather as a different way of thinking and seeing the world.** Math is everywhere and part of everything and learning to see it as patterns and rhythms and part of how God created the world, part of the very structure, allows us to no longer fear it or teach our children to fear it.

**~ Heather**

Well, you KNEW I would love this, right?? 🙂

One thing I’ll add anecdotally is that people assume that because I was a math major, I must be good at arithmetic. My favorite joke was that “I do math with words, not numbers,” and it’s just about 100% true.

In fact, one of the first things I learned when doing complicated proofs is to use a calculator for the “basic” stuff, because there’s nothing like getting four pages into a problem and realizing you subtracted wrong!

I truly believe that you can teach any “computations” that you need in a particular job to someone who gets the idea. But, man, making change – there’s a skill that is all about HOW TO THINK, not really how to calculate, and people just don’t get it!!

Good job in spreading the word about math-as-thought. I am going to add this to my list of real-world math resources for sure!

Thank you Joan. Funny thing is that it took me years to learn this, even though I was surrounded by it. My schooling taught me otherwise and it was when I passed a math class in college by writing an 11 page paper for extra credit that I finally “got it”. I am awful at arithmetic (thank you dyscalculia) but very good at understanding patterns and HOW things work. I can look up formulas and figure them out when needed (all the time for drawing and sculpting, and even more so when I did metal smithing.)

Excellent post Heather! Math is just one of those huge fear factor things people have when it comes to education – any kind. What I find fascinating is that because of the fear and dislike for maths homeschoolers and even unschoolers tend to drift to math programs taught in a style they are familiar with, and totally miss that if those programs worked for the majority many more people would love math and not fear it.

Very true, Shannon. There is a reason so many are fearful of math and don’t enjoy it– and very often that involves the very programs used to teach it (and being forced to learn before ready to comprehend it).

I failed to teach my older 4 kids to enjoy the process of math and not to get bogged down with the rote stuff. I kept telling them that algebra was like solving puzzles. They’d look at me like I had three heads. Hopefully, I can instill that in the youngest two. Would love to hear more on the practicality of sharing this with the kids and sparking that interest.

My husband pointed out that all word problems should involve cookies (jokingly, but only partly.) We do talk about math and arithmetic around the table all the time, and usually regarding food. 🙂

LOL We did math problems with cookies the other day. I was trying to explain HOW addition and subtraction with negative numbers works and resorted to, “Imagine I have a bunch of cookies cooling on the rack and somebody filches some. I discover that I’m missing five cookies – so I have negative five cookies. But I find three in Shannen’s room; that’s negative five plus three. So am I still missing cookies? And if so, how many?” Mindie said, “You have negative two cookies. But if you know what’s good for you, you won’t eat those cookies out of Shannen’s room anyway because who knows how old they are or where they’ve been!”

Shamus has been doing cookie math with them since they were babies. Cookies are a great way to demonstrate math concepts. So is pie. 😛 the cake would be but cake is a lie. ;D Really we discuss math concepts so often that I forget they are math concepts. Mostly they are just how God made the world but lately have included center of gravity, air pressure and surface area (convos the kids included me in instead of the other way around.)

Hey, this is great. You should write more around here! 🙂

I almost marked this comment as spam– all my recent ones looked like that. 😀 I HAVE written a ton here– it is all just in the archives. 😛

I love this and completely agree!

I absolutely love this post. Thank you for sharing.

From,

A Math-Fearing Unschooling Mom

Love this Heather! I’m always feeling guilty when it comes to the “art” of unschooling MATH! I stopped trying to “teach” it years ago when my oldest was learning long division. I found myself screaming at her because she couldn’t understand it and I couldn’t explain it! I decided then it was best to not teach it then treat her with such disrespect. I still wonder though if I did the right thing. Thanks for this encouraging post. If you can share any info. with me about your brother and his blacksmithing I would so appreciate it. My 11 yo son wants to learn how to do that and I don’t even know where to begin. Thanks!

I was blessed to learn metal smithing (jewelry smithing really) from a master metal smith in college– we basically had free reign of the shop– had some basic stuff to do but then could come and go as we pleased and work on projects in our free time. So I had some background– like how to work metal, melting temperatures, etc. James had been researching blacksmithing–especially knife work, for a while. We looked up various forge styles, visited some real blackmsmiths and talked to them where we could (there are several active around here plus we visited renaissance festivals and old style villages to talk to them there. We also looked at all the homemade tools– basically how a blacksmith trains is by building his own tools. You need a forge (you can build it with fire brick though there are other types you can do– like a drum forge– research online different types of forges.) Hammers– a variety is good. An anvil is especially useful if you can get one but you can also carve wood into shape to make your own. If you search online for forge shapes and bellows you will find all sorts of information. James got a lot of info from this forum as well as other sites: http://www.iforgeiron.com/

This is our favorite book though there are several other good ones on Amazon. This one is especially helpful since it assumes you are not starting with a lot of cash and helps you learn to make your tools yourself. http://www.amazon.com/The-Backyard-Blacksmith-Traditional-Techniques/dp/1592532519 The other 4 that Amazon recommends first with this one are okay but this is the best to start (at least to us.)

Thank you for writing this! It’s heartening to know that there’s more to math than memorizing facts and solving problems on paper. I’m looking forward to this realization for my 12yo who struggles with math!

I loved this post, forwarded it to my husband. He’s an engineer and thought you “had a good take on it.” Math is all around of us and isn’t something to be feared or forced.

No wonder I can’t paint worth a hoot! I can’t do math. Nothing I paint ever looks right. Music is math, too, and guess what else I can’t do. 😉

[…] last but certainly not least, my sisters on Christian Unschooling recently shared this post on “math think,” which I believe sums up all the wonder that is math in real […]