How Do Unschoolers Learn Math?

What is the one subject that strikes fear into the hearts of homeschooling moms everywhere?


Math was the one subject that I couldn’t get rid of when we started unschooling. It was easy to let go of history, English, and science because we still were reading about those things and finding ways to use them in our every day lives. But math?

I didn’t think my children could (or would) learn math naturally.

But then I began to question my own logic. Why, if math was supposed to be so useful and essential to life, was everyone so afraid of it? Why does no one remember what they learned in high school math class?

Is there something wrong with the way we teach math?

I mean, ask the average American citizen if they enjoy math. You might find a few people who “get” math and love it. But most will answer negatively. But why? Math is part of the very core of the universe. It is just as poetic and beautiful as language.

I believe most people fear math because they have been taught that:

  1. Math is hard
  2. Math is boring  (and)
  3. You always have to have the right answer

But when I let go of my school training and started really looking for ways to learn math in everyday life, I saw it everywhere.

And I saw that my kids were finding it everywhere too.

In their games

Deck building figures

My husband, Raven, and I play Magic: The Gathering. It is similar to Pokémon where you buy and trade cards to play. Not only do you have to learn to play the game, you also need to build a deck from thousands of card choices – and this experience has led to lots of learning:

  • Strategy in deck building and playing
  • Percentages in how much land vs. other cards to put in her decks
  • Buying, selling, and trading cards (figuring out their worth, saving money, looking up values, etc.)

After I showed the girls this video on Youtube, they were really interested in making super snakes and hydra snakes.

So I bought them a box of linky snakes off Amazon for Christmas.

The girls have spent hours linking snakes and figuring out ways to combine the heads and tails. And they have done a few of the experiments in the video too.

In every day experiences

But the girls can find math in almost anything we do, not just in games and toys.

  • They figure out measurement and proportion for their art projects.
  • They explore the values of money and ways they can increase (or decrease) their savings.
  • Using math is always handy in cooking and baking.
  • Raven tried to figure out how to make her homemade tree swing stronger, so she used physics and geometry to determine where to hang the rope on the branch so that it would not give way.
  • Denna loves shapes and angles right now. After reading about the Dodecahedron in The Phantom Tollbooth, she wanted to know the names of all of our polyhedral dice.

Denna has never had formal lessons and so she loves freely exploring math concepts. Raven had a difficult time doing our math curriculum. It has taken some time for her to release her thinking that math=worksheets and drills.

In their mistakes

Both of the girls now have the freedom to “play” with math and make mistakes without being corrected or made to do the work over again.

And when they do make real life math mistakes, the consequences are evident. When Raven put too much land in her deck because she made an error in her counting, her deck didn’t play well and she was frustrated. So that motivated her to go back and recheck her numbers.

When the girls are using real money to buy something at the store, you bet your bottom dollar that they make sure the cashier gives them back correct change!

In what ways do your children “play” with math in real life? Do they like mathematical concepts?

*This post originally appeared on my blog These Temporary Tents*

~ Aadel

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