Monday, March 7, 2011

Dealing with Math Anxiety from Another Angle; Let's Look at Mom!

Math has been consuming much of my attention lately as I've been trying to figure out how to approach it with Max. Up until this point math has mostly been a distasteful undertaking for us,  mainly because I can't seem to land upon a curriculum that he didn't want to run over with a truck after a few days of use.  If you've read any of my previous posts about math, you may have picked up on the subtle undercurrent regarding how my kiddo feels about math.  Ahem.  I'm overhauling my math strategy to better accommodate Max's needs and I have to say that I'm pretty excited about it.

Panic set in after months and months of trying in vain to implement various ideas to engage Max with math and I'd like to draw attention to those panicky feelings.  First, they are unpleasant and kind of buzz about you like a pesky fly while you try in vain to swat them away.  Second, your child readily tunes into them and may or may not use this new information about his/her mom in clever ambush.  Third, they serves no purpose, nothing really good comes out of them - wasted energy that could be put to better use.  I'm just now hopping off the panic wagon and shredding my ticket!  Really, though, I've been pondering my reaction to Max not warming up to math for a very long time, trying to ferret out my feelings and wondering why I was so bugged about it.  I'm slowly returning to my better senses.  Sometimes this homeschool mom business is tough!

The panic I was feeling stems from misguided perceptions that math is a must-do subject on a preconceived time line.  That line of thinking is just plain silly.  My training in math was quite linear.  Orderly, predictable and extremely arcane.  It came in the form of flashcards, worksheets ad nauseum, busy work, workbooks, chalkboards, textbooks and spiral notebooks filled with solved problems and notes, none of which I ever went back to look at after I filled one up.  Multiplication was learned in third and fourth grade, division in fourth and fifth, geometry ninth, trigonometry in tenth, then algebra, or some such order.  I'd have to go pull the college notebooks to nail down my math journey as an undergrad (I'm wondering why I even saved those notebooks.)  Graduate work revolved around learning statistics.

The panic has also resulted in those pesky 'what ifs' floating around my mind, running wild and unchecked because reason had not yet made it to my front door.  What if he never becomes solid in his math facts?  What if people discover that he can't recite his multiplication tables and he's nearly twelve years old?!  What if I can't teach him math?  And what does that matter?  Why would I worry about that?    Does this all boil down to my concern about being judged as a failure as a homeschooling mom?    It isn't Max who needs scrutiny - it's me and my notions about how math should be taught.  And it may go deeper than that to those fears I have about being able to teach him this subject or my ability to guide him at all.  Nothing like peeling away the layers to take a good hard look at something!  People ought to do that more often.  Go ahead - schedule it into your calendar for, say, next Tuesday.

I simply had to stop my run-away-train panicky thoughts and think this through to face my own math demons.  A very wise homeschooling mom on a forum I frequent recommended an essay about math called Lockhart's Lament, which I read and marveled at.  Paul Lockhart also wrote a book on the same subject which you can find here.  It helped me begin to unravel the tight knot in my tummy by reminding me about the big-picture view of learning.  I've been working on revising the 'should' word in my thoughts, too.  That word is never helpful and often conjures guilt and negativity which are unproductive.  So never mind the 'people ought to do that more often' statement I just issued in the last paragraph.  Don't want to make you feel bad :).

Spending energy on acquainting myself with Max's learning style is helping wonders, too!  In the post just prior to this one I've highlighted a wonderful book (Discover Your Child's Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle-Hodson) that helped me to better understand his learning style, which is completely different than my preferred way to take in information and relate to the world.  This has been pivotal information!!  This is much more productive than trying to keep all of that anxiety at bay (good old anxiety always leaks out somehow anyway.)  It has opened my eyes to what will hopefully be a learning environment more in tune to his needs.

Now I've got some work to do and much of it will be creative and fun.  We've begun reading the Life of Fred Fractions book.  LOVE FRED.  FRED = FUN.  We can barely stand to wait until the next chapter to find out what happens in the story.  I can't say he is loving the math in there, but he gets so engrossed in the story that he is willing to challenge himself a little.  We've gone to the basketball courts and practiced some math facts by shooting some baskets, just to see if he'd enjoy it.  He did and wants to do that again.  We will.  I want to incorporate some more math games and more Living Math books.  Maybe we'll learn about famous mathematicians in history and what their lives were like.  I did purchase a Math Mammoth workbook and may employ parts of it to help him master certain concepts with which he struggles now and then, but that may not go over so well.  I need to figure out how to get him moving while learning.

I think I'm learning my lessons, too, pun intended.                


  1. If it makes you feel better, I can't recite my multiplication tables at 28 :)

  2. Yes, that does make me feel better! Have you tried basketball math? Hah! Thank goodness for calculators............


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