Monday, July 16, 2012

Math Journey: ages toddler to 7

This is the second in a series of posts I want to write for my records about what we did per subject and how we did it. My post on our science journey from ages 4 to 9 is here. I'll continue with math journey: ages 7 to 9 at a later date.

I write these posts for my own memory-keeping purposes. Of course, these memories reflect what worked for my one specific child but if there's something here that's of use to you dear reader, I'd love to hear your response.

Ages 2 - 5: Kiddo started showing a great propensity for words and numbers at about age 2 to 2.5yo.  He enjoyed finding shorter, "hidden" words in longer strings of words (he was already reading and sounding out simple phrases by then). The hubby thought playing word-number games would be a good start for his math journey. We started writing simple codes for him to solve. E.g. we'd write a list of addition sentences like 1 + 1, 2 + 2 and so on and equate the answers to an alphabet. If he got the answers right, he'd spell out a hidden code word and this made him so excited that deciphering codes became his preferred way to learn math. Of course at that age, I did most of the writing for him but he could actually figure out the simple math on his own...and he'd do it over and over just to decipher the code. Once we figured out that he loved codes so much, he was an easier child to deal with 24/7 (he's an angel now but during his babyhood, kiddo was a terror!). We didn't drive a car then so we'd ride the bus or MRT (Singapore's high speed train service) and keep his attention occupied by giving him addition or subtraction codes to crack on his little Magna Doodle. Each time there was a meltdown on the horizon, out would come the Magna Doodle. Phew!

He really adored those puzzles. Whenever possible, we drew objects or showed him real objects instead of just the numerical symbol that represented the number. For example, sometimes the codes would show two apples plus two apples instead of the numerals 2 + 2. Thanks to this, he had a good grasp of number sense from toddlerhood.

He was also in the Kumon math program from ages 4 to 6-ish. Around age 5, perhaps, due to the combination of drill-kill Kumon worksheets and some traditional grade level books at home that I'd mistakenly thought would be good for him, I noticed kiddo's interest in math dwindling. We eventually pulled him out of Kumon when we moved to a different city.

Ages 5 - 7: I discovered the Living Math website. Initially, overwhelmed by the idea of trying non-traditional math instruction, I gradually began to feel as if I'd struck gold. I credit the living math approach for turning his growing resistance towards math at age 5 into a deep and abiding love for the subject. Even then, not every math literature book interested him. He still wanted funny codes to solve. His need for humor and cipher-like puzzles was intense. Over time, I found a few code style workbooks and these helped for a while. He began making up his own cipher systems, in his head, and would write codes based on these systems (e.g. his favorite was a reverse alphabet subtraction code). He began writing codes actively, on our whiteboard, for me to solve. Writing out numbers became an eagerly-anticipated activity although he was still reluctant to write sentences.

For teaching, I chose MEP, supplemented with Singapore Math. Some days, I would insist that he complete the worksheets as written. Over time, I noticed that instead of the sequential, finish-the-worksheet method, he responded better to choosing just a few problems and working them out on the whiteboard. He didn't like the MEP lesson plans and using manipulatives so we used only the worksheets. Our manipulatives were usually images drawn on the whiteboard or on paper. I suspect that he could see the numbers well enough mentally and didn't need handheld aids. As a result of our "whiteboard math" and kiddo's reinstated love of numbers, we finished several years worth of MEP and Singapore Math in a very short period of time.

Around 6.5 yo, kiddo started making more leaps in math. I found an old video of him figuring out how to convert irregular fractions into mixed numbers. It was a wonderful game for him. He enjoyed finding patterns in everything.

It makes me smile to think how much he enjoyed working on the whiteboard. I used to frequently have him "teach me" math too just to see how well he understands it. No wonder that he still scribbles stuff for me to figure out, and loves showing me how to solve them.

I am grateful that I have managed to overcome much of my own unease with math by learning it with my son at home. I don't know if sending him to school would have led to the same result. I am so thankful for all the time we've had together, and to watch him grow to love math so deeply. A subject I grew up dreading!

Homeschooling just rocks! 

For another day: Math Journey: ages 7 to 9 will record how kiddo started learning math on his own using mass market math literature and problem-solving books, in addition to online classes.


  1. Thanks for the post, Suji. These have been very useful! I'm eagerly awaiting the 7-9 series. Congratulations on doing such a good job with kiddo, especially in an area that challenges you as well.

  2. And I'm pretty sure Living Maths / MEP was how we met! I'm forever grateful to it :)

  3. This is SO very helpful to me - thank you, thank you!!

  4. Two things I got from this post - having the child teach to the parent (your use of whiteboard) and couching math in code/games. Both ideas are brilliant! I've discovered K loves puzzles...she actually says how much she loves them while doing them. I may have to look for more. Thanks for this post. It's very helpful.


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