Learn how to overcome one of the biggest challenges homeschoolers face when teaching math: consistency.
You can feel your hands clench and your frustration level rising. Your child looks at you blankly as though he’s never even heard of equivalent fractions. But you just taught him this! The two of you cut the carefully-prepared paper circles into halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, and eighths. You sloshed around water with measuring cups. You even related equivalent fractions to graham crackers at snack time!
But when was that gold-star-for-mom fractions lesson?
Was it yesterday?
Or the day before?
Or was it last week?
If you find it hard to teach math regularly, you’re not alone. In my years of helping homeschoolers, teaching consistently is always the challenge I hear about the most.
And no wonder. Between illness, appointments, laundry, and little ones, it can be hard to have regular school days—especially when it would be so much easier to let everyone stay in their jammies and play Legos all day.
But without daily math lessons, your children have trouble remembering what they’ve learned. They struggle to make connections between math concepts, and they forget the procedures needed for simple calculations. It’s a vicious cycle: the more frustrating math time is, the less you want to teach it…which causes even more forgetting and aggravation.
There’s no magic formula for becoming more consistent with your math lessons, but there are changes you can make that will help you teach math more regularly. Some are easy, while others are more difficult, but all of them will help you start a virtuous cycle: regular, daily math lessons that lead to increased success and confidence for your kids.
Easiest: Keep all your math supplies in one place.
Gretchen Rubin, who writes on happiness and habits, calls this the Strategy of Convenience: the easier it is to do something, the more likely we are to do it. If you don’t have a spot for all your math materials, grab a box and toss it all in there. Make sure to include everything you could conceivably need for math: workbooks, teacher’s guides, manipulatives, sharp pencils, scrap paper, anything. Let yourself off the hook on finding the perfect organizing system—any random cardboard box around your house will do the job.
Stick the box up on a high shelf so that no one wanders off with the pattern blocks while you’re not looking, and you’ll know you’re ready to teach math without having to track anything down.
Pretty easy: Make sure you have a game plan.
If your curriculum isn’t scripted, creating a simple daily lesson format will help you teach math on auto-pilot on the days when you might otherwise skip math. Take a look at your teacher’s manual (or my list of what makes an excellent homeschool math lesson). Then, make a quick list of what you want to include each day. (For example, this might be as simple as: 1. Review multiplication facts. 2. Review previous lesson. 3. Teach new lesson. 4. Independent work.)
Jot your list down on a post-it and stick it to the front of the math book so you can’t miss it. It’s super-simple, but having a written list makes it a lot easier to teach well on days when you were up with the baby the night before or are fighting a cold.
Medium difficulty (if you need to switch): Use an open-and-go math curriculum.
Another way to take advantage of the Strategy of Convenience is to use a curriculum that you can just open and use. It’s a lot easier to teach math everyday when you don’t have to decide what you’re going to do next. That’s why I discourage families from creating their own math curriculum, or cobbling together their math program from printable worksheets. You may be able to put together a solid sequence of concepts, but there’s a good chance that you’ll go for days between lessons simply because you haven’t had time to get anything planned.
Scripted programs (like RightStart Math) not only tell you what to teach, but they literally give you a script as to what to say and do to convey the concepts to your child. They make teaching math especially straightforward: all you have to do is open the book, grab the materials on the day’s supply list, and start reading aloud. But even if you don’t use a scripted program, any program that tells you what to do next will help you teach math consistently, without having to make any extra decisions or preparations.
Harder: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Sometimes knowing that we can’t do something perfectly keeps us from doing a good-enough job. Despite your best-laid plans, there will be days when you only have 15 minutes for math and there is just. not. time. for a complete lesson. On those days, remind yourself that an imperfect lesson beats no lesson. (And yes, it still “counts” as a day of math.)
It helps to plan ahead for what you’ll do on days when a full lesson isn’t happening. Here are some quick options for busy days:
- Teach half of a lesson and save the other half for the next day.
- Print a worksheet with some practice or review work that your child can do independently. (Here’s my favorite site for finding good quality worksheets quickly.)
- Play a quick math facts game.
- Sometimes, it’s faster to write out a few problems rather than searching for just the right worksheet. Choose a computation topic your child has been studying (like multi-digit subtraction, or dividing decimals), grab a pencil, and write out 10 problems. Done.
Keeping graph paper on hand makes it even easier to write out a few problems.
Very hard, but most important: Wash, rinse, repeat.
Once you’ve gathered your math materials, made a daily game plan, chosen an open-and-go curriculum, and created a back-up plan for bad days, you’re well on your way to being more consistent at teaching math. Now, it’s just a matter of putting the plan into action, day after day and week after week.
There will still be days when it’s hard to be consistent. On those days, keep your eyes on your goal: raising kids who are capable and confident at math. And when you miss a day, just get back on track the next day.
No matter how consistently you teach math, there will still be days when your child doesn’t seem to remember anything you ever taught him. But if you teach math every day, he’ll be much more likely to actually remember the last math lesson you taught him—and be ready to ace equivalent fractions and move on to the next new concept.