If you're a Charlotte Mason homeschooler, you will probably be wondering what I'm doing teaching math at all while SA is not yet six years old. Part of the reason is that he is my first-born, and I have been planning to homeschool for years. I admit it. Sometimes I am too eager to get started. But the other part of my reason is that SA has always had an extra twinkle in his eye when it comes to numbers. Before the term started, and with little to no teaching on my part, he was counting backwards and forwards to 100 and beyond, doing the same by 2's, 5's, and 10's, and adding and subtracting in his head. He could also read numbers up to 1,000, and I'm fairly certain that he had a pretty good idea of their value as well. I'm not saying this to brag about his ability (OK, maybe a little bit...) but so you have an idea of why I decided to start teaching some math. A different child with different abilities and interests might have meant a different approach, or even no approach at all at this point. I should also make it clear that playing outside is still a higher priority than the three R's at our house, and I'm hoping to keep it that way for a while yet.
I've learned a lot about teaching math from Alice, our resident PEI homeschool math expert, who is very helpful to anyone who needs help in this area. I also worked through half of an online "How to Teach Math" course (I wish I'd had time to finish it!). And of course, I checked what Charlotte Mason had to say about math for young children.
Children need to learn to think, to figure out what operations to use to solve a problem. (As opposed to a "drill and kill" approach) "A child who does not know what rule to apply to a simple problem within his grasp, has been ill taught from the first, although he may produce slatefuls of quite right sums in multiplication or long division." (Vol. 1, p. 254)We have chosen to use Miquon Math, with a bit of Family Math on the side. Miquon Math is a hands-on math program using Cuisenaire rods. Family Math is a manual for using everyday objects, games, and situations to teach math concepts.
"Care must be taken to give the child such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort." (p. 255)
"...demonstrate everything demonstrable." (p. 255) Use manipulatives to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Move from the concrete to the abstract. Use money to learn place value. Weigh and measure many things for a natural introduction to fractions.
While it's certainly possible to do what Charlotte Mason suggested without using a math curriculum (she includes very practical, step-by-step beginning math instruction), I decided to use a hands-on math curriculum. It takes time and mental energy to make it up as you go along (as I have been finding with teaching reading). These things are sometimes in short supply when you're a mother of three little boys aged five and under. I researched several programs, including Math-U-See and Right Start Math as well as Miquon. There are so many good options out there these days for every sort of homeschooling style, that sometimes you just have to pick one and stick with it. I chose Miquon because it was highly recommended by people whose opinions I trust, and because it is relatively inexpensive.
We have been enjoying Miquon very much. There is a bit of a learning curve for the teacher. The Lab Sheet Annotations are essential, and so, to me, is the First Grade Diary, which gives more of a picture of what doing Miquon Math looks like. I bought the workbooks as e-books, so I can print out what I need when I need it. (It also allows me to print out the same worksheet for JJ to "work on" and colour.) When it comes to concepts, we have not yet run into any that are challenging for SA, but that has been OK so far. There have been other challenges, such as getting used to using the rods and learning to print the numbers. I'm sure the challenging math concepts will come soon. I decided to go through all the concepts (though not necessarily all the worksheets) in order, so his foundation would be solidified and he would be confident in using the rods to figure things out. I try to keep the emphasis on playing with the rods, sometimes free play, but often games and activities from the First Grade Diary or ones that I make up. SA loves doing the worksheets, and can usually figure out what is required on his own and do it. We are working on addition and subtraction now.
Family Math is an excellent supplement for us, though I haven't done as much from it as I'd like. Most important to me is that it mixes things up. We may use beans instead of Cuisenaire rods, for instance. Or we may play a money game, or colour hundreds charts in patterns by 2's, 3's, 4's, etc. I think Charlotte Mason would approve of using variety in order to retain the student's enthusiasm and interest.
As SA told his Oma on the phone shortly after we began to do math together: "We play math!"