Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Unschooling Isn’t Working For Every Subject

by Kristen Suzanne in homeschool, kids

Math tools for homeschooling

We homeschool our young daughter and subscribe to a general belief that unschooling is important. 

What is unschooling? 

As unschoolers, we don’t follow a specific curriculum, or really any curriculum at all. Our focus is learning as much as we can from living life. I find that especially important helpful fun during Kamea’s early years (for various reasons).

What does unschooling look like for us? Here are some good examples… 

  • Playing dolls with my daughter and using the opportunity to teach various life lessons and even business lessons as we play. 
  • My daughter would like to start her own business. This provides the perfect opportunity to teach business, math, communication, reading, writing, courage, etc. 
  • We love to cook. This allows knife skills, a little math, a bit of chemistry, some biology and more. We can talk about the nutrients in the food, from where the food hails, and all kinds of things. We can also teach history, art, and language through cooking. 
  • When we move abroad there are plenty of unschooling opportunities. We will learn, through just living, the epic lessons of what it’s like to be in another culture. We will learn social studies, maps, geography, history, art, food, language and so many things.
  • Using a passion of hers, like art, and finding ways to teach any (or all) other subjects through art or while she’s creating art. 

All sounds awesome, right? 

So that is what I’ve used as a guiding principle to how we approach education with our daughter. 

But, unschooling does not come without its own challenges for me. 

The hardest thing for me to effectively teach through unschooling is math. I can teach a little bit of math here and there, sneaking it in. We can play blackjack and she can familiarize herself with adding, or we can play the game Play Nines, which actually introduces negative numbers (that’s cool). In cooking, I can show her that 3 teaspoons makes up a tablespoon and give her a basic introduction to fractions. We play math games on her iPad, like the clever game DragonBox. She can learn a bit of geometry while drawing shapes. 

In spite of numbers and math seeming to be everywhere, my main challenge is we don’t get enough math regularly to reinforce what she’s learning. So much of math in the beginning is memorization and repetition via worksheets. While I don’t want her to sit down at a table with a worksheet and drill numbers, numbers, numbers, I want to expose her enough times to numbers and math so that she can remember it! 

And therein lies my challenge. 

I can’t seem to find enough ways to incorporate math in our daily lives which will satisfy my idea of what I hope she’s learning and have her giddy to do it. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe I’m not creative enough. Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I’m getting the whole “unschooling” thing wrong, but my instinct tells me to switch gears when it comes to facilitating Kamea’s learning of math. 

I think some unschooling proponents would say to not concern myself so much (and perhaps to not try so hard). She will learn what she needs to learn when she wants to learn it. I’m just not totally comfortable with that. Because, honestly, if I take a backseat with respect to math and let her learn it on her own, which in reality seems to be only little drips of math here and there … she is just not going to know a whole lot of math. And while I love the idea of her enjoying every topic she learns, perhaps that is not realistic, or if it is, it requires too much creativity on my part. 


Perhaps she could learn all of it later, as I’ve heard some unschoolers do. That doesn’t feel right either, because I think it would help her in other areas of learning to have a stronger math background. (Thinking out loud here … then again, if she’s doing these other things which require math she might get the math she needs.) 

Well, here is the beauty of homeschooling. 

Homeschooling education can be customized to whatever we want, whenever we want. We can start down one path spending whatever time we want on whichever subjects we want, and changing that later to spend more time on other subjects (or less) as we see fit. If something isn’t working, we can change course. 

It is really awesome and helpful to have such flexibility. 

So, although I champion unschooling methods most of the time for us, I feel it’s time to divert from it for math. 

Here’s what we’re doing now. 

  • I found a great book that teaches math in a most quirky and entertaining way: The Life of Fred series. We’ve gone through one book in the series, and she likes it enough that we’ll continue. I have to reiterate that it is so quirky and weird it’s almost addictive, strangely, at least for me. I’m eager to see what results we’ll get because it is so… weird. 
  • We are using Khan Academy on her iPad. 
  • We are playing another math-centered game online, Prodigy, and she loves that game. 
  • Plus all the other unschooling math tricks I mentioned above such as finding ways to incorporate math-speak frequently. “Ok, Kamea, we’re 38 miles from Nana’s house. When we’ve traveled 30 of those miles, how many are left?” OR “You have $6 and want to buy a $20 toy. How much more do you need?” OR “5349 to the third power equals what?” <– just kidding.

Perhaps after she gets some fundamentals we will shift gears and go back to an unschooled approach with math. I really don’t know what the future has in store for us for any subjects.

I love it all though. I love homeschooling, I love the freedom and flexibility we have, and I love the opportunity I have to be with my daughter all day. 

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