Add Real-Life Problem-Solving to Your Homeschool Math Curriculum
Homeschool math curricula is typically written with the ultimate goal of helping your child pass standardized grade-level achievement tests; most math books are not written from a pragmatic perspective. The focus is almost always theoretical. In fact, some homeschool math vendors don’t offer a real-life math textbook until senior year when the teen has gotten through Algebra and Geometry (at a minimum). This is outrageous! Kids need to know why math is relevant to their life, especially when they’re young and just learning math concepts and facts.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until one day when my ten year old daughter plaintively whined “why do I need to know how to work these problems, mom?” That’s when it hit me…I needed to help her bridge the mental gap from theory to application.
I created a list of real-life activities that we could do on Fridays to make math come alive. For example, I gave her a shopping list, took her to the grocery store, told her to find the best prices, mark them down on her clipboard, and add up the total bill before we checked out. Suddenly math was incredibly relevant to her life.
Practical Ways to Teach Math at Home
So here’s my suggestion to you: use the textbook for theoretical knowledge then translate what you’re learning in the book to a real-life problem. Schedule “real-life” math on your calendar (once a week, say on Fridays, or once a month/quarter). Here are some ideas to spark your imagination:
- If your kids are currently learning arithmetic:
- pack a suitcase for a flight, then weigh on bathroom scale to avoid fees (weights)
- take a favorite cookie recipe, quadruple quantities, bake + share with neighbors (multiplication)
- purchase several tomato plants for the garden, then project yield (estimation)
- gather all the loose change in the house, sort by denomination, and pack coin sleeves (counting)
- figure out how long it will take dad to drive to grandma’s house (time/distance/speed)
- If algebra is the current math course:
- throw a ball up into the air and calculate velocity up and gravity down (quadratic equation)
- calculate how much mulch you need to order for the flower beds or how many ricks of firewood you need to cut (polynomials)
- figure out the maximum average release height for basketball free throw shots (acceleration + velocity)
- Geometry concepts have real-life applications all over the house and yard:
- go shopping for a new refrigerator and see which models will fit in your kitchen (area)
- calculate slope the next time you go downhill skiing (coordinates)
- mask off floor-to-ceiling 5″ stripes on the bedroom wall for two-color painting (parallel lines)
As teens, my kids have experienced integrated math through the business section of the newspaper. We have discussed economics and investment concepts from the news and found companies that they have an interest in (like Apple or EASports) to take the facts and make them meaningful and not just some dumb fact that they have to memorize for a test.
Integrated, holistic math learning allows the student to absorb the math facts then connect them in some fashion to his own life experience. As the homeschool teacher, you have to be a little more creative and intentional to follow this approach, but it’s well worth the effort. Years from now, you grown children will associate the facts with fascinating stories and experiences that made the learning stick!
Does Your Kid Use the Scientific Method?
P.S. Another fun and practical way to develop problem-solving skills is to do science experiments. Grab this free CHEMISTRY infographic called “12 Chemistry Facts Every Teacher Should Know” to use as a quick reference teaching resource for the chemical elements, scientific method, and much more. [If you’re already a subscriber of The Classical Scholar blog posts, you’ll find this chemistry infographic in your Bright Moms Library.]