by Craig Smith

Many of us, when starting out home educating for the first time, feel we haven’t got a clue how to tackle maths. We weren’t so good at it ourselves at school, and our youngest siblings started doing a type of maths at school we never saw before, and how will my children ever learn trigonometry and calculus from me?

OK, calm down. As in any other area, because you are the child’s parent, an adult, and have been around the block now a couple of times, you know from personal experience what kind of maths they need to learn. Unless it is clear they are going into engineering as a career, you can probably forget about the trigonometry, geometry and calculus. Just don’t worry about it for now. What maths do you use on a daily basis?

counting addition subtraction
multiplication division measuring
fractions decimals money
estimation proportions percentages
budget balance cheque book

That is what your children will need. And if they master those things, — and I’m talking about really mastering these things well —  they will be streets ahead of their peers, not to mention set up for the rest of their lives.

Take things in a logical progression: there are the concepts and then there is the method of manipulating those concepts with pencil and paper. Until they are starting to read, the pencil and paper work is off the menu. But until then there are the concepts to learn!

Learn to count using anything and everything: pebbles in the drive, chairs around the table, cars parked in the street. Go over it and over it until they have it memorised backwards and forwards. Virtually everyone has already done this as it seems to come naturally. Both parent and child appear to love it. Use this same methodology for all concepts until age 10 or so. Parents and other adults (such as school teachers) get tired of the repetition years before the children do, so they look for shortcut methods, and the schools have demonstrated that these only short change the students’ grasp of the facts.

Do addition and subtraction with pebbles, beans, matches, whatever. When they can read numerals (“5” is a symbol, a numeral, which stands for a number of things, five to be exact. Get your terminology right for it will eliminate massive confusion later. “376” is a three-digit numeral which stands for quite a large number of things.) Anyway, when they are reading numerals, write all the maths facts (addition & subtraction first; multiplication later) on flash cards and drill them until they know them randomly without hesitation. We made it a game to see how many they could get right in 60 seconds — each child raced only the clock, not another child. (Once they are individually good at it, then they can challenge each other, but it is too discouraging while they’re still just learning them.) We drilled them against the clock maybe 3 or 4 times each day, not even 15 minutes each.  Before they had them mastered, they were reading, and so we moved to pencil and paper computation.

This is a lot trickier. Adding 12563 and 35412 is great fun as is subtracting 3124 from 5376 for there is no borrowing or carrying over. Ours all loved doing these over and over. When you get into carrying over as in 59 plus 78 or borrowing as in 120 minus 75, the concept of place values and the concept of “0” become absolutely critical and must be thoroughly mastered before they can progress. Take your time over this. An abacus can help. Schools often don’t tackle this until age 9 or 10, but children can learn this a lot earlier. Every child is different, remember, but if we can motivate them by doing it with them and making it pleasurable rather than a pain, they will progress rapidly.

From Keystone Magazine

January 2003, Vol. IX No. 1

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