Living Math versus Curriculum

In a conversation with Gina at her blog, she was curious about how one applies this ‘living math’ to our math learning at home, and she also comments about some math early readers being twaddle.

First I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you what Julie, the founder of and the Livingmath forum, shared with us there. Years ago Julie thought of the words living math, and registered the name, and now some claim that it is a concept. I know that living math evokes in us an idea, but Julie coined the term, and registered it, so if/when we use it, we should credit her and direct our attention to her Livingmath site, as well as her livingmath  forum.

What do I understand and how do we follow a living math approach at home? We had been using MEP, and some Math Mammoth, and they are great curriculum for math, specially if as a parent you feel the need to have a spine or list of concepts to follow. But right now my daughters are not filling math worksheets daily. Firstly because the youngest is five and we don’t need worksheets for her, secondly because my oldest, seven, was developing a deep dislike for the MEP worksheets and lessons, and I had to do something.

That something is what I understand to be livingmath. But I warn you, this, like it happens with Charlotte Mason all the time, is my filtered opinion. Many out there may think that Charlotte Mason’s idea of music and art studies is something different than listening to composers and looking and appreciating the work of different artists. I am the first one who may be leading to confusion. But Gina asked, and I feel compelled to discuss this, with the aspiration that you, witty readers, jump to correct me, add to what I say, or challenge my thoughts.

Living math as I know it means:

* Doing math organically, or as my friend Pilar says, looking for systemic activities, or activities that create synergy between different areas of life and knowledge such as art, science, literature…

* Exploring more than the traditional arithmetic side of math with a variety of resources versus a one an only math curriculum and worksheets, using, for example, videos, projects, books, games, manipulatives, etc.

* Appreciating math in its richness, reading about mathematicians, historic math discoveries and advances, versus treating math in isolation.

* Challenging math as a linear discipline, and immersing our children in math concepts and math thinking even before they are any close to mastering those concepts. Julie comments how she read or talked about negative numbers to her then four year old daughter. Such as what the author of Lockhart’s Lament says, we don’t wait for children to listen to music until they can read it, or to know a vast array of vocabulary before we read rich poetry to them.

Now, I do not mean that those who use a curriculum and/or worksheets (some curriculum out there has no worksheets) are not doing anything else in the math department, or that if you say you use a living math approach you are not using any curriculum or worksheets. To me, what I just presented is the theory behind what we try to do at home very humbly.

Those humble particulars look something like this:

* I come out of my comfort zone, realize that I won’t be able to ‘cover’ all gaps, and soak in a variety of math books for consult, and even the curriculum I have. Then I choose some exercises, games, and books to read during the week.

* I always tend to look at too many things, and often I need to narrow my focus. I tell myself that it is fine to repeat the game or activity the same as we many times read the same book. We do this not because the child is not paying attention, but because there is need for more exposure to master. I try to snap out of the ‘cover’ all we can mentality. And then I see with joy that the girls start talking and liking math, and observing math around.

* I also see that the so called ‘goals’ for their age seem to be met, so I remember to breath. I also remember that those goals are arbitrary, and that I homeschool because, among other things, I challenge that modern educational system fabrication, and I breath some more. But, if they had to be part of the system, and say, take a test, I remember Julie (livingmath net founder) says that, as long as a child is not shut down to the whole idea of learning math, there is a high hope that he or she can be tutored, and I breath, scream, and do a little dance. Actually, Julie tutors such children who have had little math ‘schooling’ with good results… they get the needed grade to proceed with their studies. But then I also remember that these are examples to have a good approach toward math, not to neglect any opportunity to present your children with math to be learned.

* Some of those proposed activities I think about for the girls are great, others don’t work well. Then I try hard not to be discouraged and remember that, if I were to push a curriculum or worksheets at this point with my oldest, she won’t make any progress and grudgingly will acquire very little math, as I did not retain anything from my elementary and junior high years, and thus I rid of math as soon as I could. This pressure could ruin her view of math forever, closing some paths she may need to travel in her future.

* I remember that I don’t need to try ‘that hard‘. I don’t need to ‘know’ lots of math to teach it, it is enough with loving math and wanting to learn with them. I see this truly in line with the Charlotte Mason spirit, which, to me, it’s the only spirit worth embracing. I know I can’t be good at everything, but I can surely love and support anything I know good for all of us to learn at one point or another in our life. And didn’t I tell you?, I never thought I’d have math books to read for pleasure on my nightstand.

* Living math at my home does not look very impressive, and like the best things, there is no blue print I can pass to you. I could, and maybe I will, share all my living math books, and tell you about activities or ideas we have done, but probably at that point you will feel even more overwhelmed than with the thought of a curriculum. But remember, ONE STEP AT A TIME, and soon you’ll be enjoying math (even basic math), at a different level.

And about math readers, specially some early readers, being twaddle. Yes, I do think many titles are twaddle, but to me they definitely have a place in my home. To give you an example, we read this literary speaking simpleton book, How Many Feet? How Many Tails?, with no impressive language or illustrations, but those simple riddles are exposing my girls to the notion of multiplication.

Not all these ‘easy’ books are twaddle, though. One of my ultimate favorites is A House is a House for Me, and that’s no twaddle. How is that book math? Because math is logic, math is much more than what some of us believe it to be.


1 thought on “Living Math versus Curriculum”

  1. Thank you for posting this 🙂 i am doing all I can to implement Julie's “living math” concept. I will definitely try and view the math readers in a different perspective. Meanwhile, I am flipping through Ray's Arithmetic and First Lessons in Numbers (by Maglathlin and Greenleaf) and trying out oral math.
    I need to build a mathematical lens… i think there is hope for me 🙂


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