Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Yes, we are still working on fractions.

I want to write this post for all the people out there who think that their grade 6 or grade 7 student should know fractions by now. It's not that easy. We holistic home learners can be so flexible when it comes to when a child learns to read and so very inflexible when it comes to math skills.

We did fractions in grade 4, the very gentle introduction that Live Education brings to the student. We did about half of Life of Fred: Fractions in grade 5. Technically we worked with fractions before grade 4 when we were using the Miquon Math Lab materials. And here we are still doing fractions.

I want to tell you something about teaching fractions: they will expose your child's weaknesses with other math skills. It's okay to have weaknesses and it is really good when you can find them, because it means you can strengthen those skills.

Today my boys were reducing fractions. Yes, we've done this before, but we are reviewing the early fraction work so that they can become Fraction Ninjas (thanks to Papa for the label, because they boys are really into the idea). I can tell you right away that J-Baby still struggles with knowing his multiplication facts inside out and backwards, because his answers are wrong when he doesn't remember his multiplication facts. T-Guy, on the other hand, makes mistakes because he doesn't reduce enough. Part of his problems is taking directions literally (so if the instructions don't say to reduce again if necessary he doesn't), but the other issue is not finding the greatest common factor.

In a nutshell: J-Baby can easily find the greatest common factor but sometimes does the math wrong, T-Guy does the math correctly but doesn't always find the greatest common factor.

(Can you imagine how this would play out in a classroom? I am one teacher with two students and they each have a different weakness. My guess is that there are other things that could be going wrong and that it must be hard for a teacher to address the needs of 30 students.)

I realize that math and writing skills are the most important things we need to be working on this year. Soon I will determine just exactly what our goals will be and I will imprint them in my brain.  Grade two was place value and reading at the Frog and Toad level; in terms of skills everything else was gravy. I'm inclined to think that grade 6 is going to be all about having a solid understanding of fractions, decimals, and percents and the ability to write a five paragraph essay.

I didn't fully realize before that the story content of the Waldorf curriculum is the easy part. I'd bring stories to the boys, we'd draw (or paint or model), we'd summarize, and we'd write a little bit. They know so much about history and science and have been exposed to a great deal of children's literature (all of these things being partly what we've brought to them and partly what they have sought on their own). They've been to museums, plays, and concerts. Well-rounded describes their content learning, but their skills aren't exactly where we want them to be. Which isn't exactly where everyone else is (hence my reminding everyone that all skills come in their own time), but isn't where they are right now either.

This is where I stumble.  Do I trust in unschooling, in their inherent desire to learn and the belief that sometime soon they will set goals for themselves and dive into math and writing? Or do I acknowledge that I am not going to harm them with skills work and make it a part of everyday life, something that they simply must develop the discipline to do? (I do pause for a moment and realize that this is exactly who I am, a person who had difficulty choosing between two options when both have something going for them.) Is requiring skills work a fear response on my part (how will they get into college?) or simply requiring them to develop the skills they need (yep, buddy, everyone has to learn fractions)?

Homeschooling can be fraught with questions we don't ask ourselves otherwise. I don't wonder if I am pushing my children to learn to do the dishes or vacuum the house. I don't think that having them fold their own laundry is pushing them. I don't consider myself unfair because they must care for the dogs. I make them suck it up and eat kale when they don't want to. I do all these things because I believe they are good for them, that they help develop them into caring, responsible, healthy people.

So maybe, for now, we push forward with skills work and see where it takes us.


Harvest Moon Farm said...

I really liked reading your thoughts on this. Just wanted to say that I don't see it as an either-or thing -- I think you can be cognizant about where your kids are skill-wise without "pushing" them in an unnatural manner to accomplish this, that or the other thing. It's recently occured to me that a month a year working on skills can not only be reaffirming for me (oh look, my kids really DO understand LA concepts, even though we never actually talk about them), but also for the kids (oh, these things are called synonyms?). We're doing it this year because I needed a way to have a "free" month with the baby without feeling like we have to "do school" all summer, but it's been such a good experience, I'm planning on doing it every year. That way I can really give myself a break and not worry about the skills the rest of the year.

Sunshine Alternative Mama said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Shelley (and congrats on the birth of Rosebud). I love your idea of planning a whole month of skills work and just might go in that direction for the next month. Either that or we'll do a science block next month, then a skills block, and then another science block (still doing fractions daily).