When I began homeschooling, the first thing I chose was our math curriculum. This was one subject I didn’t trust myself to teach without a textbook. After the first year, I embraced the Charlotte Mason method of using living books to learn. Although I didn’t completely drop the math curriculum, my kids enjoyed many hands-on lessons guided by living books about math, and I discovered it was possible to teach math without curriculum!
The best way to teach math to young learners is through hands-on learning, using living books as the framework for lesson plans.
What Are Living Books?
Living books are usually written in a conversational tone by authors who are passionate about a subject. For the primary to middle school years, I chose children’s picture books. Young children especially are drawn into narrative story. There are several good authors who bring math ‘alive’ using words.
Developing a Lesson Plan
Developing a lesson plan can be intimidating at first, but it’s pretty simple. This process can be adjusted for different learning styles and philosophies. This process was developed for my relaxed Charlotte Mason homeschoolers.
Determine scope. You can use state-standard lists, math curriculum scope & sequence, What Your (3rd Grader) Needs to Know books, or other lists to determine scope. Math concepts are typically divided into five strands: Number Sense and Computation, Measurement, Geometry and Spatial Sense, Algebraic Pattern, Data Management and Probability.
Develop timeline. Determine which concepts are going to be introduced and when. For example: Counting, Adding, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Fractions, and Decimals make up number sense and computation. For the mastery learner, a new concept is taught every year, beginning with counting in K and ending with decimals in 6th grade. Spiral learners are taught these concepts every year with increasing difficulty.
Note: Mastery learners focus on one area/skill each year. Spiral learners learn a little bit of each concept, moving to more difficult concepts each year. Most curriculum is written for the spiral learner.
Choose learning tools. Choose fun activities that reinforce the ‘why’ of math. Manipulatives, worksheets, videos, games, lessons (if using a textbook). Read living books that correspond with math concepts being learned. LivingMath.Net is one my favorite reference websites for living books.
Develop lesson plans. Plan on introducing a new concept every 3-5 days, depending upon the student’s mastery level. Assign worksheets daily (10 to 20 problems) to confirm mastery of new and old concepts. Reinforce learning using manipulatives, drawing, videos, and games. Test after about every 10 lessons. (“Testing” is simply to determine how much your child has learned about a particular concept and what, if anything, needs to be retaught or practiced more. It doesn’t necessarily have to be graded.) Flexibility is a must with math! I only plan a few weeks at a time.
How I Taught Math Using Living Books
The Best of Times by Greg Tang is written for ages 7-10. It uses rhymes to help kids learn multiplication tables from zero to 10, using a two-page layout. The rhyme is on the left page; the challenge is on the right page. At the end of the book there are five pages with the multiplication tables and corresponding rhymes.
Here’s how I used this book to help my daughter master her multiplication facts.
Day One: Read the rhyme together (I read aloud and she read aloud). Complete the challenge. Use math manipulatives to answer the “why” of math. Copy math facts table. Complete worksheet created on Math-aids.com.
Day Two: Review math facts using flash cards. If needed, repeat manipulatives exploration. Copy and memorize rhyme. Demonstrate facts through drawing.
Day Three. Quote the rhyme. If needed, re-read the rhyme together. Test facts using flash cards. (“Testing” is simply to determine how much your child has learned about a particular concept and what, if anything, needs to be retaught or practiced more. It doesn’t necessarily have to be graded.) If the facts are mastered, move on to the next rhyme. Otherwise, repeat the three days.
I used this pattern until my daughter finished the book. Some numbers took only three days, others took a week or more to learn. As she advanced, review of flash cards and worksheets included previously learned facts. The result: 0-10 multiplication tables and rhymes memorized. A fun, easy way to learn!
My Must-read Living Math Books
- All books by Greg Tang or Elinor J. Pinczes. Elementary.
- Charlesbridge Math Adventures series. Elementary.
- The Cat in Numberland by Ivar Ekeland. A simple story based upon the concept of infinity. Elementary
- G is for Googol by David M Schwartz. A great unit study spine book and reference book. Middle School
- The Math Book for Girls and Other Beings Who Count by Valerie Wyatt. A fun way to learn a variety of math concepts. Elementary.
- Life of Fred by PhD Stanley Schmidt. I love Fred. My kids did not. I am sad. Elementary to High School.
- Exploring the World of Mathematics by John Hudson Tiner. The story of math. Good for unit study. Middle School and up.
- A History of Pi by Petr Beckmann. There are not many good narrative math books for the high school level, but my son liked this one. The concepts are tough. Definitely for the upper level math student.
I hope this inspires you to teach math without curriculum or at least makes your curriculum fun!
Have you used living books teaching math? What are your favorites?