Math Out Loud (the Easy Way)

For those of you who are familiar with Saxon Math, you know that each lesson involves lots of practice, both on new skills and review.  This is both a wonderful thing — old skills are not forgotten as kids work on developing new ones– and a difficult thing –very time consuming.

Saxon Math lessons are structured in 3 parts:  mental math, lesson practice and problem set.  The mental math section teaches kids to do increasingly difficult math in their heads, without any written practice.  This is one of my favorite parts of Saxon math, because I have seen so many adults who are unable to do even simple multiplication without writing something down.  As I tell my kids, you won’t always have a calculator with you, and who wants to be cheated at the store because you can’t do some mental math!  The lesson practice comes immediately after the new skills for the lesson are explained, and practices that skill in progressively more difficult problems.  Then comes the problem set, usually about 30 problems of review.  For my kids, that averaged to about an hour of math each lesson day.  While not terrible, it did cause lots of grumbling.

In the past, I have tried several different methods of shortening math time while maintaining quality.  Sometimes I would have the kids do only odds on the problem set.  Other times, I would do two lessons on the same day, and allow them to do only one of the problem sets.  Unfortunately, as I tried these strategies with Brett, I realized that the lack of practice was really robbing him of confidence.  He would come back to problems a few lessons later with very little idea how to solve them.  After struggling with him for math comprehension, I realized that, at least in our family, every single problem of math needed to be worked, even if it took a lot of time.  While we only do math 3 days a week, I still was seeking some way to cut down the time spent on math and still have great comprehension.

This year, we found a new way for me to be content that they have done enough practice while cutting down on the time of the lesson.  I take an extra ten or fifteen minutes after their lesson for them to do any of the problems they can mentally and orally without writing down either the problems or the answers.  Max is usually able to save himself about 15 problems of written work this way, and Lucy 10-12 problems.  This has been a great way to give them a boost toward finishing their math quickly.  I write orally next to the problems I have heard the answers to, and mark them in the book, so that I know when I correct papers later that those problems were done already.


max doing math

This has led to lots more smiles during math time!  Do you allow your kids to do any of their math work orally?  What strategies do you use to keep progressing in math skills while maintaining interest?  Please leave me a comment below.


A Day in the Homeschooling Life


Inspired by the link-up at Simple Homeschool, I am writing this post to give you a (glorified) peep into our homeschooling life.  Before I tell you what time I get up in the morning, I want to tell you that I rarely stay up at night past 9:15.  I always say that I turn into a pumpkin at 9:00, and even when we have company, I shoo them out the door so that I can go to bed.  I have to put in that disclaimer, because I know most of you will groan when you see when my day starts.

I get out of bed at 5:00 a.m. every day, including Sundays.  No one makes me do this.  Often, I am lying awake waiting for the alarm to ring for half an hour.  I have always been an early riser, and when I began running in the early mornings, the time just got earlier and earlier.  This is a secret I keep from my friends and co-workers, so please don’t tell them!  I don’t get up early to boast, and it’s not because it takes so long to do my hair.  I just really like to get up and get started on my day.  I would call 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. my “me time.”  I do a little laundry, some studying and puttering.  I go to the gym or on my run.  I help make breakfast and lunch for Daddy to take to work.  That early start to my day just makes me happy.

About 8:00, school starts for the kids.  I usually keep working on housework and other chores while the girls get started on their practicing and Brett begins his schoolwork.  Music is a real priority at our house, and with everyone’s practicing, the piano is in use about 5 hours every day.  Eden also teaches a few students, so piano practicing always has to start early, even at 6:30 a.m. on some days.  Lulu does her violin practicing early in the morning, too, as she finds this is her best concentration time.  Max uses this time to play, read, and clean his bedroom.

Since Brett and Eden are doing on-line high school this year, they are pretty much in charge of all their own work, with me checking in from time to time to see how they are doing, if they need extra help or contact with their teachers, and making sure they are not getting distracted.  So I concentrate on schooling the younger ones.  When Lulu finishes her practicing, I read aloud to them from whatever book we have chosen for the moment.  Right now, we are reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.  I try always to choose a book that would be too difficult for the kids to read on their own, either by content or vocabulary.  That is becoming more difficult as the kids get older, but I am convinced that reading aloud to them is the basis of a good education.

After half an hour or more of reading, I review Lucy’s math lesson with her.  She is currently working in Saxon 65, and is able to easily do most of the lessons with just a little help.  Then, I start working on math with Max.  He is working in the Saxon 3rd grade math book, and he still needs someone to sit beside him through the whole lesson.  Saxon is thoroughly scripted, but since this is the fourth time I am teaching these lessons, I am able to short cut a little.  One thing we do not short cut on is the meeting portion of the lesson.  This daily, thorough review, especially of the skip counting, seems to me one of the essential parts of any math program.

We are usually finished with math by about 11:00, and what follows really depends on the day.  We schedule all of our music lessons on one day.  On that day, we are gone from about 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  While we are switching between lessons, whoever is not with the teacher spends time reading at a local library, doing history or other work.  Most days, however, we relax a little before lunch.  I take time to review what the older kids have done, check e-mail from teachers, and start one of the younger ones on their piano practicing.

After lunch together, we often have time for a little outdoor play or walk.  We have two different local ponds we like to go and visit.  Our walks often turn into nature discussions, and when we come home we look up birds we have seen in our bird books.  Spring is an especially joyful time to visit these areas, because the frogs, snakes and ducks are all out in full force.  In later spring or fall we also take time to go to the mountains for hiking.  These nature studies are an essential part of our school time.  If we do not go outdoors, after lunch is usually project or cooking time for an hour or two.

Around 4:00, the older kids are often finished with their school work for the day, and I send the younger kids to finish up chores and anything else left on their daily list.  Then they read, play or do whatever they like until dinner time about 6:00.  Their school day ends around 8:00, with Daddy reading bedtime stories, usually a classic chapter book (right now The Story of Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting.)

Writing the day’s schedule down like this makes it seem exceedingly calm.  It isn’t.  We are always scurrying around, trying to do too many things.  However, I have learned to calm down and schedule less than I used to.  When I began homeschooling, I felt that it was important to assign math, English, handwriting, history and science work every day.  I have more confidence in their ability to learn without busywork since my older kids have enjoyed such good academic success, so I assign much less work now.  We do assign math every day, and some history from The Story of the World.  We do a spelling test once a week, with only a little practice on missed words. For the most part, the backbone of our school is reading, with math and music also essential.  After that , we work hard to relax and let the rest take care of itself.   I try to remember that the days are short but the years are long, and if we spend our lives hurrying to the next thing, we will find we never enjoyed our lives at all.

I hope you enjoyed your quick view into our daily life.  Has your schedule changed in the time since you began homeschooling?  Have you become stricter or more relaxed?  I would be interested in your input.  Please leave me a comment.