Homeschooling Tip #1: Start with Play

For children, learning always begins with play. This is how they wrap their minds around new ideas and make them their own.

“There should be no element of slavery in learning. Enforced exercise does no harm to the body, but enforced learning will not stay in the mind. So avoid compulsion, and let your children’s lessons take the form of play.”

—Plato, The Republic

If we want our children to learn math, our first job is to establish an attitude of playfulness.

This is especially important for anyone working with a discouraged child or a child who is afraid of math. The best way to help a discouraged child is to put away the workbook. Try something different, fun, and challenging.

Play Math Games

Free ebook of math games
Download my free ebook of math games at your favorite online store.
Games meet children each at their own level, helping them understand that hard mental effort can be fun.

  • My Favorite Math Games: All the free games here on my Let’s Play Math blog, sorted by age/grade levels.
  • Math for Love Games: Collected by the creator of Tiny Polka Dot and Prime Climb.
  • Games for Young Minds: Kent Haines’s posts teach not only how to play the games, but also how to help your children think about the math.
  • Acing Math: A huge collection of topical worksheet-replacement games to play with a deck of cards.
  • Math Hombre Games: The motherlode of math games for all ages. It’s easy to get lost on this page, so bookmark it and explore a bit at a time.
  • For older students: Games and Math at Math Munch blog.

Play Math Art

Download my free 42-page printable coloring book, with links to additional activities.
Math art lets children experiment with geometric shapes and symmetries. Through art, students can explore a wide range of mathematical structures and relationships.

Join the Conversation

The next post in this How to Homeschool Math series will be all about the joy of reading math.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you!

  • What are your most pressing questions about helping your children with math?
  • Or what tips would you share with other parents?

Please add your ideas in the Comments section below.

CREDITS: Photo (top) generously supplied via Unsplash.com by National Cancer Institute.

How to Homeschool Math

Far too many people find themselves suddenly, unexpectedly homeschooling their children. This prompts me to consider what advice I might offer after more than three decades of teaching kids at home.

Through my decades of homeschooling five kids, we lived by two rules:

Do math. Do reading.

As long as we hit those two topics each day, I knew the kids would be fine. Do some sort of mathematical game or activity. Read something from that big stack of books we collected at the library.

Conquer the basics of math and reading, then everything else will fall into place.

Continue reading How to Homeschool Math

Math with Young Children

The question came up again:

“What is the best curriculum for my children? They are four and six years old, and I’m afraid of letting them fall behind.”

I remember being a young parent, eager to start homeschooling. I used to get mad (without letting it show, like a true introvert) when people told me, “They are young. Just let them play.”

Now I see the wisdom in it.

The most important thing for your children right now, by far, is for them to enjoy learning. The joy of learning is a child’s natural state. As a parent, your primary job is to keep yourself from stomping it out.

But our parental fears can push us into joy-trampling before we realize it.

And our own experience of school makes it hard for us to see how much of our children’s play really is learning. We expect education to look like schoolwork, but natural learning looks nothing like that.

Natural Learning Looks like Conversation

“The lesson here is that children are brilliant. They build math out of their everyday experiences, and when you offer them opportunities they apply the math they know to make further sense of their worlds.”

—Christopher Danielson
Counting in downtown Saint Paul

Natural Learning Looks Listening to Your Children

It Looks Like Free Play

“The children who receive the least instruction from parents, volunteers, or me are the most likely to persist. These are the children who will spend 20 minutes or more exploring the possibilities. But when we tell kids to ‘make a pattern’, we are asking the children to fill that carton with our ideas, rather than allowing them to explore their own.”

—Christopher Danielson
Let the children play

Let children play with blocks or other math toys, or with anything they find around the house or outdoors.

Free play, without any direction or instruction from you.

And Playing Games Together

“If you play these games and your child learns only that hard mental effort can be fun, you will have taught something invaluable.”

Peggy Kaye
Games for Math

CREDITS: “Two children” photo (top) by Kevin Gent on Unsplash.

Play Math with Your Kids for Free

One of the most common questions I get from parents who want to help their children enjoy math is, “Where do we start?”

My favorite answer: “Play games!”

And in this time of pandemic crisis, it’s even more important for families to play together. So my publisher agreed to make my ebook Let’s Play Math Sampler: 10 Family-Favorite Games for Learning Math Through Play free for the duration.

When you’re stuck at home and getting bored, it’s a great time to play math with your kids.

Math games meet children each at their own level. The child who sits at the head of the class can solidify skills. The child who lags behind grade level can build fluency and gain confidence.

And both will learn something even more important: that hard mental effort can be fun.

The Let’s Play Math Sampler contains short excerpts from my most popular books, including a preview of two games from my work-in-progress Prealgebra & Geometry Games.

Don’t miss it: Download your copy today.

Free Online Preview

Shop Now

Ebook available FREE at most bookstores:
Amazon-logo google-play-badge Barnes-Noble-logo kobo-logo apple-books-badge Scribd_logo and other online retailers.

Or you can order the paperback by special request at your favorite local bookshop.

Update 1: Has your favorite store refused to adjust its price? (I’m looking at you, Amazon!) Try this link, and the good folks at BookFunnel will help you load the ebook file to your reading device (phone, Kindle, etc.): https://bookhip.com/SAATAW.

Update 2: I’ve added a downloadable PDF file to the BookFunnel link, for those who prefer a printable format.

Reader Reviews

“Denise Gaskins is that sound voice of reason that comes into my head when I get agitated teaching. This isn’t performance — this is play. My kids aren’t on trial, they are learning to learn.”

—Sonya Post

“By exploring math in a playful way, your kids will be happy to learn and will discover an enjoyment of math in the process. You might even have fun, too! ”

—Olisia Yeend

NOTE: In many locations, you can get the rest of my playful math books free if you request them on your library app or through your local librarian.

Math Game: Number Train

Math Concepts: number symbols, numerical order, thinking ahead.
Players: two or more.
Equipment: one math deck of playing cards (remove face cards and jokers), or a double deck for more than four players; additional cards to use as train cars.

Set-Up

Give each player four to six miscellaneous cards (such as the face cards and jokers you removed from the card deck) to serve as the cars of their number trains.

Lay these cards face down in a horizontal row, as shown. Shuffle the math card deck and spread it on the table as a fishing pond.

Line up the cars of your train.

How to Play

On your turn, draw one card and play it face up on one of your train cars. The numbers on your train must increase from left to right, but they do not need to be in consecutive order. If you do not have an appropriate blank place for your card, you have two choices:

• Mix the new card back into the fishing pond.

• Use the new number to replace one of your other cards, and then discard the old one.

The first player to complete a train of numbers that increases from left to right wins the game.

Two of the train cars have passengers. Which numbers could you put on the other cars?

Variations

House Rule: Decide how strict you will be about the “increases from left to right” rule and repeated numbers. Does “1, 3, 3, 7, 8” count as a valid number train? Or will the player have to keep trying for a card to replace one of the threes?

For older players: You can adapt Number Train to play with more advanced students:

Deal Alert!

CountingGames-300This post is an excerpt from my book Counting & Number Bonds: Math Games for Early Learners, available now at your favorite online book dealer.

One of my favorite stores, Rainbow Resource Center, is offering several of my books at a great discount.

Check them out!

How to Talk Math With Your Kids

A friend shared this video, and I loved it! From Kent Haines, a father who happens to also be a math teacher…

“I hope that this video helps parents find new ways of interacting with their kids on math topics.”

Kent Haines

More from Kent Haines

Advice and Examples of Talking Math with Kids

Danielson-Talking Math

If you enjoyed Kent’s video, you’ll love Christopher Danielson’s book and blog.

It’s a short book with plenty of great stories, advice, and conversation-starters. While Danielson writes directly to parents, the book will also interest grandparents, aunts & uncles, teachers, and anyone else who wants to help children notice and think about math in daily life.

“You don’t need special skills to do this. If you can read with your kids, then you can talk math with them. You can support and encourage their developing mathematical minds.
 
“You don’t need to love math. You don’t need to have been particularly successful in school mathematics. You just need to notice when your children are being curious about math, and you need some ideas for turning that curiosity into a conversation.
 
“In nearly all circumstances, our conversations grow organically out of our everyday activity. We have not scheduled “talking math time” in our household. Instead, we talk about these things when it seems natural to do so, when the things we are doing (reading books, making lunch, riding in the car, etc) bump up against important mathematical ideas.
 
“The dialogues in this book are intended to open your eyes to these opportunities in your own family’s life.”

— Christopher Danielson
Talking Math with Your Kids

CREDITS: “Kids Talk” photo (top) by Victoria Harjadi via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). “Parent Rules” by Kent Haines.