It’s one of the top things people worry about with unschooling: ‘How will they learn maths?’
Most people see maths as something that must be taught to children by way of boring worksheets, textbooks, memorising equations, and tests. Something that most people think they have to ‘get through’ at school and end up feeling they aren’t very good at.
Unschoolers know this is not true. Maths is everywhere! It’s a part of life you can’t avoid. The truth is, you cannot live in the world and not learn basic maths. It’s required every single day. And with a supportive adult providing an environment filled with inspiration and learning? Well, learning maths is not a problem!
The thing is, most of us went to school. We learnt maths the boring way. It was so out of context that we now have trouble recognising real-world maths. To us, maths looks like a worksheet. When we don’t see our children doing maths that looks like school maths, we can start to worry. Especially as they get older.
For younger children, it’s easy to see. They learn their numbers, they start adding and subtracting, they learn to tell the time, they measure their height on the wall. We can see them starting to understand how numbers work.
But what does it look like as they grow? What does natural learning maths look like for older children? This is where we’re lacking in some examples. And that can lead us to worrying! So, let’s share what unschooling maths looks like for older kids.
I recently asked my followers what kind of maths they saw in their children’s lives and they had lots of helpful examples to share:
How do Unschoolers Learn Maths?
Receiving pocket money, savings goals, spending money.
Budgeting: working with their own money, or being involved with the family’s budget and choices.
Redecorating their bedroom: planning, measuring, area, surface area, budgeting.
Online food shopping: kids help out with weekly family tasks like shopping online. Shopping involves lot of maths. Again, sticking to a budget, comparing prices, percentages and sales.
Cooking: temperature, doubling recipes, fractions, measurement, time, weight, etc.
Planning a meal: I recently set my older girls a challenge that combined a few of these things. They had to research a meal, plan, work out price per person, shop for ingredients, and cook the whole meal. They loved it!
Counting down to events.
Travelling: train timetables and maps.
Event planning: “My oldest daughter had the idea for our homeschool group to set up a “town.” So each child brought props and set up their own “shop.” We had a restaurant, grocery store, pet store, and even post office so packages were being sent back and forth to each other. They came up with the prices for everything and we had a bank. They looooved it! It was such a fun afternoon and lots of “real world maths” involved.”
Markets: we participate in homeschool markets a couple of times a year. The kids make things to sell and run their own stalls. They’re in charge of pricing items, giving change, working out profit, and spending their money at friend’s stalls.
Road trips: estimating arrival time (speed and distance), working out the shortest route.
Tracking temperature, rainfall, etc.
Creating art with nature, e.g. nature mandalas and symmetry.
“We collect and analyse data from our cool-season burning and the impact of our carbon offsetting.”
Gardening: “My 9yo is making a veggie garden in the back yard. Measured off her space, looked at little fencing options, what else she will need. How much it will cost to buy. Decided she doesn’t want to dig so has “hired” her brother to do that. Researched and priced up her plants and now she’s just waiting for the rain to leave so she can get started! Planning a garden or raised beds works similarly too, from measuring and drawing plans to scale to costing materials, volume of compost, how many plants will fit with various spacing distances etc.”
Start their own business: working out costs and profit. Ideas: pet care, paper round, selling products, lawn mowing.
Building: chicken coop, dolls house, dog bed, furniture (measurement, geometry).
“Making spreadsheets to record, keep track, analyze whatever random stuff they are interested in (hours spent playing outside/online, who wins boardgames/sports, whatever…)”
Science projects – any gathering, sorting, displaying and analyzing data.
Sports: statistics and scoring.
Gaming: lots of games involve maths! My girls play Minecraft and it’s full of it.
Board games: so many! Farkle, Blokus, Monopoly, Catan, Sumoku, Yahtzee, Prime Climb, Dino Math Tracks.
“13yo self taught sine, cos, tan, algebraic equations, and a load of other angle/ speed/force/physics stuff through archery”.
“14yo is building a fully self-sufficient off grid tiny house and permaculture system, full of high level maths”.
“Get involved in conservation and counting animals etc and effects of change”.
“Timing waves/surf/swell for best surf or fishing conditions”
Learning percentages from kindle or battery on phone.
Digital escape rooms.
Music: time signatures, patterns, and more.
Art and Craft
Creating art actually involves a lot of maths (symmetry, geometry, scaling up or down, ratios, angles)
Sewing: measurement, geometry, multiplication, estimation, converting units of measurement.
Sometimes the kids are also learning through the many resources available. We have personally used prodigy math, khan academy, and Matharoo at times. Sometimes they just want to play with numbers!
There are so many ways maths occurs naturally in daily life! It’s a part of almost everything and I’m sure you can think of more to add to this list. And what about higher math they may not come across? Personally, I’m not overly concerned. Most people learn math at school and never remember it. They remember what matters, what is meaningful, what is useful to their life. What they need to know.
By not forcing math on them and instead allowing them to enjoy it and see how relevant it is, they may in fact be MORE interested in math than I was. They already seem to be. Learning about something because someone makes you and learning because you are interested and it’s meaningful are two very different things. In our house math is enjoyable, and that means they are more likely to want to know more about it, rather than less. And when they do? They’ll have the skills to be motivated, self-directed, capable learners because they’ve been doing it all along.
For now, we are learning math through their interests and life, like everything else.
I hope these examples have been helpful in seeing how math is everywhere! Or provided some ideas for inspiration. I’d love to hear what math looks like in your home?