Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook

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The 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair is talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and Mathematical Sciences this wek. I “only” wanted three things out of math for this school year:

homeschool math-min

  1. More practice in basic skills.
  2. More active engagement.
  3. Not to have to change our our whole curriculum. Again.

Basically, I wanted a supplemental program of instruction that was more engaging and showed my children how the mathematics in their textbook was all around them. I didn’t want more books and worksheets. I wanted games and real world applications.

So I started creating my own. This is what I have so far.

Games, games and more games.

In fact, I dumped everything out of our homeschool budget I could in favor of games. I went to a conference once where one of the presenters tied decreasing math skills with the decreasing number of dice, card and domino games played by children. Not only do these games give regular practice in simple math skills, but she said that research indicated that something about the way you visually perceive the arrangement of dots promoted a kind of mathematical grouping and adding rather than “just” counting.


I started collecting games at Goodwill. Anything with dice was open for consideration, even if it wasn’t technically a “math” game. My best find was Shut the Box. Getting it at Colonial Williamsburg probably helped my children’s fascination along, because they were challenged to games by several colonists. But they still play it All. The. Time. And all you do is roll the dice and add. Over and over. I then spent the rest of my budget on games I found on amazon that promoted mathematical reasoning. We got a spirograph, color cubes, a book of animal shapes to go with the pattern blocks and, while not a game, centimeter cubes we use to make pixelated designs.

School breaks . . . to do math!

OK, so my kids don’t even realize that their “break” from learning is to practice math. But when we’ve been sitting for awhile, we have a challenge. I time them for one minute and they do as many sit ups, push ups or whatever exercise we decide. They then plot their achievement on a graph to see how they improve over time. They get some exercise and focus and I slip in some graphing without them really even noticing.

Daily challenges

Each morning, we warm up with a math challenge. This can really be anything, but we are working on geometry at the moment. We talk about a shape and then they transcribe it in a circle to fit certain parameters. I stamp a clock in their math journal (Which is just several sheets of graph paper folded and stapled together) so they can use the minute marks as a guide and they have to figure out how to use those 60 evenly spaced marks to complete the shape. True, this isn’t anything they will likely ever have to do for anything, but I set it up like a puzzle to solve. Working through one a day keeps it from seeming too much like just another assignment!

Building and Gardening projects.

We do this anyway. But some of my children are getting old enough to be a real help. Steffen built me a small shelf to fit in the corner so we could organize his little brothers’ play area. He then built his sister a balance beam and, using the same design, made me a long thin planter to go along the top of the wall to our stairs. This requires measuring and planning, and when buying soil, the ability to figure out volume.

And spring is almost here! It will be planting time and this year, everyone has their own garden box to plan. If you would like more details on how we incorporate gardening into our homeschool lessons and character education, I wrote up a free unit study and have it as a free download: Developing Christian Character Through Gardening.

Developing Christian Character Through(1)-min

For the younger ones, we started calendar math.

Some of you probably know what that is. It is basically a daily routine that practices basic math skills such as number skills, sequencing, skip counting, money and the base ten system with the use of a calendar. I wrote A Guide for Calendar Time last year to share our plans and how we add on graphing, measuring temperature, basic literacy and other skills. Best of all, it’s a free download so feel free to grab a copy and peruse it for ideas!

A guide to Calendar Time

And that’s it. So far, I am happy with their progress. They are practicing math more, using it more confidently and I’m not sure they realize they have actually increased their time spent on mathematics at all. They still think they’re done with it when they close their math book, but I see them working on it all day long. Sometimes even after our “official” school day is over and they pull a game off the shelf!

(Note: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.” )

Please visit my fellow homeschool bloggers who are talking about Discovering Patterns: Math and the Mathematical Sciences this week:

Finding Our Math Equilibrium: Our Plan for 11th, 7th, 5th, and 2nd Grades + Free Printables! by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Math Resources and Programs for All Ages by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Math (doesn’t) Stink! by Jennifer King @A Peace of Mind

When Math is NOT Your Thing by Michele@Family, Faith and Fridays

Math U See and All the Supplements by Laura H @ Four Little Penguins

Discovering Patterns in Our World: STEM Studies by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Junior High Math by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

Science & Math for Struggling Learners by Yvie @ Gypsy Road

Maths: a subject in progress by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook by Dana Hanley @ Roscommon Acres

Maths for a Very Maths-y Boy by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Practical Math by Annette @ A Net in Time

One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Math, How I Loathe Thee by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Math and Logic in Early Elementary and Preschool {virtual curriculum fair 2017} by Meghan W @ Quiet In The Chaos

Low Stress High School Science and Math by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Are these toys or manipulatives? This is math? by HillaryM @ Walking Fruitfully

When You Don’t Have a Math Plan by Brittney @ Mom’s Heart

Clear Horizons by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

A Few Thoughts on Teacher Math by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

20 thoughts on “Taking Mathematics out of the Textbook

    • Dana says:

      It’s fun. The kids like to keep track and even without asking them to, they are comparing their graphs and figuring out how much they beat their previous best by.

    • They do! And it is more of a time of family togetherness. They’re still working through their textbooks, but it doesn’t seem as dreary because they have something to look forward to, too.

  1. Bezen says:

    I love the idea of math games. My dd thinks math is boring, it may help change her mind. Could you please write the other math games that you bought? Thank you.

    • Dana says:

      This is what I have in the cabinet right now (this list includes what I’ve already mentioned):

      Pattern Blocks
      Animal Logic
      Color Cubes
      Shut the Box
      Trivial Pursuit (we write up review cards, one subject per line, and add them to the deck. In theory, anyway. They lost the cards they started, but I’m sticking with this being a great idea!)

      Not games, per se, but the younger ones love playing with them:

      Centimeter cubes
      Number balance
      Geometric solids (they’re clear and have an opening you can fill to compare volume

      And still want:

      Dominoes. We used to have a nice set, but it’s missing a few. Given our propensity for losing pieces, I really want to find a set at Goodwill!

    • So far, it’s mostly drawing shapes inside of the clock. After studying squares, for example, I gave them a clock stamp on their paper and they had to figure out how to draw a square inside of it, using the hash marks as a guide. They figured out pretty quickly that to have four equal sides, they would have to divide the clock into four equal parts, but it took some help for them to realize it was easier to start with a point on the 12 rather than on one of the minute marks. They all wanted their square parallel with the edge of the paper rather than on point!

  2. The math challenges sound like a great way to get them involved without them thinking too hard about it being “more math.” Thanks for the ideas.

    • I love doing them! I used to do them when I taught first grade with number lines. Everyone started on a number and I had them add and subtract super fast (by counting forward and backward on their number line). It got them focused and was like a game to them. This is a little more advanced, but kind of the same idea.

  3. These are all great ideas, thank you for sharing. We have had our Shut the Box set for many years and it has always been a favorite. I thinking about trying out some “math challenges.” 🙂

  4. I love these ideas. Thank you for the reminder about Shut the Box. I had heard previously that it was worth using-something else for the wish list!
    The graphing idea is great, too. A couple of years ago, one of my older children was travelling in Russia, so we made a graph of the temperature where she was in one colour and put in another line for the temperature here, in England.

    • Dana says:

      That sounds like an awesome adventure, Sarah! And I love Shut the Box. It really is a good game, and it comes with a bit of a connection to history and obviously plenty of practice in basic math facts. 🙂

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