When I started homeschooling I was intimidated by the teaching of most subjects, including math. When it came time to choose a curriculum I went with one that many suggested and one that required little time investment on my behalf. We chugged along okay with the curriculum, or so I thought, for 5 long years. Since it was on one of the list of “approved” Charlotte Mason math methods I was relieved that math was a subject I would not need to rework in our transition to a fully CM approach to our home education. Then, last year, Richele Baburina came out with a resource guide on how to implement a Charlotte Mason approach to math lessons. I was intrigued and convicted that what we were doing was not creating demanding the “daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution” that would produce the “mental growth…as obvious as the sprouting of seedlings in the spring” that Miss Mason spoke of in regards to math lessons (Vol. 1 pg. 261). My children were not delighting in the beauty of the mathematical world nor were they working at their lessons with mental sharpness or agility. So, I purchased Baburina’s guide and dove in, nervous about the process. Quickly, I began to see the benefits of a fully Charlotte Mason approach to math.
Here are some of the many benefits I have seen of using Mason’s approach:
- Numbers are introduced slowly, starting with the number one. Through this process the child gains a firm number sense. Gradually, as the numbers increase, the student begins to work larger sums but with a firm grounding in the properties of each number.
- New concepts are presented first through manipulatives, then through imaginary scenarios (still using the manipulatives if needed), and then to pure sums. This progression allows the student to visually comprehend the concepts being taught and then apply those concepts to the pure sums. The manipulatives can still be used if needed, but I find that in most cases my children are quickly able to move past the manipulatives.
- As new concepts are taught, as much as possible, I allow my students to discover the concept on their own through the manipulatives. In the picture below, my 6 year old was discovering the different ways he could build 25 with coins.
- In the early lessons, lessons are done orally with very little handwriting involved. This keeps the focus of the lesson on the math concepts themselves, not on the process of writing the numbers.
- Very early on in the lessons, as early as the numbers 5 and 10, the concept of money is introduced which builds a foundation for understanding a 10 based number system, as well as building real life skills. My children love playing shopkeeper as part of their lessons when we have time.
- Once lessons move to paper, grid paper is used to help the student align their units, tens, and hundreds, keeping proper place values.
- Addition is taught along side subtraction. Likewise with multiplication and division. Again, through the use of manipulatives the relationship between these 4 math rules becomes both fluid and easily understood. In the picture below, my daughter was either working on building a times 2 table or dividing a pile into groups of 2.
- The short timed lessons are one-on-one, which enables me to help the students stay mentally engaged the entire length of the lesson as well as helps me know the exact strengths and weaknesses of my student. Keeping the lessons short and timed provides my children with hope that their lesson will end. Prior to using this approach they would easily waste away their math lesson time or would exceed their lesson time in attempts to complete the given problem. With this approach, we work diligently during the given time and pack it all up when the timer beeps.
- As a result of my intense involvement in their lessons, I am able to tailor their lessons to meet their needs. We can move at my child’s pace instead of a prescribed pace set by a curriculum book. Thus, I am able to build problems for my students that I know are well within their ability to complete them successfully.
- The last 5 minutes of each lesson is reserved for rapid mental math. This quick review of basic math facts or mental math has been a powerful tool to sharpen my children’s attention, focus, and basic math skills.
- Geometry is introduced in a hands on practical way in lower grades. My 5th grader looks forward to his weekly geometry lessons. Through the use of a compass and protractor he is experimenting with geometry truths and theroms in a way that maintains his interest as well as connects his mathematics lessons to his geometry lessons. In the picture below, my son is working on measuring lines accurately. Later he especially enjoyed learning how to bisect and trisect lines using only a compass.
We now have completed almost two terms of truly living math and I couldn’t be happier with the transition we have made. At first I dreaded my personal investment of 70 minutes of daily math lessons spread between my 3 school-aged children. But I must say, that those precious minutes with my children have become some of my most delightful moments in the day. I love watching their eyes focus as they think, watching them discover mathematical processes and truths on their own, and guiding them each uniquely through their math lessons. As we transitioned, I studied the scope and sequence and made a guess as to the abilities of my children in those areas. Afraid I would bore them, I still chose to back up pretty far in the scope and sequence just to make sure that the foundations had been adequately laid. I was pleased that it only took us a couple of weeks to review the material while laying stronger foundations before moving on to new concepts. I think that time was well spent and has helped them progress quickly in their lessons as a result of that rebuilding time. With my youngest and newest school aged child I was able to jump in fully using Miss Mason’s approach. He has especially surprised me by his mental quickness, focus during lessons, and enjoyment of the subject. I credit much of that to the use of this approach to teaching math.
There is much value in pursuing excellence in the teaching of mathematics that goes well beyond the actual working of sums. As Miss Mason says, “The chief value of arithmetic, like that of the higher mathematics, lies in the training it affords to the reasoning powers, and in the habits of insight, readiness, accuracy, intellectual truthfulness it engenders.” (Vol. 1 p. 254) Following this statement she warns teachers to approach the subject with awe and respect, knowing that moral training in accuracy, truthfulness, and hard effort is being taught alongside the mathematical training. Thus, I would encourage you, if you haven’t yet, to spend some time studying Miss Mason’s approach and giving it a try in your home schools.