While traveling, I brought along a few workbooks – a minimal amount of school: mainly grammar and math. Math is just one subject you can’t cover quickly, at least not with my kids. Either they do it, or they don’t. And they can manage to take a long time to do it. At one point, one of my kids said, “What kind of a vacation is this?” I received crossed arms, a hostile stare, and a flat-out refusal to work. Is it any surprise that he spent the next hour in a chair in a time out? We moved on to the day’s events with his schoolwork undone. The next day, a not-so-busy day, he had twice as much work to do, and he sat working while his siblings played outside.
It amazes me how unreasonable children can be, even past the so-called “age of reason.” I explained at the beginning of our trip that we need to do math so that we can be done with school by the end of May. Everybody agrees that the sooner we are done with school, the happier we’ll be. Unfortunately, my idea of “done with school” is finishing the workbooks and textbooks, and their idea of finishing school is just a matter of stopping the work.
It’s not that I’m tied to the curriculum and feel we must plug along and check every single block. Believe me, I have disregarded more than a few things. Music appreciation is sandwiched in car rides with little comment or discussion about composers, music style, or instruments used. And the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers counts as classical music, right? If my 7 year old knows how to scat, this counts as culture, right, right?
Even though I don’t make my kids memorize every answer in the Baltimore Catechism or learn the names of the artists of all the fine art we sometimes observe, math is one subject I really don’t want to skimp on. Correction: we fail to do the speed drills, and perhaps my boys could use a bit more flashcard work to come up with their answers to “8+2” or “8×6” more quickly. Perhaps. I’m not convinced this is truly necessary, though. Time will tell.
One friend, an experienced homeschool mom, told me she always does the speed drills, but only has her girls do half the problems on the worksheet. A non-homeschooling friend and former teacher of 5th grade also suggested only doing some of the math problems on the worksheet if it was taking too long. Honestly, the mere idea of only doing a fraction of the problems has me gasping for air and doubled over in mental anguish. I just can’t do it.
Looking back at my report cards from when I was my boys’ ages (my mom kept them!), I had glowing reports about my reading skills. I learned to read before kindergarten and took off from there. I loved it and devoted many hours of my childhood to devouring fiction. If my mom made me “play” outside, I took a book with me. I had reading and writing down.
But arithmetic? Naw, my skills lay elsewhere, or so my teachers thought. It just didn’t come easily to me, apparently. I don’t actually remember having trouble, except maybe with speed drills (Ha! Is this why I don’t make my kids do them?), but I guess when compared to my reading, where I was many grade levels ahead, I seemed rather dense. But despite my supposed stupidity, of which I was blissfully unaware, I remember in the 5th grade being placed in the “smart kid” math class. And that was that. I was smart in math, and nobody could tell me otherwise. In middle school, I was missing one math class a week to spend an hour talking about higher mathematical concepts like infinity, and in high school, I was doing my homework assignment for the next day during class time. Somehow this not-so-good-in-math-but-boy-does-she-read-well kid managed to get college credit for Calculus I and II with her AP test scores. Go figure.
And so I’m not willing to skip half the work, just because my kids struggle a bit. I’m not willing to accept their suggestion that they “just aren’t good in math” when it takes them a long time to do a problem. I have seen that it sometimes takes ten or fifteen times with me walking them through every single step of the problem before it gets easier for them. It just seems to me that doing half the problems means it would take me twice as long to convey a concept, no?
Many of our subjects begin to wind down as we get into these last six weeks of school. I could breeze through the rest of our history lessons in two weeks, probably. The same goes for science and grammar. I don’t care if they don’t finish their handwriting workbooks. And another trip to the National Gallery of Art will count as completing art for the year. But math? We’ve got five and a half weeks of math to go. And finish it, we will!