Math Concepts

Consistently, every single one of my 1st and 2nd grade students has had difficulty with addition problems where one addend is missing.  4 + ? = 10.  ? + 3 = 7.  They just could not “get” that the answer was given to them. 

I would pull out blocks.  “The answer is 10,” and I would show ten blocks.  I would separate the blocks into two piles.  “You have 4 blocks.  How many more blocks do you add to get ten?”   I would point to the other pile.  The student would count the blocks and write down the correct answer.  Then I would try the next problem.  “The answer is 7,” and I would show a pile of 7 blocks.  This time I would not divide the blocks into the correct piles.  “You have 3 blocks.  How many more do you need to make 7?” 

Blank stare.

I tried examples and other manipulatives.  “There are 10 superheroes.  4 have eaten lunch.  How many more need to eat lunch?”

“There are 7 little ponies.  3 are in the stable.  How many more need to get in the stable for bedtime?”

More blank stares.  And lots of frustration on both sides.

Jenny has reached this stage in her math.  Most lessons include this sort of problem.  We’ve been having some tense moments.  Fortunately, I remembered today the one example that has worked flawlessly with every single child thus far.

“It is Billy’s 10th birthday.  I am putting the candles on his cake.  I put 4 candles on but then I have to go clean up a mess that Mary made.  How many candles do I have left to put on the cake?”  I used colored pencils and demonstrated the problem.  I could see the light bulb going off right away.  As I walked away, I could hear her saying, “It’s my 7th birthday.  I put 3 candles on the cake.  How many candles are left to put on the cake?”  When I returned a few minutes later, the problems were finished.  Each one was correct.

No more blank stares.  Hooray!

Worthy distractions

I’m trying very hard to minimize interruptions while I’m teaching. I don’t mean the internet or the phone or whatever. That’s actually not too bad…for example, Bill called today during Jenny’s reading time (a tedious and unpleasant daily ordeal) and I waved Fritz and the phone off.

Even Peter and Mary aren’t too bad with snack and entertainment requests.

No, the worst offenders are the older kids with their “I need help”s and their “Can I do art instead of math”s and their “She breathing so loudly I can’t think”s. We’re working on it. Maybe in 10 years, we’ll have order and discipline.

However, my children do have permission to interrupt if it’s really important. Like the house is on fire. Or somebody is bleeding profusely (tough call, though…sometimes I neither want to know nor care about injuries caused by lack of intelligence).

And hawk sightings. Really. It’s tough to be 12 and to know that Mom will kill you if you bother her, but know that Mom would really want to stop school to watch a broad-winged hawk. Especially when they are uncommon but migratory at this time of year.

Fortunately, I recognized his hopping from foot to foot as either a desperate need to go to the bathroom (but he’s too old for that) or that he wanted to tell me something very exciting, so I stopped, and we watched the hawk. Very cool.


It was only 17 days wait, but it seemed an eternity. I got my new computer today. My desk was rather dusty and unused. I missed it.

Now I can go online, but I have no favorites, no bookmarks, no cookies, no files, and no programs. My desktop (the virtual one) is very blank.

I’m not complaining. OK, I am. I’ve been moaning all day.


In other news, I just placed an order online for Christmas presents for the family. I think this is a record for me. I’ve been thinking about Christmas since last Christmas. Decided we’re taking a vacation to (whisper whisper). Sorry, my kids often read my blog, so I can’t speak any louder. It’s a bit south of here (but not much). The main gift is the trip, to be taken in January or February, but smaller gifts will be related to that trip. So I bought…again, my kids read my blog. Hmm. Colorful terry cloth. On sale, since the need for rectangles of colorful terry cloth is diminishing quickly as stores pull out their fall lineups.

Fall. Long sleeves. Right now, it seems so unfathomable. I can sort of imagine temperatures below 90. But below 80 is tough.


Bill has taken a few days off, so my intent to start school today was blithely put aside for next week. The public schools start on Wednesday. Despite that, it’s really hard to get in the mood.

And having a broken computer didn’t help my prep either. I’m just not ready.


Coincidentally, I’m reading Haystack Full of Needles. I say “coincidentally” because this book was not on my summer reading list, but it just came my way. I also say “coincidentally” because Fritz happens to be reading Henry V for his upcoming school year which I happen to be planning right now. And Alice Gunther just happens to have a whole chapter on doing Shakespearean plays with other homeschoolers. And I just happened to have read that this morning.

And a big part of me is saying, “Oh, I could do that. I could produce Henry V with our home school group.”

And a big part of me is saying, “No, you do not have time or energy for that.”

And the first part says, “Theater is fun! have fun with your school year!”

And the second part retorts, “Fritz does not like getting up in front of people and performing. This would not be fun.”

And the crazy side of me says, “He’ll be fine. He needs to explore new growth opportunities.”

And the debate rages on. I think it’s time to return the book.

Off to an intentionally slow start

I have nothing on my calendar for today – thank goodness. I don’t know how I always get so busy, but it is exhausting.

We started “school-lite” this week: math and Latin. That’s more than enough. I really do like easing into the school year. My two boys are using DIVE videos for the first time, so we’re figuring out how that works and also doing time management.
Two subjects, four students.

But to give you an example of the challenges I face, one student who has no desire to do math or Latin and who thinks that giving me a hard time will – I don’t know – make me decide that we should just skip those subjects? Really, I have no idea what he hopes to accomplish. Anyway, he was showing me just how difficult math is by wrinkling his brow and acting constipated. And what exactly was the problem that was giving him such trouble? Complex algebra? Long division? Word problems written in French?
9 + 8
I told him he should have picked something just a tad more difficult if he were going to pull such dramatics.
So, this is why I am glad we’re starting off small. 90 minutes more or less of school is good for the first week, especially when nobody else in the area has even begun to think about it.
One other sure sign that school has begun in my house is the antics of the younger crowd, including Jenny who is not learning Latin and whose math takes all of 15 minutes. Peter keeps begging for a playmate, so we will work on following the full school year routine I laid out which actually has someone assigned to him to keep him occupied. Jenny’s downtime has been relatively benign.
Here is her self portrait taken while waiting for Katie to finish math.

She took a half dozen pictures of the sunroom: things on the wall, the ceiling fan. Harmless, quiet self-absorption. Wish she did this more often.

Mary, of course, is the biggest trouble-maker. It’s her age-appropriate nature. First she got her hands on the white-out pens. Fortunately, I own some Goof Off. The linoleum looks just fine now.
Then it was the magic markers. She currently into body art. And even washable markers take several days for the ink to get off skin. I buy markers once a year – at the beginning of the school year. When they’re gone, they’re gone. If the kids can’t keep them put away and monitored closely when in use, they will be gone very soon.
Then it was the half-eaten yogurt all over her and the dining room table.

If you look closely, you can see the lines from the markers. Her legs are twice as bad.

Right now she’s soaking wet from playing with soapy water in the sink. It’s what I have to do to type a blog post. The floor is wet, too, but this is an easy cleanup compared to hand soap rubbed all over the bathroom mirror, another of her favorite pastimes. She’s bored now, and thus ends my writing for today.

But he was born yesterday…

I have finished lesson plans for my 1st grader, my 3rd grader and my 4th grader. They were fairly easy, since I have done those grades before.

I pulled up the 4th grade lesson plans to use them as a template for Fritz’s lesson plans. After saving with a new name, I made my first change: delete FOURTH and change it to SIXTH.

I have a sixth grader.

When did THAT happen?

End of the school year survey

What is your favorite subject and why?

Fritz: History because all you have to do is read.

Jenny: Math sticker book

Katie: Art – you get to make stuff.

Billy: History because you get to read all these great stories about the people who started our country.

Fritz: Oh, that too.

What is your least favorite subject and why?

Jenny: I don’t know.

Katie: Math – it’s hard.

Billy: Math – it’s hard.

Fritz: Math – it’s hard.

What is Mom’s favorite subject?

Peter: Running on the treadmill.

Jenny: I don’t know.

Katie: Math.

Billy: Math.

Fritz: History.

Mom: Poetry (but I love history and math, too).

What is Mom’s least favorite subject?

Jenny: disobedient children.

Katie: Religion.

Billy: I don’t know.

Fritz: None of them.

Mom: Latin – it’s hard.