Let's talk about Living Math at all ages, but specifically at older/middle school ages when kids get bored, attitude, etc about math, and before they "wake up" to want to do math in later high school.
We all know how to do this in preschool: point out something and ask, "How many birds are on that fence? How many toes do you have? What shape is that? There are 4 sides and 4 corners. It's a square." This is natural and easy for most of us, and our preschoolers and kindergartners learn rapidly this way.
It's usually still easy for most of us with obvious math activities for elementary ages like baking and using simple fractions, number fridge magnets, jotting down simple equations like 2+3=?, kids paying for simple things or making change with their cash, or opening up a bank account.
But somewhere around 3rd grade we lose our ability to find life situations that need the kids to learn, and therefore invite us to teach simple concepts like multiplication tables, long division, more complex fractions, decimals, and percents. As time goes on, we rely more and more on dry, boring math textbooks and less and less on letting real life decide what math problems get done.
Oral and living math, in my experience, is sufficient for daily usage math up through algebra, and as I gain more experience, even beyond. Most of us as adults remember none of our algebra and calculus unless we are in a math-related career field. Most of us as adults cannot confidently perform daily use math ourselves, such as learning simple tricks for estimating a running total of our grocery bill to stay on budget, add up long columns of numbers, do mental calculations of more than 2 digit addition, confidently divide a restaurant bill or sales profits at a Girl Scout Cookie booth. I've found homeschool parents to be generally more able in these skills than the general population because they tend to pay more attention as the sole educators of their children, but I still hear most homeschool moms lament they're not good at math and therefore not qualified to teach their children. They turn to a formal math curriculum.
Then begins the hunting and the spending to find that perfect fit of curriculum to kid to make them "love" math, when at best it makes math tolerable on most days, and truly interesting on a few of them. When I took my oldest out of public school, she left a dynamic, passionate math teacher, tested into GT math for middle school, and came home to Saxon. Few will argue that Saxon isn't solid. Most agree it's boring with excessive review, but that's what spiraling to mastery looks like. It turned my daughter who loved math, intrigued by the fun puzzle, to a dawdling, spinning in her chair, playing with her eraser math hater.
But I carried on! She went through an entire year of Saxon, and the next year when she switched to Teaching Textbooks for pre-algebra, my 3rd-grade son dawdled his miserable way through a year of Saxon. Because I was a good homeschool mom. I knew they would get used to it if we just persevered. I knew they would thank me later for forcing them through this. I wasn't a passionate, dynamic math teacher, and homeschooling more little ones while working a part time job meant that I didn't have the time nor inclination to put on a daily dog and pony circus show to help my kids get excited about math.
We switched to computer-based methods like Khan Academy online, Timez Attack facts, digital flash cards, or innovative alternative textbooks like MEP, and literature based Life of Fred. Each kid was doing something different, as long as their daily quota of math was checked off. After 2 1/2 years of slogging through each curriculum, becoming more bored, more disconnected, I heard about Living Math, like Charlotte Mason's "living books" eschewing dry textbooks, and thought I finally found something! However, reading over how to tease math out of classic children's books and daily life taught me I didn't need a curriculum. I didn't need anyone telling me how to present the scope and sequence of what average kids should learn on average time tables, which was always changing depending on what expert was in charge that year (Common Core, anyone?)
So instead, I made a mental list of math skills I wanted my kids to have when they left my home, or began college courses. Then with that list in the conscious brain, I began to find those situations in daily life and point them out. The list wasn't exhaustive, and I add things to it as I realize math in my own life, or add details. Oral math became our main method of instruction. And talking about math like it was a normal part of life brought it alive for my kids. Sometimes they asked questions like "how do I double this recipe?" or "how many days until my birthday?" that I could use as opportunities to help them do meaningful math at age-appropriate times.
"What day of the month is your birthday on? Look at a calendar and tell me what day it is today. Now, take that number of days away from your birth date." Often met with, "Mom! I just want you to TELL me," were met right back with doing out loud as I explained. And anyways an inviting, "Let me know when you care more about it to learn how to figure it out."
Having a list of priorities helped me respect MY ability to teach valuable math skills to my children rather than choking down an entire curriculum, thinking they knew better than me what was important in adult life. In textbook math, story problems are the worst, yet we as parents know those are the most important. Now all of life is a series of story problems!
In my next post, I'll record that list of priorities, then in a series share examples of how I teach those concepts in meaningful ways without rigor and tears in a way that prepares them with the skills and confidence to take on advanced math in college at young ages.