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I learned early on how to teach math for K-6th grade in one year. My oldest son refused to do math curriculum. I made up for this by using Math Facts to the Max, Times Alive:Times Tables the Fun Way, Family Math, and a few other tools you can find in this math round-up post. If he wouldn’t do the typical scope and sequence math progression, then at least he’d know his math facts. Then, when he was about age 12, I decided it was time to hone the rest of his math skills, things like long division, multiplying fractions, and understanding exponents. What happened next astounded me. He filled in the gaps in less than one year. And, no math phobia.
A teacher discovered how to teach math for K-6th grade almost 100 years ago!
In 1929, a superintendent of schools, Benezet, conducted an experiment among elementary school children in New Hampshire. He was able to prove that children can learn K-6 grade math in one year. Furthermore, students who did not receive any formal math instruction until they were at least age 12 performed better than those who did. In addition, the students who participated in his experimental classrooms were the children of poor immigrants, not children of privilege. That way, no one could argue that the children performed better because of an enriched home life.
Verbal skills develop better mathematicians
Rather than teaching rote memorization of math facts, teachers encouraged young students to read and discuss lots of books. Therefore, students and teachers discussed history, literature, geography, and natural sciences and consequently, developed large vocabularies. They were encouraged not only to tell stories, but also to analyze maps, estimate time and distance, and make change for small purchases. Everyone also played games.
However, they did not do math worksheets or memorize formulas. Check out this post that includes some fun ways to do what Benezet’s students did.
The unexpected results showed that they outperformed their traditionally schooled peers on problems that required analysis and problem solving ability. They equaled their peers on calculation ability. Also noteworthy was that none of Benezet’s students had math phobia. Math was easy and natural to them.
Sudbury Schools have also proven how to teach math for K-6th grade
It is hard to believe that the Benezet study is almost a hundred years old and yet, schools keep pushing formal learning to younger and younger age groups. Even homeschoolers often fall prey to the idea of formal math instruction for very young children. In contrast, the Sudbury Valley School, under the direction of Daniel Greenburg, has repeatedly shown in the past 30-40 years that motivated children ages ten and up can learn all of K-6 math in eight weeks. Eight weeks! (If you couple that with learning to read in 30 hours or less, well, we spend an awful lot of time worrying about nothing…)
When I read these studies, I was angry. It seemed to me that all those worksheets actually made kids dumber, not smarter. They made kids hate math, not appreciate its beauty and perfection, and become afraid of it. Math is the language of the universe, the language of perfect truth, and even mathematicians would not teach math the way that we typically teach it.
So, my dear friend, don’t worry about teaching your young child math skills. Instead, do stuff. Read stuff. Discover and discuss. Then, when he is older, he will easily fill in the gaps in less than one year.
Benezet, L.P. ?The Teaching of Arithmetic I, II, and III: The Story of an Experiment. Journal of the National Education Association, vol. 24, no. 8, November 1935, pp. 241-44.
Also vol. 24, no. 9, December 1935, pp. 301-303 and vol. 25, no. 1, Jan. 1936, pp. 7-8.