Teaching Math Without Textbooks

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Is it Possible to Teach Math Without Textbooks?

Definitely!  Read on to learn some fun ways you can begin teaching math without boring, dusty old textbooks!

Most people either love math, or they hate it. These feelings are usually the result of how competent a person feels about his or her math skills, and unfortunately, many adults have negative feelings about math from their early childhood education experiences. 

Personally, I love math. I was good at it as a child, and the method of instruction worked for me. I was excited about timed tests, eager to spout off memorized math facts, and willing to ask questions when I didn’t understand. But traditional math instruction was a great source of anxiety for many of my peers and many homeschool parents I have talked to. The teaching methods didn’t make sense to them, and they came away from math education full of anxiety that has persisted through adulthood. In fact, an article from PRNewsWire.com states that “75% of students reported hearing a parent or other adult speak negatively about math with almost half (44%) hearing adults say, “I hate math.”

Negative feelings about math are usually related to traditional teaching methods used in elementary education and unfortunately, are transmitted to our children, influencing their feelings about math. But math is a beautiful and useful language.  As homeschooling parents, we can heal from our own experiences and teach better than we were taught. 

The goal of elementary math is true understanding and mastery of arithmetic and computational principles. Curriculum is used in public school settings for obvious reasons: it makes teaching a large group of children more manageable and makes assessment easy and efficient. When math is taught in this mind-based way, the focus is typically memorization, drill, and speed, but we know that these methods don’t create understanding for all children. Math taught in a heart-based way, however, has practical application and concrete understanding for its main goals to create a whole new and much more positive and useful experience for all types of learners. 

Heart-based math instruction can be utilized in any setting, but it is especially easy to implement in our homeschooling families where we can work one-on-one or in very small groups of siblings. Four main resources can be utilized in heart-based math instruction to create math mastery and proficiency in a way that is enjoyable, applicable, and practical to create true understanding. 

Instructional Math Books (NOT Textbooks!)

There are many instructional math books that teach math in a living, story-based way. Stories are powerful teaching tools and are effective for all subjects, including math!

Books like Do Not Open This Math Book, The Times Machine, and Bedtime Math all give math instruction just like a textbook does, but they use illustrations, humor, and connection to bring theoretical principles into the concrete physical world, which is exactly what children need! They use plain and fun language to help kids develop a more solid understanding of math principles. 

These books encourage counting on fingers and number lines, using ten frames and mental math, and using real-world objects to make math a practical part of life and a reasonable and desirable method for solving everyday problems. They involve the imagination by asking the child to pretend to be a detective, a sandwich, or a baker.

Parents can use instructional math books to cover the entire scope of elementary math topics including basic and advanced arithmetic from addition to division. These books are wonderful teaching tools and are much more effective than textbooks for many children because of the story-based method of solving number problems that involve the parent and child together in a way that is not intimidating for either. 

Examples from The Mindful Heart Math Packs:

Math Storybooks

Instructional math books cover a wide variety of topics like a textbook does but in a story-based way. Math storybooks cover a single topic in more depth and utilize the benefits of story-based teaching to its full extent.  They are especially helpful for early elementary children.

Math storybooks can take familiar characters (Curious George, for example) and teach the most basic math skills like counting, grouping, and mapping. Other storybooks are more detailed and advanced, like the Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwander, which teaches midlevel math concepts like geometry and advanced arithmetic. Familiarity and repetition are the main tools of math storybooks, which are intended to be read through repeatedly and start teaching math in a very gentle and fun way. 

The parent-child connection is the foundation upon which these methods work. Sitting with a child in your lap, enjoying a silly story creates positivity and enjoyment around math, which is how math teaching should begin! 

Examples from The Mindful Heart Alpha Math Pack:

Math Games

Playing games is one of the easiest ways to teach math without textbooks!  Most children enjoy games, and most games require some math proficiency for success. Children want to be successful! In my experience, teaching math through games motivates children to practice and improve their math skills without any prodding from parents. I’ve even had children ASK for math help to increase their success in playing games with siblings. Isn’t that the goal of education, for a child to have the desire to learn and come to you for help?!? 

Math games are available in a very wide range of appropriate ages and skill levels. Almost all preschool games teach number sequence, recognition, and fluency, whether they are specifically math-themed or not. Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry all teach math skills and can be played by preschool- or kindergarten-aged children, effectively teaching them an entire year’s worth of math curriculum! Fortunately, the children’s game market has blossomed in the last decade, and many far better options exist than the games previously mentioned to teach these basic skills and more. 

Many math-specific games exist to provide play-based ways to increase proficiency and speed with arithmetic and other operations, and these games are wonderful! But ALL games require some math. This is an area where finding a game that matches a child’s interest is perhaps more effective than choosing a game based on which skills it targets. Play-based math instruction is effective regardless of the specific game! 

One of the best parts of playing games to teach math is that they encourage sibling collaboration. Older siblings can teach younger children basic math by playing games together, lightening your teaching load and strengthening family relationships.

Examples from The Mindful Heart Zeta Math Pack:

Math Activities

Most children benefit from tactile and sensory teaching methods. Math activities are another way to bring the abstract nature of numbers and arithmetic into the concrete physical world. Activities are a great way to provide diversity in teaching methods. Change and variety is refreshing for all types of learners!

A broad range of math activities are available; the important thing is to focus on individual interests to target weak areas. Dry-erase number cards could be just right for a child who needs more practice with the physical dexterity of forming numbers. Books of puzzles and challenges that start easy and gradually get more difficult can help a child strengthen abstract thinking and reasoning skills. Solving math facts to create a picture can simultaneously target arithmetic and beginning graphing skills. Other activities can help children find math in unexpected places like art or science and help children view math as part of a cohesive body of knowledge rather than an isolated subject. 

Math activities change the presentation of the necessary skills, solidifying and deepening a child’s understanding. Children can’t fake their way through a set of math puzzles if they don’t truly understand the principles being used. Math activities give kids a fun way to round out their skills, broaden their math thinking, and create a deeper understanding of how to apply what they know and strengthen areas of weakness.


Examples from The Mindful Heart Math Packs:

Teaching math doesn’t have to be overwhelming or unpleasant. Whether your own experience was good or bad, teaching elementary math can be the best part of your school day. What other single subject incorporates stories, manipulatives, games, puzzles, and collaboration?!? 

Instructional math books, math storybooks, math games, and math activities can transform math in your homeschool from drudgery to delight. Visit TheMindfulHeart.com for a carefully chosen list of math-teaching tools organized by developmental level and discover the fun and wonderful side of math. Leave the textbooks and tears behind and embrace this method of teaching math in a play- and heart-based way. You can do it!


Explore more ways to make math engaging and fun with all of the Math Ideas here on Teach Beside Me!

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