Math. Oh the tears…I’ve never met a homeschooling mama who hasn’t seen her share of math tears (or shed a few)! I even love math—but I’ve witnessed some pretty serious math meltdowns at my own kitchen table. On the bright side, one particular child, who came at me daily with her math tantrums—now loves math, is acing calculus, and wants to be an aeronautical engineer. Moral of the story—don’t give up! You can do this and so can your kids!
I’m in my 3rd round of homeschooling middle school—it’s one of my favorite stages to teach. Middle schoolers are independent (my job is getting easier—sometimes I actually shower before lunch with all this free mom time)! The depth of subject material is interesting and fun to discuss…However, many moms feel uneasy about teaching math at the middle school level, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some best practices I’ve learned over the years…
5 Tips for Middle School Math Success
While flexibility is one of my main mantras for teaching middle schoolers, math is an exception. It may be okay to spend two or three days working on a week’s worth of history or science…However, this method does not fly for math. Math needs to be practiced daily. I let my daughter decide when she is going to sit down and do her math—but it is part of her daily “to-do,” list. It’s just too hard and too much for kids to cram in several math lessons during one sitting. And for many kids, math is a brain workout—it takes daily exercise and repetition to build math strength and confidence!
Ahh…this can be a tricky trap for us middle school moms! We see so many signs of independence in our growing kiddos…We want to believe they are getting everything done…They even said, “Yep, everything is done, Mom…” Umm—I’ve learned we still need to check on that. It’s not that our kids are necessarily lying to us (but that can definitely be a temptation). Instead, often my kids’ idea of “done,”and my idea of “done,” are not the same—or they just totally forget to do something (because they are 13). Here’s what I’ve found helps:
* Have your child do practice problems and take any notes in a math notebook—check it daily!
* If applicable, grade their assignments daily. I currently use Teaching Textbooks, so the grading is done for me (LOVE)—but I still peek at my online grade book several times a week to check my daughter’s scores and progress.
* Give a grade for math—this is one of the easiest subjects to evaluate and keep records for! Middle school is a great time to practice keeping more formal records as preparation for high school, and math is the perfect subject to start with!
3. Adjust Lessons as Needed:
In the past, one of my kids’ biggest complaints about math was the sheer volume of work. So. Much. Repetition. Each curriculum is going to offer a different amount of practice. Please never feel like you have to assign it all to your student. This is the art of teaching—adjusting the lessons, assignments, and evaluations to meet your child’s needs. For example, Saxon Math (which I love—but don’t currently use)—includes about 30 problems daily. Often I would have my kids do the evens/odds. Sometimes the kids would pick 5 problems, and I would pick 5 problems. I might additionally assign any problems from the last 3 lessons. They very rarely worked all 30 problems! In Saxon, tests are scheduled every 5 lessons—I used my executive mom teaching power and vetoed that right away. Instead we tested every 10 lessons. You get to make some decisions here—don’t be afraid to adjust the curriculum to work for you!
4. Direct Instruction:
Your teaching role in middle school is evolving. In many ways, I see myself more as a facilitator than teacher at this level. However, math is once again an exception! Math is a subject that still requires direct instruction during the middle school years. You cannot expect most kids to run off with a math text and be able to comprehend the lesson. Thankfully homeschoolers have many quality resources and curriculum choices to help with this crucial work. You will prefer one program over another depending on your comfort level with math, your child’s learning style, and your available time for teaching. My own experiences are with Saxon Math and Teaching Textbooks—both are excellent choices, but entirely different approaches (we do have less tears with Teaching Textbooks).
What if you find math confusing and difficult to teach? Teaching Textbooks delivers online instruction to your child—perfect if you are short on time or would prefer to not be the primary teaching source. Saxon Math is written to teach the reader—so by studying and working through the lesson before your child, you will be prepared to teach them the lesson. In addition, several companies offer DVD’s/CD-ROMs to accompany Saxon Math Lessons. I’ve never used them personally—but other moms have tried the videos with great success! Whatever curriculum you choose—don’t be afraid to change course if it’s not working for your child or situation.
5. Fill in the Gaps:
Homeschooling middle school allows us to fill in the learning gaps before high school. Some kids may be ready for Algebra 1 in 8th grade—but many aren’t (so don’t feel bad if that includes your child). Accept where your child is currently, and work towards solidifying skills needed for success in Algebra 1. If they need to be more proficient in basic arithmetic, add some math fact sheets into your lesson plans once or twice a week. Focus on mastering fractions, decimals, and percentages—major concepts that are foundational to beginning Algebra.
You’ve Got This!
Middle school is a great time to strengthen our kids’ math skills, recognize and fix errors in their mathematical reasoning, and set a foundation for future success in high school math courses. Math has been a subject my middle schoolers still actually need my help with—don’t forget to cherish that! Also, be sure to cherish these fleeting middle school years. Before long you may have one in Calculus!
Jen Mercking xo
What is your best tip for homeschooling middle school math?
Jen Merckling is a former elementary teacher and has been homeschooling her 6 kids for 14 years–she’s got 3 teens, a kindergartener, and 3-year old miracle twins. In the middle of dishes, diapers, and laundry–you can find her blogging about the homeschool life at jenmerckling.com. Follow her on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!
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