unschooling, graph paper and place value

As most regular readers of this blog know, I am an unschooler. I think children learn best when allowed to follow their interests. I still feel that way – completely – yet I am asking the girls to do enough math drill daily so that they stay approximately at grade level. It ends up being about ten or fifteen minutes a day. They don’t mind it, and have asked for their “school math” before too.

It’s not that I think they wouldn’t learn it on their own given time. I do think that. But I worry that some Family Court judge wouldn’t feel that way, and the more weird things you have going for you the worse it gets. And I’m pretty weird, I reckon. I know I’m paranoid, but we’ve had an unfounded run-in with CPS before and I know what they ask. Is it legal for them to ask my kids “What’s thirty four minus twelve?” No, it is not. Will that fact keep my kids from foster care if some social worker determines on the fly that they are educationally neglected? No, it will not. Hence the math drill. I also want them to be able to enter school at grade level if they ever had to because of some family crisis.

Everywhere else they stay on grade level. We have subscriptions to Ranger Rick and National Geographic Kids; both magazines are devoured the moment they hit the mailbox. They read whatever they want in the kid fiction department, and read Newberry books or quality nonfiction with Sean at night. We have a subscription to Brain Pop as well, which has hundreds of short videos on every topic you can imagine. They write and draw stories and type on the computer constantly. So they stay in the ballpark (schoolyard?) for everything but mathematics. I know they’d get it on their own if I gave them time. I freely admit that this is all me.

I have officially outed myself as an incomplete unschooler! But not really, do you see? If there was no external timeline I wouldn’t be doing this. It’s all fear based, and I’m okay with that. I hope my unschooler friends don’t hate me now. I know the ones who are really my friends will understand.

So after all that, my point. Ahem.

Abby is having a tough time with place value right now. I just printed out some graph paper to see if that will help, to see that ten ones make ten, and ten tens make one hundred, etc. I looked into buying some Cuisenaire rods but they just look like expensive choking hazards, frankly. Lakeshore Learning has some cute little manipulatives that are the same way.

So what have you done to help your kids “get” place value? That didn’t involve teeny killer plastic or wooden bits, I mean.

8 thoughts on “unschooling, graph paper and place value

  1. Back in that unschoolin’ closet, fee! 😉 C’s interests are all over the place and she has no learning style that I can fathom. For her, when she was puzzling over larger numbers, I just wrote out a number like 1467 and covered the 146 and said how 7 just says 7, then covered just the 4 and said numbers next to their say their number and then 7 (she had already counted by 10, 20, 30…) and then for the 4 I just said that numbers there ‘say a hundred’ four hundred + sixty + seven

    then numbers there say a thousand … We haven’t done rods yet and I haven’t done the formal tens, hundreds concept. C seemed to ‘get it’ better by my just writing out the numbers 1-100 w/ 10 in each row, then she could see the ’10’ leap from 27 to 37 to 47.

    okay….all this babbling to say, I’m just winging it. Stacking pennies also helped, but again…choking hazard!

  2. so, i had a huge problem with this when i was in school.

    with my boys at school, we do a calendar group & count how many days we’ve been in school. then we move that number to a pocket chart that has a separate pocket for hundreds, tens, and ones. then we put the correct number of coffee straws in the correct pocket, single straws for ones place, groups of tens for tens place, and 10 groups of 10 for hundreds place. i’ll switch from asking them what number is in the ones place/tens place/hundreds place, and also ask them “what place is the number ___ in?” we also tape the number on the wall and they write the number.

    when the boys that are working on place value practice adding & subtracting double & triple digit numbers, the problems have dashed lines between the numbers & “hundreds,” “tens,” and “ones” is written above each column. i made some master worksheets if you’d like me to e-mail you a copy. 🙂

  3. UUUUHHHHM! I’m telling, you’re not a real unschooler!

    😛 Like we think that way. Besides, your kids LIKE math, you can’t trick me with that….geeks.


    I don’t know what to tell you with the place values. I think my girls picked it up from some online gaming site. If you can get past the BS on this website
    It has some good ideas for teaching place values. It was helpful to ME to understand it when I was trying to figure out how to teach it to Bre. Then I just realized Bre really doesn’t care about place value.

  4. Gasp!! Labels, smabels! Only love for you and yours.
    I’ve never “taught” place value but some things that the kids have enjoyed playing with here are: beans, popsicle sticks (you can even glue ten beans on one stick), cuiseniare rods (no one has choked yet!), staws, buttons, blocks, legos. You get the picture. She’ll get it in time.

  5. We are pretty much all-but-math unschoolers for exactly the same reasons! And I have a great set of cuisenaire rods that stay packed away so that the baby doesn’t eat them.

    When Margaret was learning place value we did everything with money, pennies, dimes, dollars (I had baggies with 100 pennies in them). I’m not sure if that’s how she actually learned it, but that’s what I did to teach it, lol.

    Oh, and 100 number charts are useful visual aids also.
    HTH, Keri

  6. I could not for the life of me understand place value as a kid! They intro’d it to us when I was in 1st grade. I loved playing with the manipulatives, but I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t until 6th grade that the lightbulb went on and I suddenly understood.

    Anyways, all that just to say that I still got straight A’s in math every year and was in the advanced class, even though the concept was lost on me.

  7. I asked Paul’s mom what she did and she seconded the pocket chart idea, only she used popsicle sticks instead of coffee straws. She also said that she just saw pocket charts on sale at Mardel’s for $5. (On a side note, I replied to your email, so if you haven’t gotten my reply you might check your spam box.) =P

  8. Do you know anybody that can do very basic woodworking? If so, you could make ‘large scale” cuisinarre rods, where the smallest “rod” was big enough to not be a choking hazard. They are set up to be 1cm x 1 cm as is, but other than the fact that size lends itself to actual measurements a little easier, the concept would be the same even if the rods were bigger. They are a set of 10 rods, where the smallest rod is a cube, and each progressive size just adds another cube to it’s length until you have a 10-cube length rod.

    Ok..to answer the original question…an abacus might work? It wouldn’t be a choking hazard and would still be physical. The kindergarten Zane went to for his short stint in government school did the straw in pocket thing too.

    And, you, like me, have discovered the fun of changing unschooling to fit the needs of the family, even if it is the need to be able to withstand more scrutiny than the average family. We are both at a higher risk with a SN child in the mix and being on the poorer end of the financial spectrum. It is frustrating though because I suspect you believe in the intrinsic value of radical unschooling, but just aren’t able to make it work well for your exact family situation.

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