Part 4 was a peek at how language arts featured in our literacy lessons. In this 5th installment, our son Elliot writes about learning numbers and math. If you have just popped in, you can catch up on our family’s homeschooling journey by checking out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
LEARNING THE 3RS: Elliot discovers numeracy
It is one of those hot, muggy Malaysian nights when Dad asks how we learnt our numbers. I shrug, and say that Mom taught us, of course. This is something painfully obvious, but he persists in asking. But how did we learn numbers? How did ones and twos and threes suddenly become something beyond scratches on a piece of paper? Mom looks at me and I look back at her. Math books? I hazard. Mom mutters something about looking at price tags while shopping. Multiplication tables? I mean, numbers don’t have a significance in our family. Words do. Words are king. I remember what the formative books of my childhood were. Formative number things? Hah.
Maybe numbers are something that just happens to you, like catching a cough or a cold. If you hang around too long with twos and fours they might start multiplying and then you are suddenly burdened with the knowledge that with the addition of a certain symbol, they equal eight. I know that at some point we became aware that numbers could interact with each other and behave in fascinating ways but as to when that point actually happened, who knows?
Some things are not meant to be questioned…
I know that numbers were never alive for me in the study room where I would sit hunched over on my chair, idly doodling on the margins of math books. They weren’t alive cross-legged in my grandparents’ house, where the stillness and quiet of the hour and the gentle creaking of the electric fan would carry my attention far from fractions and decimals.
But we memorized our tables and dutifully repeated them anyway. We did our math-work, from yellowing Lifepac materials and hardcover Saxon math books to Singaporean syllabi. These are just things that are done to children, and questioning these traditions is like asking if one can change the colour of the sky.
The verdant rainforest is something that many can only appreciate through the safety of a thick plastic shield.Small children especially, are kept away for fear of sharp objects and things that crawl into ears and do not crawl out again.Instead children are taken to zoos and museums, where each plant and animal is labelled and classified and sterilised, with ice-cream after. It’s only now, after many years without opening a math book that I’ve begun to see the forest and not the trees. It’s only now that I wish my education in numbers began a little dirtier, and a little wormier. That might have spared me hours of discontent.
Numbers come alive in unlikely places
Numbers came to life in games and books, in the practical experiences we had (like grabbing the measuring tape and checking out the dimensions of all the furniture in the house). Games like Monopoly and Risk and Scrabble all require a fundamental knowledge of addition, subtraction and multiplication, and they taught me to recognize the patterns of basic math. Books like Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth introduced mathematical concepts such as fractions and infinity with charming aplomb.
Numbers were alive to me in the counting down of the hours until Dad came home from work. Or in the hurt that PINKIES was definitely not a word and that the seventy-six points my Aunt made was distinctly unfair, never mind what the dictionary said. I remember choosing, when my brother and I were dividing our chores, to throw the garbage on even numbered dates, knowing that there were a full seven days more of odd numbered dates for him to do work on. It was glorious in its smallness.
So, my numbers were learnt in relation to things that were not numbers. But If you really want to know where I got my numbers, I found them lying around the house. Someone had left them there, I think. How very terribly careless.
22-year old Elliot Tan’s parents are founders of HOMEFRONTIER David and Sook Ching Tan. Elliot plays the piano in church and occasionally leads worship. When not sleeping too much for his parents’ liking, he reads and does things on the computer and occasionally writes weird things. Surprisingly and in spite of his upbringing, he scored an A for Math in his IGCSE O Levels. He was in university studying Communications for a while, but took a break and is now in the process of what people call ‘finding themselves’. He also teaches English in Frontier Learning Centre and have an affinity for potatoes.