Posted in Writing Life

*Math and Kids

There are people who get numbers and people who don’t. And the people who don’t just have to muddle through school as best they can until they can leave the dreaded, horrible, confidence eroding subject behind. Later they will have calculators. Later they will hire people to do their taxes and forget this miserable part of their life. Right? Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! It doesn’t have to be that way.

This is something I am passionate about because of personal experience with friends and family members who have struggled with math, especially those of an artistic bent. People who have wonderfully visual brains and terrific spacial sense (which I unfortunately lack, having to wrack my brains to get that the world is round) think about numbers differently than I do.

Here’s an example. I was working with one of my children on homework, trying to come up with a similar word problem to the assigned one. So I said to my artist girl, let’s say there is a road and the road is 100 metres (about 300 ft) and the car is 10 metres long. How many cars can park in the road? My child replies, “Mom cars are not 10 metres long.” I had to think about that for a while. Oh yeah, she was right. Ummmm, could it be a river and a boat? “Mom, what kind of boat?” A ferry. Fine. But even with the ferry, I couldn’t explain how to do the problem in a way that made sense to her.

And so we struggled. It is not pleasant to struggle with one’s child, wanting desperately to figure out how to explain things to this person whose strengths are opposite mine and failing. Seeing that bright intelligent face dimmed. Again. Again. I despaired. And then I stumbled across the solution.

This is what I want to share with the world: JUMP Math. It stands for “junior undiscovered math prodigy.” The program was designed by John Mighton, a playwright who is a genius at teaching math. The series goes from grade 3 to grade 8 right now, but high school level workbooks are in development.

This book, which is cheap and available in a format both for schools and as a home workbook, teaches math step by step through simple building blocks, always beginning with the basics of counting. I could kiss John Mighton! Okay maybe not–but a hug, yes. Many many hugs. I recently found out that he has donated all the copyrights to this series to a charity, which uses the proceeds from the sale of the books to fund free copies to Big Sisters’ and Big Brothers’ programs for kids that can’t afford it.

We got the book midway through the school year and have been working on a couple of pages every other day. We are now halfway through. Concepts that seemed to be in an alien language at Christmas time are now solidly understood. I can’t tell you how wonderful it’s been to hear my child say, “I get it. It’s easy. I’m good at math.” And it’s true. I just wish that I had known about this series a year ago. My other child, who thinks more like I do, will soon start on the workbook, too, because solid teaching is good for all kids. I have no personal connection with John Mighton–but someday I hope to meet him and at least shake his hand.

Please–if you know anyone with kids, tell them about this series, especially if math has been a challenge. It can be a joy. Pass the word.

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Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

15 thoughts on “*Math and Kids

  1. My son has overtaken me in maths now – I leave that to my husband. I was okay at maths at school but gave it up as soon as possible and have now even forgotten how to long divide!

    I wish something like that book existed for teaching foreign languages which my son loathes. Ironic, really, when French was the subject I taught at university. But it can sometimes be very difficult for mums to help their children out. I’m so glad you found such a wonderful, reliable way to help your daughters.

  2. Led by Architect and Instructor Derek Hoeferlin in Spring 2008, a senior undergraduate architecture design studio at Washington University in St. Louis as part of the CITYbuild Consortium of Schools, designed and built a chicken coop and a goose coop for God’s Vineyard Community Garden in New Orleans, Louisiana. The garden, technically an urban farm, is co-directed by Noel Jones and Earl Antwine. Half of the farm is for vegetables, primarily devoted to growing hot peppers.

  3. Well, maybe interestingly enough, no he isn’t. He has very natural rhythm but always refused point blank to play any instruments. I can quite see the music link, though, because languages are all about having an ear for them. My son has a tiny dyslexic issue with translating what he hears into words, so you can see how that might make languages a problem. It’s not enough to bother with special needs (an expensive, difficult route to go down still) but we do see the effects of it in his writing. I need someone to make a good computer game out of French vocab – that might do the trick! 🙂

  4. How I wish this had been around in my day, when my memory of learning math centers around crying because I erased my workpages so many times they tore!

  5. Wow, what a nice story, and what a great book. I needed help with math, all those years ago. Now I do the tax work and the accounting and the bills in my house. I try not to wonder if I’m still not so good at math.

  6. litlove–i bet there is a computer game somewhere!

    becca–oh my heart goes out to you.

    beth–that’s funny! i was actually pretty good at math. but i handed bill paying over to my h because i lose track of time!

  7. I used to be good at Maths – aside from English, it was my best subject until I stopped caring about it aged 17 – but I can’t imagine having to teach it to a child. If my own time ever comes, I’ll be asking you to remind me about this book one day!

    I also wish there was something similar for learning languages. I would love to learn Italian or French but am terrified and show no natural gift for foreign tongues. Most depressing for someone who lives for language.

  8. I empathize, Di. My accent stinks and I don’t have much facility for picking up languages. General communication skills compensate so I can make the most of very little, but still have had some embarrassing moments trying to speak and making no headway because the words in my head come out so differently in my mouth.

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