Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!

The Math Wars


I love my daughter. Unfortunately, she hates anything that might challenge her in any way. Reading was a nightmare. Writing her paper was almost an exercise in madness. Today it was math.

Now, Corde is not dumb by any means. She memorized her poem and the character trait both in one day, and on the same day too! She understands concepts about literature and environmental issues better than most adults I know. She can accomplish just about anything she sets her mind to. The problem is getting her to set her mind to it.

For Corde, anything that isn’t what she wants to do is something she’ll be stubborn about. I can take a simple thing to give her confidence in her skills and it turns into a battle of wills. She will sulk, mope, cop attitude, and in general be a nightmare to be around when she doesn’t want to do something I merely suggest she might like, if only she’ll give it a chance.

Today that something was math. We were adding two digit numbers so she can learn to carry the ten on paper. She does it fine if she can count it out, but I really think it’s important that she understands how to budget, and being able to add up sums without a calculator handy can be useful. Keeping all the numbers straight in her head is a challenge for her, so I wanted to teach her how to do it on paper. She thought that was a great idea. Well, she did until she started getting problems wrong.

Corde has been my biggest challenge. Unless she gets everything right all the time she gets frustrated and quits. If I were to give her a hundred problems, instead of seeing how many she got right, she’d focus on the fact that she didn’t get them all right. Just one problem wrong is enough to have her hating math and swearing she does everything wrong. If she gets one word wrong while reading out loud it’s the end of the world. Suddenly she can’t read because she must be stupid, she’ll never get to spend time with her friends, and other drama.

All of this wasn’t helped by her dad. He had her convinced she couldn’t even read at a first grade level and that she couldn’t do math. Rather than letting her figure it out her own way, he insisted she rattle off answers like she was being quizzed. Talk about being put on the spot! He had her convinced she would never learn how to spell. It was horrible. We spent a lot of the day bashing heads because I was trying to get her to stop copping an attitude over everything and she was convinced she’d never do anything in her life because she’s too dumb. It was frustrating. By the time she finally decided she lover math I was ready to pull out my hair! Now it’s being with two overly tired kids that want to talk all night and not sleep. I’m exhausted. I’m tired of fighting with Corde. When the two of us aren’t bashing heads she’s picking on her brother’s and causing fights with them. I know this is the direct result of their dad dropping them like a bad habit as soon as it became clear he wasn’t getting custody. Every time he pops in and out of her life we go through this. Surprisingly, this time it’s not so bad.

I just wish Corde would open up and start challenging herself like most of her friends do. I would be happy to go back to radical schooling instead of including this more formal stuff if she’d actually do more than pick on her brother’s and boss them around. If she would pick up a book and read, ask to go places, anything. Unfortunately, that’s not happening. She isn’t choosing to learn anything if she can avoid it. Instead she talks about all these lies her non-homeschooling friends tell her and doesn’t seem the least bit interested in anything else. Most of her time is spent in the unproductive habit of picking on and harassing her brothers, which disrupts the whole family. It’s one of the very few things she’s self-directed about doing. It’s exhausting for me to spend all day butting heads with her or breaking up fights!

Thankfully we don’t seem to be having these problems with the boys. Beekee is learning how to read in a slow and painful way by learning how to write. By painful I mean painful for me to watch. It seems so backwards. He’s already asking about math. Sander wants me to teach him to read, write, and do math too. Hopefully that means they’ll at least stay with it long enough to learn the basics.

So I leave you with this, can a kid learn how to read by learning to write? How would you handle the constant struggle with Corde? Let’s get the discussion going! I have a lot of readers, but everyone is so silent these days!


Author: Fox

With four kids, who has time for much? We spend a lot of time together, which translates to a lot of knitting time for me when we hang out. We've been trying to get back to our unschooling roots. We watch a lot of videos, play a lot of games, and pay attention to the things we notice in our everyday life. It's been quite the big adventure!

4 thoughts on “The Math Wars

  1. I am by no means as far as your family when it comes ro reading. My daughter is only 5 and we just started to learn to read last year. My approach was to start with sight words while reading to her. I would point out a new word and habe her recognize it and say it when the word came up in our books. We got up to about 20 words by the end of the year. I had always thought the best wa y to learn to read was by…. reading. If that makes sense. But my husband brought up a new concept to me over the summer. Copy work. I’m going to give it a try this year. I guess tje idea is as they learn to write the words they learn to read the words easier. Not sure if this comment helps you but I’m going to give it a try and see. But I’m also going ro continue to read to her and point out new sight words as we go. And I’m incorporating sight word games too. As for dealing with corde….. good luck with that. I habe no idea what I would do.

    • I have a hatred of sight words. Sight words teach a child to recognize words. Phonics teach a kid to decode words so they can learn new words without someone having to teach them. If I had been taught sight words instead of soundingbthings out I probably wouldn’t feel so strongly about it, but I’m of the opinion sight words don’t teach kids to decode the words in front of them. It teaches them to work within a limited vocabulary of words they recognize. I suppose you can always add phonics after the child has a grasp of some basic words. I suppose that’s exactly how unschoolers do it to some degree.

      Copy work is exactly what we’re doing. I learned wwith vocabulary words in school that the best way to get a new word firmly lodged in my head is to write it. Something about writing the new word a few times over is like etching it on my brain. Sure, I’ll still misspell it until I learn to spell it right, but I could always recognize the word. It also teaches kids to write at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. On top of that, it can encourage phonics as kids will say their letter sounds as they write each letter, at least a lot of kids. I know do. That’s the theory at least. Surprisingly, Beekee loves copy work. This probably won’t be surprising, but Corde hated it. It will be interesting to see how Sander and Luca feel about it when they’re old enough to learn to read and write.

  2. I was hesitant to respond as I don’t have kids. All I can really comment on is my experience… I was reading/writing by kindergarten, I was only happy if I had a pen and paper in my hand. I never coloured, I hated TV, never played with toys, I just wanted to write and read. I do believe because of that, reading and writing are so closely intertwined if can learn one to improve the other. I was so in love with my books I would sit there and write out pages at a time which lead me to learning to “sound it out” on my own… My sister was classified as a “late” reader. She struggled in grade 1, so my mom came up with little poems for her which helped a lot! “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking” (for example ‘team’, the ‘e’ is pronounced). Breaking up compound words and seeing them smaller made a huge difference also (snow-man, cross-walk, etc). Flash cards are great for easy memorization – seeing the photo with the word….. what about reading groups? book clubs? something to make her enthusiastic and wanting to try.. As for dealing with behavior, I just wish you luck – I would have turned to wine. I found I would pick fights with my sister when I needed a break and needed time away from her. I was enrolled in cooking and art classes growing up. If I acted up during the week and picked fights with her, I would lose the privilege of attending for a week. It most definitely worked for me – but my parents were hard ass europeans.

    • I would love to have classes or something for Corde. They’re all just so expensive. I might be able to find something free for her to do instead. It certainly is something to try!

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