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Overview of our Homeschool Plans 2019/20: Maths and Sports

As a follow on from yesterday’s post, here’s what our homeschool looks like for maths and sport.


Since the start of our home education journey, we’ve used the Math U See curriculum, which I would highly recommend (you can purchase the workbooks, DVDs and instructor’s guides on Amazon.co.uk). I’ve never once been tempted to change as it’s always worked so well for us. In this curriculum, you study a topic in depth until you have fully understood and mastered all the concepts, before moving onto the next topic. For example, you spend a whole year doing multiplication until multiplying a couple of 3 or 4-digit numbers together quickly and easily becomes second nature, before moving onto division. There are DVD lessons taught by the lovely Stephen Demme, which I watch with the Beans (he’s a much better teacher than I ever had – I’ve had many “aha” moments watching his lessons!) and then plenty of practice sheets.

I think the mastery aspects of this curriculum have served them extremely well – both of their maths skills are very good. At school, they used to do half a week of one topic, say multiplication, and then half of week of something else, say fractions, before changing to another new topic at the start of the following week. This really doesn’t give them time to fully get to grips with and explore a subject before they’re whisked off to the next, leaving their understanding superficial at best. The Math-U-See curricula allows them to develop that depth of comprehension, before building on their knowledge by moving onto something more complex.

Bean8’s maths

What homeschooling has allowed us to do is move at our own rate. If a lesson proves super simple for either of them and I’m sure they’ve fully mastered it, we’ll move quickly onto the next, related topic. On the flip side, if it’s too complex, we slow down and do plenty of practice until I’m convinced they completely understand, before moving on. Bean10 found primary level maths very easy and so we moved swiftly through, starting Algebra when she was nine. But there was a big jump in difficulty with this secondary-level textbook and she started to struggle. So, we put the brakes on and spent a lot of time on each lesson, sometimes repeating the DVD instruction, using lots of practice sheets and where needed pulling in the expertise of MrJ to explain (he did maths at university and is a definite numberphile!).

She’s about half-way through the book now, having just completed simultaneous equations, and has a good foundational understanding of the topic. Bean8 has nearly finished Epsilon (an in-depth study of fractions), which he’s finding quite easy, and will then move onto Zeta (decimals).

Some of her workings are on a separate page

One thing I really like about Math-U-See is that you’re not just taught to do a calculation and then regurgitate with no explanation as to why you’re even doing it in the first place. As an example, let’s take simultaneous equations. Many curricula would just teach you to perform the substitution or elimination method to solve for x and y, without much explanation as to why you’re doing it. But in the Math-U-See curricula, it builds it up slowly. First, there are many lessons on graphing equations and relating that to real-life examples of where this is used. Then, you move onto graphing two simultaneous equations and noting at which x, y point the two lines cross. Only at this juncture are the substitution and elimination methods introduced as a quicker, alternative way of finding the x, y coordinates for the point at which they cross. In fact, in these lessons, the child is first asked to graph the equations and estimate the x, y coordinates before then using the substitution and/or elimination method to validate their estimate. In my opinion, this approach makes for a better all-round understanding of maths.

In terms of how it works on a weekly basis, they watch the lesson on Monday and do two days of practice questions on the new topic (sheets A & B for that lesson). This is followed by two days of mixed questions (sheets D & E), which include challenges from the new lesson combined with those from a range of topics learned in previous lessons (sometimes with a brief review) to ensure they practice and retain this knowledge learned. If they need further time on a lesson, they would complete lesson C and the appropriate sheet from the Test booklet, before tackling sheets D, E & F over a two-week period instead.

On Fridays though, we move away from Math-U-See. There are a couple of topics which are not covered in the program, namely statistics and basic geometry. So, on the last day of the week Bean8 works through these topics, first using a KS2 Geometry & Measures book and when that is completed, he’ll move onto this Statistics book. These topics are relatively easy for him, so he gets through quite a lot of material each week. Every so often, I factor in a few weeks of practice of all the topics he’s learned to date using this Mental Arithmetic or Bond book.

Bean10 has completed these books, so this year she’ll focus on certain sections of the GCSE Edexcel Statistics books on Fridays (the Revision Guide and Exam Practice Workbook), which I’ll help her with (it’s the one area of maths I feel comfortable teaching!).

In addition to the above, there are a large number of ways to include maths practice into your daily lives, in budgeting, shopping, baking, sewing and DIY projects, for example. We try to get them involved in these life learning opportunities as much as possible. Travelling presents many more prospects for maths experiences: they work out exchange rates, time differences, journey times, convert miles to km, read timetables, keep us to our daily budget (they are more rigorous with this than we are!), and so much more throughout our travels.

MrJ’s holiday maths – Bean10 finding three whole number solutions to a2 + b2 = c2 on the floor of our villa

As a last note, although the Beans are now beyond this point, if you have younger children struggling with their multiplication tables, try this visual resource: Times Tales DVD. You can only buy it from Amazon.com, but it is so worth the effort of getting it shipped to the UK. For the tricky middle section of the times table grid, so the 3 to 9 square in the centre, they provide an easy, fun method of memorisation. A character is created for each number from 3-9 – Mrs Snowman represents number 8 for example, and for each times table, there is a memorable story involving the relevant numbers/characters. For 4 x 7 for example, Mrs. Week (7) is sitting on the Chair (no. 4 as it looks a bit like this number) fishing. She pulls out 2 old boots and 8 trout, so 28, the answer to 4 x 7. Sounds simple, but it’s super effective – both my children learned this way. Apparently, they still, if they ever get stuck, revert back to the relevant story in their minds!

Baking is always a favourite method of practising weights and measures!


White water rafting the Buller River in NZ was a highlight of our trip

Our focus here is to ensure they get sufficient exercise to keep them fit and healthy; spend lots of time outside; learn new skills; make new friends; and have a chance to discover novel sports for which they may develop a passion. Some activities we do in the daytime and others are afterschool/weekend classes; some are completed individually, others as a family. What they select is entirely their own choice. Bean8 in particular is obsessed with all sport! He pores over his Sportopedia book, deciding what he’d most like to try next. Fencing is highest on his wish list to try next, but I’m not quite sure how we’re going to fit that one in!

Multisports: Both children attend an hour-long home ed multisports lesson at our local stadium. In the summer, they focus on athletics, but throughout the winter, the emphasis changes to team sports and they try a wide range of sports, such as football, lacrosse, benchball, ultimate frisbee, rounders and tag rugby.

Cricket: Bean8’s favourite sport, they have weekly lessons from Jan-Aug and U11 matches throughout the summer.

Watersports: Once a month, they attend a full day watersports lesson with a small home ed group. The activities rotate between kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing. These days are always accompanied by a great deal of laughter, as the children relish the opportunity to learn and play together. They look out for each other too. I normally stay and work on a bench nearby and often hear the words, “X, are you OK?” if they’ve had a crash or accidentally capsized the boat!

Football & Hockey: Bean8 attends weekly practice for both sports, and for hockey, will shortly be playing matches in the upcoming season. He’s just started hockey and has quickly become addicted, practising his ball control around the house at any opportunity!

Dancing: Inspired by a dancing friend, Bean10 has just started weekly Ballet and Modern classes and is absolutely loving them!

Hiking/Biking/Kayaking: We’re an active family and regularly get out into the countryside either by foot, bike or in our new inflatable kayak! The Beans like tackling physical challenges, such as for example, hiking the Welsh Three Peaks earlier in the year or completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – taking six and half hours to finish New Zealand’s most popular one-day hike (see this post). Travelling often presents us with opportunities to try new sports. On our three-month trip earlier this year, they tried white water rafting, SCUBA diving, snorkelling, surfing, sea kayaking, street-luge, rock jumping, frisbee and paddock golf!

Atop Fan y Big!

Aside from the scheduled sports they do, they’re continually jumping and running around inside or in the garden at home, or in the woods, beach or meadows during our home ed meets (more on that in a later post).

So that’s it for this post – next up, how we tackle The Arts & Language learning in our homeschool.

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