Thursday, April 17, 2014

Life in an Instagram: Unschooling Math & Science

I recently obtained an abacus, and boy has it been a hit in our house.  To be honest, I didn't know how an abacus worked until recently when the kids and I YouTubed (that's a word, right?) how to use one. Ever since, we've all wanted one.

They first came across an abacus on Khan Academy.  The kids love watching the free videos available on the website (especially the videos on art).  Anyway, after seeing "That Khan Guy" use one, the kids were eager to learn all about it, and, admittedly, so was I.  I actually wanted to go out and buy one right then and there (I'm a little impatient), but I forced myself to wait.  (By the way, an Instagram friend said she got hers at Ikea. They're only $9.99 there! Melissa and Doug sells them too. If you're in a crafty mood, you can make one as well.)

This morning, the munchkins were actually arguing over who got to use it first and finally came to the conclusion that they should take turns.  About a year ago, I was wringing my hands in panic because my oldest kiddo seemed to not get math at all. I tried about every way I could to explain it to her. Then I decided I should just stop. I was getting frustrated in my efforts, and we all know that a frustrated mama doesn't help.  Even when I tried to remain calm, I knew she could feel my impatience, and I hated feeling that way, so I was even more frustrated with myself.  Such an icky cycle.

So I bought a Math-U-Can-See video for her to watch (whenever she wants), showed the kids how to access Khan Academy, and set up a basket of manipulatives and other mathy things, in case she feels like doing it.  She loves to cook, too, and I've been trying to especially include her when I need to measure things out. (I'm not the sort that measures things out since I tend to eye it, so I have to remember that she enjoys measuring and it's a great way for her to do some math).

Once I took my hands off the situation, she began to pursue it herself. In fact, she often comes to me and asks me to write math problems on a piece of paper for her so she can solve them.  The other day she told me, "I really love math."

"Yeah? I'm glad! Why do you love it?"
"Because I love writing."

Hmm. She's so much like her mother.  As a kid, I excelled in math, and I genuinely loved it... because I enjoyed writing.  

Today she wanted to see what all of the beads would add up to be. What's really interesting is that the calculator on my phone couldn't even calculate as high as the abacus. (Technology fail!)

The littles have really loved it as well. Evangeline slides the beads, "One, two, free, six, eleventy, thurteen, fourteen, fifteen, twenty-one..."

I'm thinking I should buy another one.  Soon. I saw a really massive one someone was using as nursery wall art on Pinterest. That would be super fun to have in our new house (which is coming along nicely, by the way).

I think an abacus makes math more interesting and less abstract. And, unlike a calculator, you can actually see (and therefore eventually visualize) what it means to add, subtract, multiply, or divide.

Another thing on my list to purchase (some day, when I find exactly what I want) is a scale. I'm not talking a bathroom scale (got one of those, don't always agree with what it says...).

I mean something like this.  The kids love to weigh things on the grocery scales. I don't ever actually need to weigh things, but I know they enjoy it, and it's a great practical lesson. How many avocados do you think makes a pound? Was your estimate correct? What happens when we take one away; how much do they weigh then? 

I'm making three meals that require onions. Which kind should we get? How many do you think we need? How much will it cost if they are $1.22 a pound?  Is it cheaper to get the bulk bag? Would it be best to get the bigger ones or the smaller ones or a mixture of sizes?

They're always on the hunt for the best price at the grocery store.  What's the best deal (and the best quality)?  What makes it the better deal?  How much cheaper would it be for us to make this on our own rather than buy it already prepared?

Today we went to Hobby Lobby (everyone's favorite store).  I always pick up a flyer at the front so we are aware of the deals (stuff we want but don't need, right?).

"Oh, Mama! The jewelry is on sale! Can we go look?" Merikalyn picks out a locket for 50% off to use in a necklace for a friend.  Sketchbooks are on sale, 40% off, and some have a yellow clearance sticker.  I do the mental math aloud so they can hear me thinking it through.  "So, these here have 40 sheets and are clearanced, but it's only a $1 off.  These over here also have 40 sheets but will be 40% off at the register.  The original price is the same on both. Hmm, which one is the better deal?  50% off would be about $4, so let's just say that 40% off would be between $2-3 bucks off the price.  Obviously this is the better deal, right?"  Sometimes I intentionally say the wrong thing wondering if they will correct me. Are they paying attention? They usually catch it!

Of course there is also a lot of, "Mom. can we get..." and "Mom, will you buy..." which results in a lot of, "Save your money," and "Not today."

Evangeline's purchase was a bin of beads.  I used a 40% off coupon (on my iPhone) which got the price down into a range she could afford.  I spared the cashier from counting out all her change though, pocketing it while Evangeline was busy obsessing over her new purchase, giving me a chance to pay for hers along with my things (new watercolors and washi tape I found on clearance, yippeee!).

If we have a friendly and patient cashier, I'll let them fiddle with all their change, and our cashier was pretty friendly, but there was a woman behind me who was making strange comments about me having my hands full.

"And I thought having five was bad," she said.  Which threw me off. Did she have five kids? Was it miserable having five kids? What does that even mean? (Seriously, I think some people feel compelled to say something to people with many children just to... say something.  I love it when people are sweet, but really, you don't need to tell me I have my hands full.  How about just being nice, telling my children hi, maybe even asking them how they are doing? They are human beings, you know.)

Anyway, I just smiled and said, "Oh, once you're outnumbered, you're outnumbered. Four. Five. Six... it all feels about the same to me."  Because that's really true.  In fact, having six seems easier than when I had two or three.  No kidding.  That probably seems like crazy math, but it's true.

Heh, Molly Jo was sitting in the cart staring the lady down.  Girl has a mean stink-eye, y'all.

Anyway, so Evangeline was super eager to play with her beads, but first the kids needed to do a little tidying while I made lunch, and finally, ah.... she was thrilled to get her hands on those pretty things.

As I slipped into my bedroom for a much needed nap, I heard her counting, "One, two, free, six, seben, eight, ten, thirty-one..." as she threaded each one onto a piece of twine.  [By the way, a little tip here: a twisty tie—like the ones the grocery stores have for produce bags or the kind that sometimes come with garbage bags—make great "needles" to hook twine or string around and pull through beads since this can be a little difficult for littles, especially with some materials (like twine) that sometimes unravel.  Also, using some tape around the tip (similar to an aglet on a shoe string) helps if you don't want to use a twisty tie. You can tie a bead to the other end so that the beads don't slide off.]

The boys, especially Nolyn, have been all about kitchen science experiments lately. Nolyn's favorite thing to do is the baking soda and vinegar eruption.  In fact, that's how I got him to "enjoy" scrubbing the toilet.  I gave him baking soda in a jar with a Parmesan lid (for sprinkling) on top and a spray bottle of vinegar. It's the little things, my friends.  (Also, putting a blue bleach tab in the tank so that the toilet water would be blue some how made flushing more fun... just a tip there.)

So, anyway, as I was saying, he's really enjoying the experiments.  So much so that I had to buy another bottle of vinegar after he went through all of mine and had to start using apple cider vinegar instead. He took to dying the vinegar red so it would look more "lava-y").  Also, in case you didn't know, you must do an evil scientist laugh when doing such things.  Muuuhahahahahaha!

Nolyn is very, very creative. He's always inventing and experimenting and causing me great stress. (Just being honest.)  One time, he wanted to repair an old push mower he found, and he thought that putting water in the gas tank would get it to go.  Needless to say, he often learns by making mistakes, but it doesn't ever seem to discourage him.  I love that about him.

The car charger for my phone stopped working so I gave it to him to fiddle with, and about 15 minutes later he had done a decent repair. Sure, it blinked out every time the car bumped, but it was working more than it did before.

He also wants to plant every seed he comes across. We won't be in this house long enough to see much of anything come from his efforts, but hey, he's welcome to it. (Maybe, years from now, someone will wonder why strawberries grow wild in these parts, or where all those lemon trees came from.) It will definitely come in handy when we move, since our neighbor Nanci loves gardening.  I have a black thumb, so hopefully we can glean a good bit of wisdom from her. (She actually added on to her garden in preparation for our move out there, wanting to provide plenty of home-grown goodness for our family as well.  She's so sweet!)


Corinne Wright said...

This helped my little one!

amy D said...

I loooooove seeing these glimpses into your unschooling life! Seriously, please keep them coming! We're most likely going the homeschooling route when the time comes, but I am just so intrigued by "unschooling". It just makes so much sense!

PrincessDestiny said...

I love seeing updates from you! Especially since OD is gone. Nolyn sounds a LOT like Austin. :) I get comments like that with just 3, so I can only imagine what you hear. :/ It is sad some of the things people feel are appropriate to say nowadays. I have mentioned you to my hubster quite often. Sometimes telling him, "You know, I have heard that 4 is much easier than 3." lol He doesnt buy it. I grew up with 3 sisters and 1 brother. I wonder if my mom ever got comments like this...Hmm...I think you are a wonderful mom and very blessed! :)

Waterdreamer said...

I just bought my son this giant abacus for his 2nd birthday:
I'm going to paint the beads to match the Dreambox abacus. He loves counting on his Melissa and Doug Abacus, but the beads are a bit too small for him to manipulate so I'm hoping this will help. He loves counting too.