Kids Make The Best Teachers

My son's Lego battles

My son’s Lego battles

Last week the kids have been immersed in Lego. Lego heroes, Lego battles, Lego houses. They built Lego together. They built Lego separately, and then joined their worlds into one.

More Lego

More Lego

Lego Land

And more Lego


What did I do? Well, I just let them play. It was another lesson the kids were giving me about “letting go.”

I was letting that self doubt start to creep in. Questions, worries, uncertainties.

Are the kids learning enough? Are they learning? Are they having fun? Are the choices we are making adding and enriching their life or diminishing it? Am I making the right choices?

Of course when self doubt creeps in for me, it creeps into the kids and they show it in their own ways. Ways that are not always easy to manage if I’m not in the right mindset. They bicker, they have dramatic upsets, they complain. Their sleep is interrupted, the choices they make may not always be stellar. It’s the cycle that flows from me to them. If I am feeling uncertain and unhappy, of course they will too.

I have become better at recognizing the slippery slope and am able to either catch myself sooner, or pull out of it sooner. So I tried to let go and let them lead the way. They played completely focused and engaged for about 2 or 3 mornings in a row. Then with that space they asked questions, and explored.

I watched them. I read. I practiced yoga. At one point I was watching a video about Math that was focused on the growth mindset that we discuss a lot in our home education days. The kids would pause, watch, ask questions and then go back to what they were doing. The pauses became longer and the questions increased until they moved from their Lego into other areas of creation and math problems.
Their world kept growing and expanding out from Lego to working on tangrams and building shapes.

Building the puzzle

Building the puzzle


Finished putting it together.

Finished putting it together.


Another Tangram of many

Another Tangram Puzzle…one of many


Tangram Heaven

Tangram Heaven

They watched videos about the Fibonacci sequence and discussed where we can see the sequence in nature. They looked through a book on the works of MC Escher and tried to find the sequence in his art.

Getting push ups in between math problems and checking out the Escher Art Book

Getting push ups in between math problems and checking out the Escher Art Book

They visualized and encoded numbers, created patterns, and worked on various math problems.

And no, we did not end up getting to Origami that day

What do you see when shown a configuration of dots for a under a minute. How many dots are there? How do you see them?


What do you see when shown a configuration of dots for a under a minute. How many dots are there?

Everyone sees things in their own way. Each way may be different, but just because they are different does not make them wrong. 

They were engaged, and excited and each one had their own area of interest that they focused on a little bit more.

My daughter expands her knowledge of subtraction.

My daughter expands her knowledge of subtraction.


My niece built different patterns with small blocks. She changed the number of elements with each pattern.

My niece built different patterns with small blocks. She changed the number of elements with each pattern.


My son drawing out the different ways he sees the dot configuration

My son drawing out the different ways he sees the dot configuration *

Close-up of his work. What shapes do you see? How does it reflect the number of dots in the image you were shown?

Close-up of his work. What shapes do you see? How does it reflect the number of dots in the image you were shown?


He also worked on another math problem from the website

He also worked on another math problem from the website **


So back to my self doubt and uncertainty. Are they learning enough? Are they learning? Are they having fun? Are we making the right choices?

If they are still showing a curiosity and interest in learning and in the process- then yes they are. So the education continues. My education. Because sometimes I am their guide but really most times I am the student in this.


*The majority of the Math videos we watched and math problems we explored that week came from the website along with talks featured on the Ted Talks website. “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy” is a favourite of the kids.

The Ice Cream poster problem that my son worked on can be found here.

**The dot configuration problem can be found in the Week of Inspirational Math (iMath) on the site.


The Poetry of Math


I am not a Math person.

I have never been good at Math.

Math is too hard for me, I can only do the basics.

Have you ever said this? Have your kids ever said this?

I felt this way. I was a “good student”, and I did ok with Math, but it was a struggle for me. I had to put in a lot of effort when it came to Math class, and the concepts usually seemed to out of  reach for me to fully understand. They seemed to be just operations to memorize and perform, but not something I saw applied in my life. Give me history, an essay or a humanities topic any day instead.

As a homeschooling mom Math was the subject I worried about. If I am not a “math person”, how was I going to continue with math education for my children as they get to older ages?  If I have no belief in my math skills, how could I show my kids that they could? (It’s what you do, not what you say)

My homeschool journey has slowly changed this for me.

Becoming a parent that sees the benefit in freedom to play and learn, with no hard formalities in the process has been awakening. I started to see that we are all homeschoolers. I am just as much the student as my children. With curiosity, and engagement we are all learning what we want to know more about.

For me the poetry of Math is unfolding.

This week I had the privilege of attending a talk with my mother in law and another teacher from her school. We drove an hour to see James Tanton, a Mathematician that is passionate about what he does, talks with absolute excitement, lives in his creativity and surrounds himself with expression.

James Tanton describes his journey and work as mathematical play.

He stresses the importance of play and exploration in life, learning, and specifically in Math. “The nature of play – that is, intellectual exploration, intellectual curiosity, the pursuit of wanting to know – is innate to our true human selves.”

He himself loved playing with math as a child in his room – looking for patterns and geometric designs in the ceiling, inventing games and puzzles – but found no joy in the math classroom at school. He always wanted to know the “why” in math but in class this was often met with being told to just accept that it is true, and to move on to the next question. He did not find the “joy and liberation” in math until a certain class in university. He later went on to become a high school math teacher and now researcher and global educator. He does this because of his love of math, and because he believes math is accessible to all.

Ronan Pointing Out The Patterns He Sees In His Hundred Chart- Counting By 2's and 3's

Hundreds Chart, Counting by 2’s, 3’s, 5’s And Recognizing The Patters

Math education is changing. We hear about the Common Core changes in the US, and in Alberta there is a change in curriculum as well. Some people are happy with the change, others of course are not. What I appreciate is that educators are working towards change and keeping progressive.

Change has to happen, especially in education. Do we realize how quickly the world, primarily because of technology is changing around us? Life today for our children is nothing like how it was when we were young. Why would we keep educating our children in a style and with ideas that served a different society?

Math research, exploration and discovery is a big driver in the fast changes. Listening to James Tanton I realized that the mathematicians that are driving the fast changes are those that are the creative thinkers, and problem solvers. The mathematical thinkers, not the rote doers.

That is where math is moving, and that is where I am finding the beauty and poetry in math. In the past, as Mr. Tanton points out, math was focused on the skill and what questions. His work is to help us “find the wiggle room within the rigid system to begin to ask “why, “ “what if” and human questions”.

Why is that important?

Soon we will be visiting Mars. Who do you think is going to get us there?


Ronan Testing Out James Tanton’s Exploding Dots Lesson On The Explanation of Arithmetic And Algebra


He Loves It!



Check out the Lesson – Exploding Dots

Other great sites for math creativity and problem solving that we love:







One of the joys of homeschooling is the freedom that it allows. The kids are free to learn, free to play, free to engage in whatever route their curiosity takes them.

Yesterday felt particularly free.

Zahra woke up first and wanted me to read an Asterix and Obelix comic book to her.  Asterix and Obelix in Belguim was the chosen comic book of the day. ( Great old comics by the way. For us they always lead into discussion and research on history, politics and geography, plus explanations of satire, characters, vocabulary and language )

Ronan chose a book, The Class Trip From The Black Lagoon and read the entire book before breakfast. After breakfast the kids played. They let their imaginations take them away and create worlds and characters that they dressed in, renamed and acted out.

Freedom to read, freedom to play and freedom to learn.

After their play session Zahra decided that she wanted to do some math at the school table. We sat down and worked on that together. We talked about even and odd numbers. In her math journal Zahra listed even numbers by writing 2,4,6, 8, ..20..40.. She used the numbers on a ruler as a number line to help with her counting out by 2’s. We took out pencil crayons and she put them into even groups of 2. Using this method she decided if a number was odd, or a number was even. (Her idea after going through the definition of an even number) We looked at a hundred chart and chose random numbers to test to see if they were even or odd.

After that she pulled out her UmiZoomi Math box ( a gift from my mom that she loves as she is a huge fan of that program) and went through completing every book, activity and exercise. Then she pulled out another book from our “workbook” pile and started working on that. A book that I had first thought was beyond her current level, but that was where she completely proved me wrong. Adding large double digits, subtracting them, grouping by 10’s to count. She used her large stack of pencil crayons to help keep count and visualize her way through it.

We had a lot of fun working together.

When it comes to Math I am not a textbook, worksheet, testing -sit down and figure out exact equations type of parent/educator/homeschooler – whatever you want to label me. Sure we may have a few workbooks, but they are packed in a box combined with some math games and clipboards. We use a large amount of problem solving, natural application (a huge amount of cooking and games) and manipulatives in our homeschool math. If a project or curiosity takes us into math, wonderful, but I do not have a setup and assigned math time. Does this work for us? YES it does. How do I know? The answer for me is not complicated- my kids tell me that they “love math”.

They love math.

This day I felt that we were accomplishing what we set out to do with homeschooling. Making learning fun, making learning a regular part of life, and helping our kids know that as long as you have that curiosity and joy, learning can come to anyone, anywhere, on any subject or topic you choose. When I was a kid, I did NOT love Math.

As a homeschooling parent, I am re-learning.

Learning that “school” and “learning” can be different for everyone. It does not have to be the traditional approach.

Learning that regurgitating and memorizing the facts doesn’t necessarily mean you know it. It is about reasoning, application and flexibility. Really, isn’t that what the work world is really looking for in people?

Best of all, I am learning there are other ways to learn and approach math, and through that I am re-kindling my own love of Math.

There are some days that all Ronan wants to do is Math problems. Sometimes he will work on large math problems everyday for a week. Ronan never wants to do a Math worksheet or workbook.

That is cool with me.

This day he chose to read. That is also cool with me.

After completing that first book before breakfast he chose Flat Stanley’s- The Intrepid Canadian Expedition and read the entire book while Zahra and I worked together. It was nice to hear constant giggles coming from his reading chair.

Constant giggles from my son and big smiles from daughter. That is what learning is all about.

Having Fun With Math

Having Fun With Math


Geometry Anyone?


Math Class?