Every so often a discussion comes up on one of my homeschool email list about things that kids must learn. I find these discussions very interesting. Recently, on Homeschooling Creatively, talk turned to the learning of multiplication tables. One mom wrote “I think those tables are pretty darn important. You just can’t get through the math without knowing them.” I thought about this a little bit and on the surface it seemed to make a lot of sense. After all, much of higher math depends on knowing your times tables.
But then I started thinking…but what if you can get by? It is challenging assumptions like this that has helped free my thinking so that I can look at what might work best for Jason. If I think that a skill is critical and must be learned, then we are stuck and can not move forward, when moving forward might be just what we need to do. What if moving forward actually gives him the reason to learn the critical skill? Or what if putting it aside lets him have the time to mature to where he can grasp it?
Right brained kids definitely need to see the why, the whole part, where they are going…so maybe Jason will find the motivation to learn multiplication when he wants to determine the area of something (or wants to know how much money I owe him for 10 weeks of overdue allowances). Or like my friend’s son when he realized that multiplication was way faster then adding to figure things out.
For me, letting go of things that my kids must learn is critical. When I realized that if all else failed, Jason could always use a calculator to do his math facts when he got older, it let me relax. I don’t feel as much pressure to “get him to learn”. This allows me to take the time to look for ways that make sense to him and let him learn it on his schedule.
Does this mean that I think that multiplication facts aren’t important? No. Knowing them definitely (in my mind) makes a lot of things easier. And we do work on them. I just try not to stress over how fast he is learning them and we do not make learning them our sole focus in math. He definitely understands the concept which in my mind is much more important then being able to spout off a memorized answer.
Realizing that if he never learned them, he could still manage to have a productive, successful life has let me back off and give him the space and time that he needs. I have to trust that he will pick them up over time. He still does not really know all his addition facts either and still needs to calculate what 6+7 or 8+5 is (he does this by figuring out that 6+4=10, 7-4=3 and 10+3=13, and he does this pretty danged fast – pretty neat for this left-brained girl!) But I have seen these too gradually come easier and easier for him.
A friend of mine just shared her son’s reading story on a local list. He has CAPD and she tried just about every known reading program including individual tutoring. At 12 (!) he still could not read. At that point, she decided that if he never learned to read that would be ok with her and she backed off trying to teach him. She just started focusing on his strengths and would read whatever he needed read. 6 months later, he picked up a manga book and read it cover to cover. Then he read the instruction manual for a video game he was really into. Now at 14 you would never know that he was not reading 2 years ago.
This set off a storm of posts about how can you say that it is ok if he never learned to read! How can you survive in this world if you can’t read! I think that they missed the point of her story. She was not saying that a parent should not help their child to read if they need help. She was not saying that she did not want her child to ever learn to read and that not being able to read is a good thing. She was saying that no matter what a parent does, if the child is not ready, that child will not be able to read. The child has to be ready. And I would add to that, a child needs to get information in a way that makes sense to him/her.
The biggest thing that I get from her story (and something I try to always keep in mind) is that sometimes you have to let go and trust that your child will learn what they need to learn.
Also published in Unschooling Voices #1.