*Written by Purva Brown of The Classical Unschooler*

We delved into Algebra this week. I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I had been looking forward to it for years. I was one of those kids who actually enjoyed algebra in school.

**On the other, I was dreading the tears that would inevitably follow learning any new math concept** – or so I thought.

*Would you rather listen to this post?*

Imagine my surprise then, when after some work, my daughter said she understood. In front of my (saucer-eyed, I’m sure) gaze, she then proceeded to solve a few easy problems substituting numbers in place of letters. Best of all, there were zero tears.

I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been.

**After all, we have been using the half step method within our “classical unschooling” approach for years.**

## Classical Unschooling & The Half Step Method

Okay, so this isn’t an official method. I just coined that phrase and I’m sure you’ve been doing it in some capacity since you’ve been homeschooling. I just want you to be intentional about it.

Let me give you an example with reference to double digit multiplication. This comes to mind because my third child – aged 8 – is currently working on it.

Double digit multiplication is usually the first rung on the ladder of tears reserved for math. But I get it. Going from single digit multiplication to double digit is a huge jump.

**So what do we do? We break it up. Into small steps.**

And then we practice those steps until they are second nature. If those steps are too hard, we break each one up *into half steps.* And then we practice those steps until they come easily.

My eight-year-old, in the example above, specifically had trouble understanding where to place his numbers.

Going from single to multiple digit multiplication, there were suddenly a lot of numbers he was dealing with – the extra zero, the carry overs and the fact that the units, tens and hundreds place didn’t align for the second line of numbers like it always had up until this point in his brush with math.

**So we went back half a step. **

I wrote down multiple digit multiplication problems for him with no carry overs. We are currently working through this. Once he gets it, we will move on with numbers that require carry overs.

At this phase he is already well versed in his tables – we have done those separately and perfected them with flashcards over time.

### Why I Hate Most Math Curricula

I came up with this method after being disillusioned with most math curricula on the market.

“I need more practice work!” I remember saying to another homeschooling mom.

“But why not move on if the child has already got it?” she asked.

**The current debate in math curricula seems to center around using mastery or a cyclical approach as the dominant style of teaching and learning. **

I’m not sure which side I’m on, because I think both miss the point. In my experience, most math workbooks introduce a concept, give you basic questions to answer and then make the numbers bigger *before you have established second nature competency. *

I hate that.

I have always said that math is something you should be able to do in your sleep. In my experience, most math curricula on the market prevents that rather than helping that along. They go for too much too quickly.

### Full Steps Up Ahead!

The best thing about doing math with this half step method instead is that it actually saves time.

Instead of revisiting a concept that hasn’t become second nature and then having to go back over it before moving forward, this half step and practice, practice, practice approach makes for much more pleasant days.

And although some days the practice seems like mere busy work, it is mostly effortless and gets done.

This helps us move forward boldly because the basics are solid. Repetition is the mother of mastery. After all, that is the classical part of classical unschooling. (afflink)

If that makes me less of an unschooler, so be it. **I’m in this for my children, not for any homeschooling ideology anyway.**

*Have you discovered a method of teaching something in your homeschool that works so well for you, you want to shout it from the rooftops? Tell us about it in the comments!*

**What’s Your Homeschool Mom Personality? Take Jamie’s quiz now** and receive a free personality report to help you organize your homeschool based on what your personality type needs most!

Krysten

My children are 8 and 5.5 and we have been using Bedtime Math for several years. I think of it as both a confidence builder when my kids answer questions they already know and an introduction to higher level math concepts. My 8 year old recently started multiplication and division in his math curriculum, but he’s not overwhelmed because we’ve been doing multiplication and division problems together for years using Bedtime Math.

Bedtime is one of those free resources I am shouting about all the time.

Kim

This is why we use ABeka. I don’t use ABeka for any other subject, but it does introduce concepts gradually. In the summer we use Life of Fred. For my youngest, this combination has worked fabulously to gradually introduce new topics and find a balance between practice problems and not overdoing it.

Robyn McLeod

My oldest, way back in second grade, needed way slower progress and way more review. The math books that do a chapter of fractions then don’t really revisit them until the following year just weren’t cutting it for him. I came across CLE math and re started second grade over half way through the year. It was such a game changer!! So incremental, so much review and easy for me to implement. Six years later, we still use CLE math. I wouldn’t say he loves math, but maybe he’s just not that kid. He refuses to try anything else though, because, in his words, he “knows what to expect from it and I like that”. Me too!

Sheena

Great information- thank you! Do you use/did you use a math app with games for fluency for addition, subtraction and multiplication?

Purva Brown

I tried various apps. They didn’t quite work and the kids didn’t enjoy them. So we just used flashcards for the most part. Especially for multiplication.

Purva Brown’s latest post: H-U-G-E Book Promotion!

Melinda JOhnson

We’ve used Math U See for years, and I totally get what you are saying. Thank you! I need to back up a bit for my 12 yr old daughter and decimals, and this half step method makes so much sense! We are about to go on Christmas break, but thanks for the tips on how to approach it when we start back up. Fortunately, she understands the basic concepts, but she’s not gaining mastery and making simple mistakes. She’s also the one that got stuck on long division for 18 months. But, we can ALL do math if we take this kind of approach. Break it down into half steps. I love it!