Nov 4, 2009

Living math, workboxes, and free manipulatives

In my quest to learn more about Living Math, I came across Jimmie's blog, and this idea. After some thought, I decided to re-work our schooling a little bit. Firstly, we sort of joined the workbox movement. In our own twisted, quirky way, of course. For one thing, I keep the boxes in the cabinet. I like having them out of the way, and it's the only place to put them, anyway. Like most people, we don't have the space to have 12 boxes for each child, so they share. They are doing the same work, anyway, so it just seemed logical to put two of each consumable in the box. Not all of the boxes are the same size, either. I have different sized activities, so I used different sized boxes to save on space. We also don't use numbers or strips. Since my kids can read, I assumed they could track from left to right, so I didn't see the use of numbering the boxes. Also, when they are done, they put consumables in their tray, for me to file later, and non-consumables go right back in the box.
All that said, the system is working well for us. I don't put our group work in the boxes, because again, we don't have a lot of space. The kids work on boxes for morning school. It's nice that they can get a lot of "little" stuff out of the way while I can be available for the little kids. In the afternoon, we start with our "group work" which mostly just means me reading aloud Science,
History, our Geography books, and whatever go-alongs we happen to have. Oh, and it includes our Grammar lesson. Once that is done, they finish their boxes. We get so much more done since they are not always waiting on each other to finish a project. And it's nice to not have to answer the "What's next?" question all day long! I also like a specific time for group work instead of juggling it around when both kids might be available.
Since we have always used hands-on stuff, I have tons of ideas for putting in the boxes. Unlike most people, however, the drawback to this system, is, for me, refilling the boxes. I try to do it at night, but sometimes I find myself trying to refill them as they work... eek! Fortunately, they are used to me flying by the seat of my pants!

But I really didn't start this post to write about workboxes. I wanted to describe our new "math lifestyle". The boxes are a part of that, though. We are no longer doing our worksheets for math. Whew! THAT was a big step! When it took Nate two days of agony (on his part) and gritted teeth (on my part) to finish a math test, I knew it was time to let it go. On the one hand, we are having so much fun with games and activities, and the kids thrilling to the discovery that life is made up of math... on the other hand, we are groaning and weeping and stressing over answering a few arbitrary questions on a piece of paper that I paid entirely too much money for. The insanity of it struck me and I had to let it go. I expect, when we reach the point where my math knowledge ends, that we will go back to a curriculum, at least in some form, but for now, we are learning math where we live... !!!
So, back to Jimmie and I re-arranged the big kids' "free choice" shelf by putting out all our math manipulatives for them to choose from...

Not only that, I explained to them that there were two rules concerning this stuff: everything must be put back away properly (always a rule when it comes to school shelves) and must be treated with respect. Otherwise, they are free to mix and match everything on the shelf. They can use the counting bears with the geometric shapes, or the pattern blocks with the cusinaire rods. They are free to explore, examine, and experiment.


My Boys' Teacher said...

Hey, thanks for the reference to Jimmie's Blog, it looks like I will enjoy that one.

I probably have a much simpler array of manipulatives than you do, but store them as I saw here on My Montessori Journey:

I have two full cabinets already, one small like hers, and one with bigger drawers for bigger manipulatives (like ROCKS!).

Thanks for posting, I love seeing how other people store their stash!

One More Equals Four said...

I agree with you about the numbers, etc. in the workbox system. I spent a week preparing things and doing the number strips, etc. only to find they are really unneccesary. Just having the boxes full and in order is such a huge improvement and it is nice to not have to look for "stuff" it is already in the box. I still have some tweaking to do but overall I do like the system.

I love your math ideas! I really think you are doing the right thing. I wish I would have been more willing to "let go" when my oldest was young. He now is fine in math, although not super fast. But he has already decided he hates it and is no good at it and it is still stressful to this day. Not only that, but when I try to add manipulatives or fun games, he brushes them off as baby stuff or says he would rather just do the workbook because he thinks he will get done sooner. I really think instilling a sense of fun in math while they are young is crucial!

Good luck this week!

Jimmie said...

I'm so glad you set the manipulatives free! :-)

I loved what you wrote about agony of worksheets versus the fun of games and math discovery. Isn't that one of the huge reasons we HS? For education to retain the joy and fun? I know without a doubt that this approach to math helps kids enjoy the subject instead of hating it. Even if I have to play BINGO a gazillion times. (UGH) As long as Sprite is enjoying the learning... it's so much better than the alternative -- tears.

The Ties that Bind Us said...

we are doing some family math activities and find it very rewarding!


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