A Tale of Times Tables

I didn't start unschooling until after my older two children had already gone to school past fourth grade, the awful year in which they had to pass their speed tests on the multiplication tables. My older two children (unlike my third) got good grades in school, were considered by their teachers to be "smart," and had a relatively easy time with academics. Even so, the six months of math practice, memorization, speed testing and class competition for each kid are among the most grueling and painful of my schooling memories.

My third child floated blissfully beyond what would have been "fourth grade", unschooling and not being made to do any "math" whatsoever. She was vaguely aware that kids her age who were schooled were frantically memorizing their times tables, and although she felt a dim twinge of concern every now and then that she wasn't "keeping up," she believed me when I told her that there was no such thing as "keeping up" and that it didn't matter.

Several months later however, she decided she wanted to memorize her times tables, as her schooled friends had done. Remembering the anguish from my previous two kids' experience, I asked her again and again "are you sure?!" assuring her "you really don't have to!" but she would not be deterred.

It was a cold snowy night in February, already late. But she wanted to start right away. We built a fire, and I nervously made her a pile of practice tests.

She spent several hours that night, taking tests and asking (no - *making*) me time her with the stopwatch. We stayed up past midnight, and when she woke in the morning the first thing she said was "let's get back to it, we're on the 6s."

Within 24 hours she had memorized the entire multiplication table and had passed the speed tests that had taken my other two "smart" schooled kids 6 months to pass successfully.

She had made a plan somewhere in there, that we would go out for milkshakes when she finished all her tests. She passed her last test at 10pm, so we all bundled up and went to the all-night diner for midnight milkshakes.

I don't necessarily equate memorizing math tables with learning or understanding mathematical concepts, but I think it is worthwhile to note that it is not true that memorizing boring math facts requires lots of time, suffering and coercion.

(And you might get a milkshake in the process!)


Back to Unschooling and Math or to Radical Unschooling or to Ideas for Unschooling Parents.