You Can Lead a Horse to Water. . .

One of the most frustrating things I’m finding about homeschooling is that I cannot force my daughter to learn a fucking thing if she isn’t interested in learning it. Not one thing.

The other day, as we pushed on through a disastrous math class, she cried, “I’m not learning this, I’m memorizing this” and a little warning bell went off in my head.

Before we started homeschooling, I read John Holt who cautioned against this. I then eagerly signed up for a bunch of “unschooling” message boards, but quit when I was afraid I’d get flamed if I brought up the “t” word one more time (that words would be “teach”). I took into account my oldest daughter’s feisty/stubborn/”I know it all so you don’t have to teach me it” personality when planning our approach.

Regardless, I bought stuff. Fancy books and manipulatives and flashcards and workbooks and DVD’s and CD’s and. . .you get the picture.

None of it matters.

The child who sits happily as I read the story of Beowulf, who grows wistful when speaking about our time learning about Ancient Greece, who excitedly asks when we can do science again: that same child gets sullen and defiant when the math books come out. She claims she cannot add the simplest numbers almost daring me to force them out of her. We slog on until one of us is yelling or in tears.

Clearly, I need to find a better way.


  1. Let me know when you find it because I now have one of those. It’s such a switch from “teaching” Cole who would so willingly do anything.

  2. I can’t blame her. I hated fucking math.

    Perhaps she’ll be an English major.

  3. I correct myself. I should have said, I fucking hated math.


    Now I’ll go add something.

  4. Can I say we have the same battles with Einey in regards to math. She can speed through chapter books (I’m I’m talking the Judy Blume, Spiderwick type size, not the Junie B. Jones) in an afternoon – she’s 6, BTW. She’ll stare at bugs for hours, observing them. Hang onto every word in regards to reptiles/dinosaurs/insects.

    Yet, last week, her teacher told me, I’m concerned about Einey. She’s not up to the level in math that I expected from her. See, they do speed math facts. They start at doubles (1+1, 2+2 up to 9+9) then move onto +1, +2 etc. And as of last week, Einey was still on doubles. The teacher expected her to be on the +2’s (like the other kids on her level – kudos to the teacher to already noticing that Einey is a bright child, after all, it’s only the third week of school!). They have three minutes to complete 80 problems. Einey was averaging 40. Yeah, so not good. I quiz her – she knows them. She just didn’t know them fast enough. It took alot of practicing at home – the teacher gave us some sheets, but she finally finished the doubles. Now to get her to catch up with the front of the pact.

    But math – she’s so not interested.

  5. SuburbanCorrespondent says

    How old is she again? Explain to her that math is like brushing her teeth – she just has to do a little every day. Give her something you know she can do (say, 10 addition facts) and (here is the key part) leave her alone. Tell her when she is done, she can have a Hershey’s kiss. Do not sit with her while she does the math – my kids work 10,000 times more slowly when I am watching them. Sending her to her room is best.

    Spend a month making it super easy (with chocolate kisses) like that. Then you can add in new stuff.

    She has to do math. There is no way around it. And the easiest way to do math is to memorize the facts. I’ve seen parents turning themselves into pretzels trying to “explain” addition, multiplication, etc. Don’t bother. Many kids need to know the facts first; then they can understand the patterns. Believe me, I had the worst kid at math you’ve ever seen. He is now teaching himself Algebra 2. He hates it, but he’s doing it.

    What math are you using?

  6. Subspace Beacon says

    Oh, crap. I’ve got one just like this — but I’m two years behind you. So muddle through find the answer then let me know. Okay? Good. Thanks for the advance work.

    And mrs q is v. funny.

  7. Not June Cleaver says

    I’m right there with you (and even blogged about my math issues lately).

    You’re right, there has to be a better way. One thing you can do for now is move away from the traditional math texts for awhile. Use some of the great ideas and resources at and join the Living Math Yahoo group.

    Good luck!

  8. OMG, it’s NOT just me! And it’s not just homeschooling either, though I can understand that it’d be way more frustrating in that situation.

    Big Guy, my oldest, loves to learn. He’ll fire off a question a second when we’re out walking, and it takes forever to get through reading at night because he wants to talk about the book.

    But …

    Sit him down at the table with a pencil and paper to do his homework and what should take 10, 15 minutes turns into a half hour of weeping, teeth gnashing and frustration. And that’s just from me.

    In addition to being world-class stubborn, he’s always been weak with manual dexterity, so I know writing is diffcult for him.

    Still, we’re stuck in a battle of wills every afternoon as I insist that he do it and he responds with a chorus of “don’t wanna.”

    Part of it, I think, is the attention. He wants to keep me hanging there with him as long as possible, because if I’m there I’m not with his brother. Still, I wonder if he’s too young for me to just walk off, because he’s still learning about homework itself.

    Did I mention that he’s in kindergarten? I’m so looking forward to 13 more years of this.

  9. recipes, holiday countdowns, money …those have worked for us -plus I bought her a new watch so she can keep track of time while she’s playing at the neigbor’s house.

    math facts? She doesn’t excel but I think that’s because she’s trying to figure out the answer to each problem individually instead of just memorizing them.

    Timed math facts are the bane of my existence and really are just glorified standardized test prep. Bah!

  10. I completely sympathize…this is my every day, just without the yelling and tears. Why I am so hesitant when I consider quitting and homeschooling instead.

  11. Do you use a specific math program? Maybe her brain just goes to it a different way. I HATED math with a passion, could never figure it out until a teacher showed me it was OK to do it my way rather than the “right way”.

    Have you tried Math-U-See? It’s supposed to be great for kids who don’t get math.

  12. Life As I Know It says

    I dunno – I have no advice other than to sympathize with how frustrating that must be for both of you.

    I hated math as a kid too!

  13. I don’t know what curriculum you’re using, but we used them ALL and the ONLY one that I could get my kids to do was Singapore Math. First, the notebooks are small, so they don’t look daunting like a real math book. Second, the teacher/lecture part is almost not there at all. The kids can work themselves through the book at their own pace (albeit slow for some kids like my daughter), the tests are often enough so that you can see what you need to go back to if your child isn’t catching on, and for us, IT IS NOT A SPIRAL CURRICULUM. I cannot emphasize that enough. Some kids just cannot keep going back wards to relearn stuff over and over. My son just cannot deal with spiral curriculums at all, but with Singapore math, he completed his entire year in math in 6 weeks.

    Note that this is the national curriculum of Singapore, and they are at the very top of the world when it comes to academic testing in math. IOW, it’s a damn good (and cheap) curriculum.

    I wish I could give you my books, but they’re all long gone by now. But check out their web site.

  14. Fairly!! Relax, take a break. y daughter is 15 this next month and she wants to dual enroll by next fall, but because she has slacked she is not having to cram her days with homeschool work. Granted, her 4 hours a day is still nothing to what public school kids go through and my daughter gets up at 9 or 10. These kids are at the bus stop at 6 am…I think not.

    But low and behold, my daughter has gotten the learning bug. Is she happy to do the work? No, but she has a goal and I gently remind her, that if the work here bothers her, then she is not ready for college. She happily goes back to her highschool work.

    Don’t push her, neither of you will win. Relax, the learning will happen. My daughter hated math, and is only doing it because she has to to get into college. She would be happy with just writing for the novel she is writing, and believe you me, she will get published.

    So step back and let the both of you chill, and everything else will fall into place. Go to a museum, see a play. Do something not from a text book, then maybe you can go back…but later.

    Beacon…I love your avatar of T’Pol, too bad I did not like Enterprise!

  15. Could you maybe trade time with another homeschooling family once in a while to exchange skills? Sometimes it’s just a case of hearing the words from someone else, from not-Mom – whether the words are about math or hygiene or driving, sometimes it just helps to have it repeated elsewhere.

    If we lived closer, I’d volunteer my husband. He swears he could never handle elementary school math, but he just taught our daughter to read an analog clock in a day, despite MUCH angst and resistance on her part. He has a knack for figuring out what it is about the math that is confusing/blocking someone and working around it.

    Another idea? Go ahead and let her memorize for a while. Maybe that was a message from her, a way that she would absorb some of it better, so let her do a little rote learning for a bit and see if she doesn’t reach a point eventually of wanting to know the why’s underneath the answers.

    Just thoughts. I hope something works before you’re forced to set her on the curb with a big “FREE” sign.

  16. We have the same issue. We are using Math U See. It is simple, easy lessons. I hope things get better soon..

  17. If I had to teach my boys math they would think 1 + 1 = 11.

  18. It’s amazing you can even homeschool!! I don’t have the patience. PLUS I am bad in Math!

  19. Traceytreasure says

    Get a bunch of money in small denominations, get tons of coins and make her count it all. All of it!! See if she likes counting money. That’s how one of my daughters learned math/counting/numbers. Keep trying. If she likes science and other subjects, find out how you can work numbers into those subjects too!

    Best of luck and hugs!!

  20. My fear of teaching math is one of my primary reasons why I don’t homeschool.
    That and my fear that I’d drink myself to death. There’s that.

  21. Issas Crazy World says

    Math, not something I’m good at. I wonder though, is there someone else who could just teach her math? Maybe a tutor or something? Because sometimes when they have it in their head that they aren’t going to learn something, it’s easier to adjust that if someone new is teaching it.

    But really, I have a business degree and all I can do in math is balance my checkbook…and only with a calculator, so I feel her pain. And yours. 🙂

  22. unschoolme says

    I know exactly what you mean. We have the same struggles. I think every other normal homeschooling family does. I try to mix things up and never stay with a curriculum (I’ve tried plenty). I find what they like best are actually math games or stories with math problems to solve. The sillier the better.

  23. Anonymous says

    So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only … you can see in Ancient Greece Art and Architecture Greece and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that …. thanks a gain ,,,

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