How Can Unschoolers Learn Math?
By Leo Babauta
This is one of the most common questions people have about unschooling. It seems that people think reading might be fun enough for an unschooler to do on her own, but math has to be forced.
And there might be something to this -- after all, in school, math isn't often a very loved subject. At least, not unless it comes easy to you and is fun.
So it's a legitimate question. Let's explore it a bit.
But let's start by asking you, my dear reader, a question: if you didn't know math now, as an adult, how would you learn it? If no one was forcing you to learn.
The honest answer is that most of you probably wouldn't learn it, not right away at least, unless you really needed to. For most jobs and life situations, you don't need to know much math. So if you're not motivated to learn, you probably would go on doing your regular daily activities, and would learn the things you cared more about.
But you would learn some math -- the math you need to buy food and pay rent and get paid and make change if someone pays you $5 for a widget that costs $3.95. So you'd be motivated to learn these things, otherwise you'd be at a disadvantage. But maybe you wouldn't learn trigonometry or calculus, if we're being honest, right?
Now, maybe you'd be motivated for other reasons: 1) you wanted a job (like engineer, spreadsheet wizard, math professor, and other common and wonderful jobs like that) that required some math, or 2) you loved learning and wanted to learn math just for the fun of it. Right? We all do that kinda thing.
So then you'd learn, on your own, without someone forcing you. You'd study it, maybe watch some videos, try it out. Best of all would be if you could learn using real-world situations, like working at a cash register or figuring out how to draw complex shapes with your ninja programming skills, because then the math makes sense and is more easily learned. But otherwise, maybe you'd turn the learning into a game. Maybe you'd do it with someone else, to make it more fun. Maybe you'd share your progress on Facebook or your blog to motivate yourself.
This is how unschoolers learn math. Same as you would.
So, to recap, here's how unschoolers learn math:
- They don't learn if they're not motivated to learn. Which is what most of us would do. That's OK.
- They learn the things they need to learn. Math required for everyday life. They learn when they need to learn it. And at that moment, they're motivated.
- They learn if they need it for a project or a job. If you wanted to learn programming or 3D animation, and it required math, you'd learn what you needed to know.
- They learn it if they love learning and math seems interesting. This is probably less common, but not unheard of.
- They learn on their own, when motivated, in the usual ways. Study it, watch videos, try it out, use it in real-world situations, turn it into a game, do it with someone else, post your progress publicly. Things like that.
That makes sense, doesn't it? Why would anyone want to learn something if they have no motivation to learn it? Why should we force them to learn it if it doesn't make any sense? Why not learn it when you think it's fun or when you really want to learn for some real reason?
That's how we learn as adults. That's how unschoolers learn.