I loved being an elementary school teacher. I loved my students, I loved teaching them and watching them understand something that they thought they would never get. The process was very similar every year, and yet it was still exciting to watch. One of the major problems I had with public schools, though, was that there were just too many different objectives to teach, and we were not given enough time to teach it. A speaker once said that Oklahoma objectives were actually pretty good, except for the fact that there were just too many of them. My teammates and I once figured that if we taught one reading skill and one math skill per day, we would just barely finish in time to give the state test in April. When children learn a new skill, they need time to explore it, not just test and go on.
Let me share an example of what I did with Babygirl. After two months of homeschool, I was able to sit down and read with her, but math was still a problem. Babygirl was convinced that she could not do anything right academically. I had to convince her that was not true, though she did have great difficulty with even the basic concept of counting objects. She got mixed up after counting five objects, so I decided she had to conquer that before we could do anything else in math.
I helped Babygirl to fill up a milk crate with stuffed animals from her room. We brought them out into the living room and sat down on the floor. I told her to pick one. It took an excruciating amount of time for her to choose, but she finally did, and I directed her to put in on the floor in front of me. I then took a number one flashcard and set it next to that animal. I touched the animal and said, “One.” I had her repeat it by pointing to the card and pointing to the animal. Then I had her choose a second animal. She eventually did and set it on the floor next to the first animal. I put the flashcard number two next to it. I pointed to the first animal and said, “One.” Then I pointed to the second animal and said, “Two.” She repeated me, and we added another animal. It took almost an hour to get all of the animals on the floor with numbered flashcards next to them (believe me, I seriously regretted getting such a large box!), and she was finally able to count to eighteen animals.
During this activity, somewhere between numbers twelve and sixteen, I saw a light bulb go on in my daughter’s eyes. I had taken an abstract concept (a theory, something only understood in your head) into a concrete concept (hands-on, something she could touch) by allowing her to move things around and placing the numbers next to the animals. I then switched the animals around, without adding or taking any away, and asked her how many was there now. She had to think about it, but she said, “Eighteen.” Then she waited, eyes eager with anticipation of what we would do next.
I was thrilled that we had spent so much time on math! So, since she was really into the activity, I decided to see if she could transfer the information. We left the flashcards in their spots on the rug, but we picked up the animals. After a lot of comforting from her, telling each animal that they did a good job and it was okay to go back into the crate, we went to her room and picked up her “My Little Pony” horses. Bringing them out in a box, she placed each one next to a flashcard. We had exactly eighteen (after I went back and looked behind bookcases and in her closet for the stragglers). This taught her that eighteen was eighteen, no matter what we were counting. She got it, and more importantly, she knew she got it.
We did this same type of activity for two days. I caught her playing in her room outside of school times with her stuffed animals, placing them in lines and counting them. She had finally understood and she needed time to explore the concept.
That is what is missing in schools today. Children are not allowed time to explore. If schools are going to have a chance of success, they need to cut back on the number of objectives taught in the elementary ages. Babygirl’s school teachers had been trying for three years to teach this skill, to the frustration of the teachers and Babygirl. What she needed was concrete objects and time to explore. All elementary students need this time to explore new concepts, if they are going to truly understand mathematical skills. They need lesser objectives but more time to explore the important skills.