Old School

Talk to any homeschooling parent long enough and the subject of math will come up: spiral, mastery, manipulatives, memorization, calculators, online, workbooks, the list just goes on and on. I have not tried many of the math programs out there; we used Saxon for first grade and part of second. I liked it. I thought it was well-organized, easy to understand, and I loved those soft, manila paper, tear-out worksheets. My son was not as thrilled, and everyday, we would have a math battle.

A lot of things changed during that second half of second grade. For one, I discovered Waldorf homeshooling. Their approach to math utilizes stories in the early grades to teach all four processes simultaneously. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are all introduced with lots of manipulatives that keep it concrete. This was a game changer for us: cute little math gnomes + fun stories with numbers (- daily math battles) = lots of learning. We used Melisa Nielsen’s A Journey Through Waldorf Math as a guide in the beginning. I think this gave us a great foundation to approach math in the Waldorf manner.

By the end of third grade, I noticed that Vincent needed some extra practice. I looked at a few current math books, and honestly couldn’t understand which end was up. (Disclaimer: I have 2 English degrees and have not taken a math class since the Reagan administration, however I do think I should be able to decipher elementary school mathematics.) Instead of wallowing in frustration, I did what I always do when the modern world seems too confusing: I think about how they would have done it in the old days.

Old School Math was born.

I love old children’s books, especially old school books. I usually use them for art projects, making use of the vintage illustrations and text. I never thought about actually using them for their intended purposes. But guess what? Math made sense to me back then. Everything was presented in a straight-forward manner and lots of practice problems were given with a healthy dose of nostalgia. The book shown above is from 1942. We also use another one from 1916. The boys and I get a kick out of the word problems:

“If Frank’s father buys 4 two-cent postage stamps, how much money must he pay?”

“John’s uncle pays $75 rent each month for his store and $35 rent for his house. How much rent does he pay for both?”

“Patty spent 8 cents for the wrapping paper and 25 cents for the ribbon to wrap Mother’s gift. How much did it cost Patty to wrap the gift for Mother?”

If this approach appeals to you, and you don’t happen to have a bunch of old textbooks on your shelves, start looking for them at book sales and Goodwill. Or there is always ebay – you’ll pay more, but probably not more than $10 with shipping. Old grammar and language arts books are good too, however I would stay away from vintage geography books. Themes run from slightly jingoistic to overtly xenophobic. Plus all the countries are different now. Numbers and nouns seem to have stayed the same.

5 thoughts on “Old School

  1. I love old books!! I think they fit in nicely with Waldorf. We used the old reading primers with the big boys – not the newly re-printed editions, but old originals, it was so much fun. I love the language and I never felt like they were dumbed down. The old math is awesome too. Even though those numbers are way off from today, it is so much easier for a child learning about money to grasp $35 rather than a mortgage of $2000! Seems like an unimaginable amount of money to a 3rd grader.


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