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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning ISN’T a Race

Learning is a life-long thing.  Sometimes I forget that.

I mean, I remember it in the abstract, logical sense, as it applies to other people.

“Hey, y’all, learning isn’t a race!  They’ll get it, really they will!”

our kidsI get so focused on my children mastering this particular skill or that particular skill this particular minute that I lose sight of the fact that our lives are not about this particular minute.

Our lives are about what we make of them. 

All of what we make of them.

A couple of weeks ago, I was just plain stuck.

216I was convinced that my oldest child simply wasn’t going to ever get beyond arithmetic. 

Algebra was unattainable.

And I was convinced that all of last year’s work on mastering fractions and decimals was in vain.

He couldn’t remember how to do things like cross-cancelling or dividing fractions.

So we reviewed it.  And he practiced.  And he had it.

And then the next day he didn’t.

Again.  And again.  And again.

This is how it is for him with all math.  It’s hard.  It doesn’t stick very well.

But he does eventually get it, with lots of deliberate practice, he internalizes it and makes it his.  And then it sticks forever.

But to spend weeks and weeks on fractions and decimals, only to have your child look at you as if he’s never seen a particular type of problem before?  A type of problem he has done to death?

048I was feeling like a big time failure.   This is a bright kid.  What am I doing wrong?

Today I realized that it doesn’t matter that David hasn’t mastered fractions and decimals, yet.

Because you know what he did master last year while working with all those fractions and decimals?

066He absolutely mastered his multiplication and division facts.  He knows them automatically. 

And he’s mastered the long division!  A year ago, he would look at me and want to know what to do next.  Not anymore. 

In fact, he works it out in his head, because he doesn’t want to get a sheet of notebook paper out to write it down.

I do have to persuade him to write them down, though, because his answers are sometimes off by a single digit (it’s hard to remember all that regrouping in your head).

But it’s child’s play for him now.  And I know that some day fractions will be, too.

The effort is worth it.  He will get it.  He is getting it. 

And it doesn’t matter if some of his peers are doing Pre-algebra this year.  So what?  When he’s ready, he’ll nail it.

What challenges have you encountered while teaching your children?


  1. I needed to hear this. I am actually having my 8th grader repeat pre-algebra this year with a big emphasis on fraction and decimal problems. He may not even finish that by this year. I keep telling myself, I would rather him have a full understanding of it then to push him along and deal with that frustration from both of us later.

  2. Good for you, Alyson!

    Understanding and mastering fractions and decimals is absolutely essential to being able to do Algebra. Really. They won't be able to understand the concepts if they are racking their brains for the arithmetic parts.

    It's on a par with having very young children write stories when they are still struggling with correct letter formation---the brain can't learn it all at once.

    Without a firm foundation, they will be spinning their wheels.

    They will get there in the end. I'm genuinely impressed with the progress my own son has made.


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