Fractions with Granddad

‘Do you want me to do some colouring or reading with them?’ my father-in-law calls up the stairs.
‘They’re learning fractions at the moment’, I call back down, and leave it at that.
Fifteen minutes later, when I come downstairs, Lily, Katie and Granddad are sitting at the kitchen table, deep in learning.

Katie is colouring in a pizza on a piece of paper, to be divided into equal segments once it’s done. Lily has multiple pieces of paper in front of her, circles and squares. She has moved beyond the halves and quarters that she has recently become comfortable with. Granddad is challenging her with thirds, fifths, sevenths. And when that seems easy, he moves things up a level, challenging Lily to see that 1⁄2= 2⁄4, 1⁄4 = 2⁄8, and so on. Katie’s pizza is ready now (‘Katie’s pizza’…Katie reads it without prompting…horray!) and I join in the fun. We work out how many pieces we would divide the whole pizza into if greater and greater numbers of family members wanted equal shares. All this talk of pizza is making me hungry!

Fractions with Granddad

Fractions with Granddad

Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed how the input of other people can lead to sudden or dramatic leaps in Lily’s and Katie’s understanding and skills. Partly, I think this is because of someone else taking a different approach to a problem, and partly because the girls enjoy the novelty and want to impress other people more than they want to impress Mum and Dad.

Katie is generally adverse to learning to read, but in the past few days has been making some progress, usually under duress. When I told Granddad about Katie’s amazing reading, she did a fantastic thing. Instead of scowling, she leapt up, grabbed the book she’s been reading and insisted that Granddad come sit with her in the sitting room so she could read the book to him. And, as I lay in the bath the other night, I could hear Grandma and Katie downstairs, writing together – Katie asking Grandma how to spell certain words and Grandma prompting Katie to figure the spellings out for herself.

Lily had been keen to learn to knit for some time. My attempts at teaching her didn’t get very far, but I was happy for her to get comfortable with the feel of needles and wool. The knitting would come with time and the improvement of her fine motor skills. About a year ago, Mammy came to stay and in the space of 15 minutes Lily’s knitting took a leap forward. Then, this summer, Julian’s mum brought Lily the final step. Lily can now knit (plain stitch for the moment) and is currently knitting a scarf.

Lily has learned to do underwater handstands by observing an older boy doing them at the pool and Katie has learned to cartwheel by observing teenage girls at the beach. I’ve been told I learned to write my name at the age of three and a half, thanks to my cousin Brendan.

Over the past few years I’ve observed the girls learning from adults and from other children, people they’ve known all their lives and people they’ve just met. I’m not fobbing off my duties and pawning off my children’s education onto everyone else who comes along, althought it might seem like it from what I’ve just written! As a home educator I’m always eager to involve as many people as possible in the children’s very informal education. Julian and I have two different approaches, but when we include other family members, friends, and people we meet along the way, the number of different perspectives and approaches to learning that the girls are exposed to vastly expands. The approach Granddad took to fractions was different to the approach I took. He used different words to describe things, he came to the problem from a different angle. I was tempted to jump in and use the words and phrases I had been employing to teach fractions, but I decided to keep my mouth shut, observe and see what happened.

Granddad’s different approach didn’t confuse the girls. Instead, it pushed their understanding of fractions further.

Life is complex and the best way to solve life’s problems are to approach them from multiple perspectives. As adults we engage with people who have different world views and who approach life differently to us. Developing the skills and aptitude to accept and be able to work with those differences is very important. I’m often reminded of my research in Arviat. One hunter would show me a method for skinning a caribou, one seamstress would show me a method for scraping a seal skin. Aha, I’ve got it, I would think. Until I did the same thing with a different hunter or seamstress, and I realised the method one person had taught me was merely one way to do things. There was no universal way to accomplish a task, but rather multiple and unique approaches that worked for each individual.

It inspires me to see how open the girls are to learning from a variety of perspectives and how quickly, when presented with an alternative approach to a problem, they come to an understanding of something that has been befuddling them for some time. As they learn maths, reading and writing from a variety of people they are also learning the very important lesson that there are multiple ways to approach a task and over time they will find the way that suits them.

Post-script: Yesterday morning Lily and I went out for a walk. When we returned home Katie had learned to strip an electrical plug and put it back together again, thanks to Granddad. This morning I had an appointment to see the nurse and left both girls at home with Granddad. When I returned they were both sitting at the table on the patio, screwdrivers, plugs, a disused iron and a broken electric kettle in front of them, busy stripping and wiring plugs! That’s my girls!!

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7 thoughts on “Fractions with Granddad

  1. Comment by Julian
    I remember dad teaching me fractions and decimals fairly informally when I was about 7. He took my maths way beyond school level. Maybe he has a talent for it. I was not challenged by school maths classes until I was nearly 17.

  2. This is so lovely to hear ♥ First Offspring was deep in conversation with my dad recently, about a whole lot of things. He told me later how interesting it had been, talking to his grandfather. I love that they have these opportunities… I didn’t really have much to do with my grandparents so I’m really glad that I can give them that experience.

    • I lived with one of my grandmothers until she died when I was twelve, and my other Nana lived close to my school, so I went to her for lunch every single day of school for 13 years! She celebrated her 88th birthday last week. So I’ve never lacked for grandmothers. But I never had a grandfather. They both died long before I was born. I’m so pleased that my girls have such a good relationship with their grandfather – they really all adore each other!

  3. I like this post a lot, I’m looking forward to when my girls are a bit older as I can imagine both of my parents will be able to help teach them all manner of things in their own way (and no doubt radically different from how I might do so!). It also points out the positives of home education in being able to choose and try different methods to teach a subject until you find the one that clicks with your children, rather than “this is the way you learn this” that you can often get at school.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post. I think even at school things are much more fluid than we sometimes imagine (unless things have changed a lot since my day!). I remember having to relearn things as I progressed from year to year at school, or if one teacher replaced another mid-way through the year. I particularly remember different teachers having different techniques for multiplication or long division. I also remember going from one teacher who insisted that we learn the French alphabet to a teacher the next year who wouldn’t allow us to use the French alphabet. Ah, bay, say, day overnight (or over summer holidays) had to be ay, bee, see, dee. It was confusing. Silly second teacher, I think. But I settled on a way to multiply and long divide that suited me; and settled on a way to say the French alphabet that suited me. I think the reality of school is not quite as black and white as the theory would have us believe!! The difference with home education is that we’re not quite so afraid to admit that there are many and multiple ways..if that makes sense!

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