Reading, writing, and riding horses . . . at our house, that one small change would lead to homeschool utopia. No more dragging through lesson after lesson of math. No more groans and sighs at the thought of school. The debate of whether to start the day with the worst subject or leave it until later wouldn’t even be an issue. For my children, there would be nothing left to shirk! They freely admit that without math, school would be fun. And really, putting “arithmetic” in the Three Rs does raise some question as to one’s pronunciation skills!
Alas, math is important. We all know that. Even my children recognize that math skills are critical for daily life. Whether we’re doubling a recipe, planting a garden, designing a corral, or figuring the ever-fluctuating price of cattle, they witness both of their parents using math on a regular basis. But that recognition does not seem to lessen their distaste for the hours of practice math requires.
As we wrapped up another school year, I pondered and prayed about the problem of math. Our curriculum choice is solid; I am sure of that. But maybe it is too dull. Would a little color or some pictures sprinkled throughout make a difference? Or is the trouble my fault? Did I express my own feelings toward numbers and give my kids a negative attitude? Or is it just in their genes? What changes are needed?
As questions swirled through my mind, an answer dawned in the most unexpected of places.
At my grandma’s funeral, many of the memories shared centered around food. Grandma was an exceptional cook; there is no question about that. Her best dish, however, is a controversial subject. Some praised her pancakes, while others fondly remembered her fried chicken. For me, oatmeal raisin cookies were only bested by glazed doughnuts. One thing we could all agree on: Grandma’s kitchen was a wonderful place to be when you were hungry.
Grandma’s cooking skills were honed through many years of being an older child in a large family. Raising her own brood of eleven hungry kids provided her with the necessary practice to reach culinary perfection. The hours she spent in the kitchen feeding her children, grandchildren, and many extended family members are mind-boggling. As we fondly recalled all that wonderful food, my sister shared the best memory of all.
Katie remembers asking Grandma, as they worked together in the kitchen, whether she liked cooking. Grandma paused a moment before replying,
“Well, I don’t really know. I never thought about it.”
That simple response echoed through my mind for days. I couldn’t understand it at first. Through all those pancakes flipped, doughnuts glazed, and chickens fried, how could she not think about it? How many hundreds of meals had she prepared? And how could she not think about whether she liked cooking?
The answer, I realized, was simple. It didn’t matter. Whether she liked cooking or not just did not factor into the equation. Hungry bodies had to be fed. It was her job to provide nourishment, and she did it to the best of her ability. Hard work and commitment were fed by responsibility rather than personal pleasure.
Within this realization lay the answer to my math quandary. My children must learn to add and subtract, multiply and divide. They must understand fractions and percents, surface area and volume. But a bigger lesson waits between the covers of those math books. Of greater value than knowing prime factorization is the ability to apply yourself to a task and accomplish it with excellence whether you like it or not. This lesson cannot be learned in an area of study, or of life, which you naturally enjoy. The areas of life that challenge us are those that cause the most growth.
Both my children and I need lessons in thinking less about what we enjoy and more about what needs to be done. We need to work hard, because the task at hand is our responsibility even when it is not what we like. Accomplishing every job to the best of our ability should be our goal. Perseverance must prevail over the pursuit of pleasure. Learned well, these lessons will serve my children throughout their lives.
Our math curriculum will remain the same for the coming year. In fact, one daughter’s math book will look startlingly identical to the one she did last year, at least for a while! One small aesthetic touch will be added: a homemade bookmark will be tucked within the pages, marking the beginning of each new lesson. One side of the bookmark will read, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23). Flipping it over, you will find the words of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
I know these verses won’t be a miracle cure. I am sure we will face many of the same struggles again. But it is my goal that in the struggle, we will focus on matters of the heart. I pray God will use math to teach each of us a larger lesson. For as often as we use math, we each face tasks we don’t find enjoyable even more frequently. Will we shirk those tasks? Grumble as we do them? Or will we learn to work heartily as unto the Lord? Will we quit thinking so much about what we like and seek instead to fulfill our responsibilities? By God’s grace, may we learn our lessons well!
It still surprises me when my heavenly Father provides wisdom and guidance in the most unexpected of places. I never would have thought that attending a funeral would help me solve a math problem!
But thoughts of Grandma’s cooking have led me to ponder another math problem: if she fixed an average of three chickens for Sunday lunch every week for twenty years, how much chicken did she cook? Right off the top of my head, I can tell you that is a lot of chicken! And she never stopped to think about whether she liked it or not. Amazing.
Jamie Gross is wife to Dustin and mom to Taylor, Kaycee, and Kody. She is thankful to have been homeschooled herself, and she loves homeschooling her own children. They raise cattle on their ranch in western Kansas, where Jamie also enjoys riding horses, gardening, writing, and of course reading!