Saturday, December 2, 2023

How to Teach Algebra When You Count on Your Fingers


How to Teach Algebra 

When You Count on Your Fingers


I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke:

“There are three kinds of people, those who are good at math, and those who aren’t”

 Well, many of us homeschool moms are in the “aren’t” category. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot teach algebra!

You know how it goes. When you begin homeschooling your cute little preschooler, you start getting questions like these:


“But how are you going to teach Physics?”

“But certainly you’ll need to send her to public school for high school, right?”

“How will she learn algebra?”

“What about CALCULUS?”


I don’t know what possesses human beings to worry so much about every future possibility, but they do. Even though the Bible says not to (Luke 12: 22-26 )

We shouldn’t worry – but we should prepare. And we should be comforted. It is entirely possible to teach our children subjects that we don’t already know, and don’t excel in. And it is entirely possible for our children to become better at those subjects than we are – and for us to continue “teaching them” that material.

 I’m going to make a strange assertion – a student who is taught math by a non-mathematician has some advantages! Firstly, they learn how to figure out something they don’t already know – rather than just being spoon-fed by an expert. And second, a teacher who is not good at math has a better feel for finding a simple explanation than does a teacher who is an expert in math.

 So, what do I do, as a non-math person, to “teach” my child math? Lots of things! I teach her to research. I check her work for simple errors (like 2+5=9). I encourage her. I help her to stay focused. I help her find expert help when we both need it. I walk along side her as she learns. 

At this point, she is far beyond me in math (it’s been that way for a long time now) – but I’m still her “teacher.” And she’s still moving forward.

I have used this approach for all levels of mathematics – from early elementary up. Even though this article is labeled "Algebra" - it has also worked for higher levels of math - and lower levels of math.

Here’s what I do:

*Pray with my child at the start of each day for God’s Blessing on our work.

 *Find programs online that test my child and place her at the right level, then provide questions that teach from that point on (sometimes called “Self Leveling” materials). If you're not a "math mom," It MUST be a program that self-grades. (see below for suggestions)

* If I know my child needs a certain level, then I can select a platform that teaches just that level.

* If a platform becomes too frustrating for her, I try a different one for a while (but I don’t stop too easily – all lessons are frustrating sometimes!)

 Excellent platforms we have enjoyed over the years include:

Khan Academy We enjoyed K-8, and occasionally use select lessons for higher grades. This is Common Core Aligned, so sometimes the methods get a little weird. Common core math does not focus on memorization of math facts, which is a vital skill for math success. If you use a Common Core aligned math program, make sure you plug in some math games like and others (see below) to help polish up the memorization of facts.

Prodigy (K-8) Read about our experience here

IXL (All levels – excellent platform)

InstantCert (dual enrollment/college) & (dual enrollment/college)

 I have my daughter simply work at the computer, doing the provided questions. I require a certain number of answers – or sometimes correct answers per day, depending on her current needs (I don’t stress over “wrong” answers – they’re evidence learning is happening : ) 


you don't have to buy the fancy calculator!

 Try these online calculators. They're free, and have had everything we've needed throughout all levels of Math

Desmos - suitable for exams

The following are great, but in some instances might provide too much "help" and might not be great for exam day, depending on the setting:

Wolfram Alpha





If she gets to a question, and does not know how to do it, this is how I help:

1)      Look at the question, and see if I know how to do it and can explain it.

2)      Read or watch the provided tutorial or explanation provided on the platform, and see if we can figure it out together. This is VERY valuable instruction for her, as I am modeling how to learn math!

3)      If I cannot figure it out from the provided explanation or tutorial, I copy the name of the lesson or unit (for instance, “adding fractions with unlike denominators”) and paste it into the Youtube search bar. I add the words “For kids” or “Easy” after the words I pasted. This brings up a selection of MANY videos that explain just how to do the type of math she is working on. We watch a few of them together & find one that we like. If a video is confusing, boring, or poorly explained, we just skip to the next one. Over time we’ve developed favorite channels or teachers. For instance, “Math Antics” has lots of great videos for Elementary, Jr. High math & early Algebra.(Of course, if we need a written explanation rather than a video, we just type the same words into our regular search engine and look for a good article). Here is my Pinterest Board of Favorite Math Videos

4)      If she needs to memorize a formula or method, she types the name of what is needed in the Youtube search bar, and adds the word “song” – she gets a selection of formulas set to music for easy memorization. Some are much better than others – we take a few minutes to find a good one. Then we sing it together enough times for her to memorize it. I have a collection of good songs that have worked for us on my Pinterest Board of Math Songs.

            Here is a small sample of some of our favorite songs for Algebra (rest assured, you'll find

            many more once you know to look for them!) :

A fun one for memorizing polynomials

The Quadratic Formula 

The Sums and Differences of Cubes 

 5)      Then, we go back to the questions, and try again. Persistence pays off

 6)   Sometimes, you need to "Be the Duck."  Computer programmers often keep a rubber ducky on their desk. If they have code that isn't working, and they cannot find the bug, they explain their code, line by line, out loud, to the Duck. And, as they explain it, they see their own mistakes. Many days, I AM the duck for math class! I don't understand it, but my daughter understands it better when she explains it, aloud, to me.

6)      If, together, we still cannot figure it out – and we’ve spent a good amount of time trying, we call in the “big guns” – for us, this is Daddy when he comes home from work (math is his thing). But, not every family has a Daddy who is good at math. If that's the case, find a friend from Church or a neighbor who is a retired math teacher, or a professional tutor would also work. I find if we do the above steps ourselves, the “big guns” were really only really needed a handful of times - total. 

In addition to the above steps, we use online math game platforms or apps. 

For more games, check out my Pinterest Board on Math Games. Here are a few favorites:

Dragonbox is a great Algebra introduction, to help with basic algebra concepts, and helps make algebra methodology more natural for the student. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Prodigy was priceless in Elementary is great for math memorization as well as practice disguised as video games.Use it to help with automaticity at any age.

Just one more note:

Very early in my homeschool teaching days, I found an excellent bit of encouragement in math from Art Robinson, creator of the Robinson Curriculum. Some of his children went to college for math-intensive courses in their mid-teens. He aimed for his kids to do about 2 HOURS of math a day. Although I did not use his curriculum, or follow all his methods, I did find this bit of advice to be quite valuable. We don’t usually spend 2 hours on math – but some days we do! And, there are very few days on which we do 10-minutes-and-done. We tend to expect math to take some serious time.





Saturday, June 24, 2023

Can You Homeschool College? (Updated for 2023)

Can You Homeschool College?
Does homeschooling have to stop when children start college?

There is a common assumption - even
amongst homeschoolers - that High School is the "end of the line" for homeschooling.

But, that's simply not true.

And there's another assumption that college needs to cost a lot of money - that's not always true, either.

(A little note for international readers: the words "college" and "university" are virtually interchangeable in everyday American speech - I am using the word "college" here to mean both college AND university)

In my opinion, college is different from high school, in that there is a legitimate need to have an institution document learning. So, in that way, homeschooling college differs from homeschooling at the Primary and Secondary levels.

There are many reasons a parent might choose to "send a child off" to college: networking, learning under a certain professor, taking a specific program that only one university offers, learning a hands-on profession that must be mentored and practiced (like, say, brain surgery or musical performance).

But, there are many reasons NOT to send a child off to college! The spiritually, psychologically and academically damaging "party" atmosphere at many universities, the promotion of an anti-Christian worldview at many universities, and the high costs are just a few.

If a child is  academically ready to learn college level material at perhaps 15, but too young to live independently or deal with the pressures of a full course load, homeschooling college might be a great alternative.

I can already hear the nay-sayers arguing that "you can't shield them from the 'real world' forever!" Which is very true! But, my experience and observation of modern undergrad dorm life is that it is about as far from the real adult world as one can get. Thousands of young people without adult responsibility, such as being required to support themselves and pay for their own bills, without accountability to parents any longer, but WITH lots of money and freedom - is a recipe for disaster. 

Of course young people will be out on their own - as responsible adults - when that is appropriate. But going off to grad school alone, taking a job in a distant city, or building a home with a family is much truer "real life" than undergrad dorm or fraternity life ever was.

Over the years, I have become familiar with various methods of gaining college credit  - or even a full degree - from home.

There are FOUR basic steps you need to complete: 

1) Learn about the process 

There are a few YouTube Channels that go into great detail on how to get this done. Once you subscribe to a couple, of course, YouTube will suggest more. These are my favorites:

College Hacked


Nine Month College Grad

This one also has some great info on choosing majors, and various professional certifications:

Shane Hummus

Consider falling down the proverbial rabbit hole on my Pinterest board on this topic: 

Homeschool College & Dual Enrollment


2) Choose a "Regionally Accredited" University that offers the degree you want, and accepts a high number of transfer credits (most universities listed here accept 90 transfer credits toward a bachelor's degree).  Each of the Third party providers in #3, below, have "Partner Universities." Explore those pages to find a university that suits your needs.

Here are some to investigate: 

Thomas A. Edison State University
This is my own Alma Mater, I completed my degree there while living abroad in a location where traditional university wasn't an option. I found myself well prepared for graduate work after graduating from Thomas Edison. They offer remote classes, credit by exam, and credit assessment for learning accomplished outside of class, among other options. They're fully accredited. Prices were VERY reasonable!

Purdue Global 

Liberty University Online 

Excelsior College -accepts an unusually high number of transfer credits 

Western Governors University - offers a special "Competency Based" learning program, with an unusual tuition structure which encourages acceleration.

University of Maine at Presque Isle

Colorado Christian University


3) Earn as many transfer credits as you can from "ACE Recommended" third party or inexpensive providers 

College Level Examination Program and  For a reasonable fee, MUCH less than tuition for a similar class, you can take one of these exams and gain credits which are accepted by many colleges and universities. Some colleges accept many - some few - so talk to your desired institution and see which ones they will accept - or chose an institution that accepts more of them. I used these exams for a substantial portion of my Bachelor's degree. I graduated debt free : )

DSST - like CLEP, but offers more niche courses & upper level courses. Originally designed by the government for military members, these tests are now available to civilians. I've taken many of these.

Sophia.Org a "Third Party Provider" that offers various courses worth A.C.E. Recommended College Credit, and has a very reasonable monthly subscription rate. These courses can be done quickly, which is a great advantage. There are lots of YouTube videos about how to plan carefully to do several of these courses in a month, - like this woman who did TEN classes in a month! That's 30 credits - normally a full year of schooling! (she does not live in the US, so her university choice is not "regionally accredited" and probably wouldn't be as good a choice for you if you're a US citizen)

Study.Com another "Third Party Provider" that offers various courses worth A.C.E. Recommended College Credit, and has a slightly higher monthly subscription rate. These courses take a little longer than Sophia Courses. They offer more "upper level" and specialty courses than does. 

Modern States
Another great option that I am personally familiar with is Modern States - also known as "First Year of College Free". At Modern States - for free - you can watch a full course of lectures, read a free textbook, and answer practice questions. When you are done, put in a request for a voucher and they offer to PAY for your CLEP exam to gain college credits for what you have studied! This wonderful service is provided by Philanthropist Steven Klinsky, who wants to make college more accessible for everyone. The courses we have used on Modern States are not as well taught or organized as Sophia or, but the price is perfect, and the free practice tests are very helpful.

InstantCert - for great help preparing for CLEP and DSST exams, at a very reasonable monthly subscription price. We have used and liked this one.

Saylor Academy 
Note - some of their courses offer exam credit that is transferable - some do not. VERY inexpensive.

Coursera -
Some of their courses offer college credit, and they offer some degree programs, too! And some of those are from top name universities!

Your Local Community College

Community Colleges offer many of the same courses as 4 year colleges - often for about 1/4 the price. Staying home and commuting for the first two years can be a great option for many. It's not homeschooling, but it can be a nice transition. Many programs offer the added benefit of qualifying graduates in a trade. This way, they can work in their target field in while schooling continues. For instance, if your student wants to be a Dentist one day, he or she might benefit from learning to be a Dental Hygenist or Assistant at community college. Then, while working for the additional degrees, that part-time job can be a resume and experience builder - and also pay much more than many jobs other undergrads can get. Likewise, the aspiring lawyer can become a paralegal first, and the aspiring nurse-anesthetist can become an LPN or RN first through community college training. Beware, sometimes community college courses contain objectionable material, or involve interacting with adult classmates in a way that some teens may not be prepared for.


4) Enroll in your chosen school after earning your transfer credits, and complete the remaining requirements.


If you have a student who REALLY wants that "going off to college" experience, but wants to avoid student debt, investigate these two schools:

College of the Ozarks

Berea College



On the other hand, if you just want to learn, and don't care about a degree, there ARE wonderful courses online for free from many universities -Just search for "MOOC" (Massive Open Online Course) to find lists like this:


One last note - beware of Diploma Mills and College Debt. The College you choose should be "Regionally Accredited" if you are in the US. If the college you're looking at has tuition rates that are very high or preposterously low, admits students without sufficient proof that they are ready for advanced studies, or offers "easy" or "quick" degrees - beware! Make sure they're regionally accredited. Check their reviews online. I still remember meeting a colleague years ago, who had gone to a disreputable college, and who was devastated that she had paid three times as much as I had to get a degree, but was completely unprepared for the professional world.   Make sure you do your research! 

But, with a little research, and some well chosen resources, homeschooling part or all of college can be done! : )