Three Minute Math and the Big Question

I’m a planner by nature. I like to know where I will be next week, next month, heck, even next year (as much as one can predict that). So when Em asked to return to homeschooling this fall, I began working on our schedule. It took a while to resolve itself, but after a couple of weeks I had a decent answer and it will give us a regular, dependable schedule that we can both stick to.

And now, being that it is March and only five months away (she says this tongue in cheek), it’s time to focus on what our curriculum will be. I’ve been thinking of math, in particular.

I fear that during the last parent/teacher conference I may have given a highly regarded math teacher a bit of an existential crisis. It went something like this:

Me: So I think that, in the fall, I will return to the basics, just to make sure it’s all there – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Mr. G: Oh, she’s got that down!

Me: [turn to Em] Do you, kiddo? What’s 8×7?

Em: Um, um

Mr. G: [looking aghast] But you know this!

Me: Eh, you know how it is, after a while I’m sure she will remember, but I really want the basics to be an instantaneous kind of thing. Almost habit, you know?

Mr. G: Well, yes, of course! They should be automatic!

Poor guy. He is a great teacher, by the way, but he has 30 kids at a time in his class. If I were teaching 30 kids at a time, I’d be a neurotic puddle on the floor.

I really hope I didn’t send him hurtling into an existential crisis. He’s a highly regarded teacher and has several awards. Perhaps he will walk away from that discussion with the question, though, of just how much IS being retained and whether he needs to revisit things and make sure the kids truly KNOW it.

In any case, the point of it all is that the basics should be automatic. She should be able to snap off basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, all the way to 12, without pause. Until she is at that point, I feel that the rest of it is pointless.

Three-Minute Math

So we have flash cards, which seem to be frustrating for Em as well as mind-numbingly boring for me. And since she has been spending a year in school, I know she has had a lot more exposure to worksheets. So I’m going to give some 3-minute math a try. Just a 3-minute review daily in addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Nothing crazy and extreme, but something that will consistently give her a review of the basics.

A quick Google search landed this helpful site: Math-Aids where you can customize the worksheets and even choose 1, 3, or 5-minute worksheets. I printed off several different worksheets – five each of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

After she makes her way through those, we will see where her skills are and either continue with the worksheet practice or move on to something else.

I can remember my eldest arguing with me about how she didn’t feel that knowing her multiplication tables was particularly necessary. But honestly, I really think they are. They (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) are the building blocks upon which everything else stands.

Math Games

I struggled with math when I was young. And I created games to keep me practicing my skills on a daily basis. In fact, they became a habit, and to this day I still practice most of these games automatically.

Digital Clock Game

When I was struggling with short division and fractions, I began practicing daily by dividing the hour into the minutes on the clocks throughout the day. In this case, 42/3 = 12. If say I had 6:45, I would do the division, 45 divided by 6 = 7 3/6 – and then reduce the fraction down – 7 1/2.

12:03 becomes 3 divided by 12, which becomes 1/4

11:53 becomes 4 and 7/11

And so on…

License Plate Game

This was one of my earlier games, devised on the endless trips between Flagstaff and Phoenix. We lived in Flagstaff, but Phoenix, nearly two hours away, was where the airport was. My dad was in San Francisco, my mom in Flagstaff, and I moved between them regularly.

I would get slightly carsick if I spent the entire time reading, so I played the license plate game to keep me from being bored to tears.

Take the license number above and convert any letters to their numeral equivalencies. So…

6  L  I  K  2  7  4


6  12 9 11  2  7  4

Now compare the differences between the numbers. The difference between 6 and 12 is 6, the difference between 12 and 9 is 3, and so on…

6  3  2  9  5  3

And then the differences between those individual numbers…

3  1  7  4  2

And again…

2  6  3  2

And again…

4  3  1

And again…

1  2

And finally…


When I played it, and I was young at the time, it always ended with either 1 or 2.

It helped me with addition and subtraction and also number/letter substitution which led to other codes and puzzles, all good for the growing brain.

Typewriter Game

In 7th grade, we learned to type on these old manual typewriters. They covered the keys with black tape. I had a hell of a time learning the letters and found remembering where the numbers were exceedingly difficult. Later I was happy to transition over to ten-key. Once I learned that I was golden, but that’s a story for another day. I liked typing on the typewriter, I wanted to be better at it because I loved words and writing, and it became a welcome challenge for me.

I developed the habit of typing words that appealed to me, whether I had a typewriter in front of me or not. Ones I heard, ones that were said – and I haven’t stopped. My kids and husband will see my fingers fluttering away and ask, “What are you typing?” Sometimes I don’t even remember! It is good for a laugh, though.

So the game, or habit really, comprised of typing words, any words, but the longer the better. I would not only practice the correct fingers to use by tapping my fingers as if they were on a typewriter, but I would also keep count of how many fingers I used and how often.

I’m starting to sound rather obsessive and weird, aren’t I?

With that in mind, let’s take the word obsessive as an example…

If I number my fingers left to right, one to eight (thumbs don’t count), the fingers used looks something like this…

7  4  2  3  2  2  6  4  3

It has nine letters and those nine letters take a total five fingers to type. So I would consider it a 9/5 fraction or one and four-fifths.

I considered it a “win” when the ratio went into bigger whole numbers like two or three. A huge win would be a “four per”

attendance – 1  4  4  3  5  4  1  5  3  3

ten letter word, four fingers utilized, so ten divided by four = two and two-fourths – so an average of 2 and one-half per finger. Not bad.

It enabled me to not only engage in much-needed typing practice (thereby firmly cementing it in my brain) but also to continue to work on my fractions which I struggled with at that time.

To College Or Not?

I know it is a ways away, but I’ve been thinking a lot about college.

The eldest amassed enough credit hours to probably be closer to a Bachelor’s – and has flitted back and forth with college over the past eleven years. It has made me deeply thankful that I did NOT find myself funding it.

My youngest is just as bright and curious as her sister – but the question of college is not as simple as looking at your child and saying, “Well, you are smart so you HAVE to go to college.”

This excellent article questioning whether “you must go to college” is truly the message we should be giving our children.

This isn’t a matter of stupid versus smart or economic status – it’s a matter of interest and skills.

If your child is crazy about taking things apart and putting them together again, she might be a fantastic car mechanic.

If your child is constantly creating art, perhaps they need to become an artist – and maybe,just maybe that does not mean with an art degree.

I remember when I quit my office job and started my cleaning business. I knew that I could control what hours I worked if I ran my own business, and honestly, that was my primary reason for choosing a cleaning biz. I could go to school, work around my learning schedule, and even have time to study – all without a manager peering at me over my shoulder or telling me I couldn’t have the time off.

When I was asked why I chose a major in Psychology and a minor in Creative Writing, my response was honest, “Typical delaying tactic. I can’t say I’m a writer until I’ve got the degree to prove it, right?”

But the reality was – I could be a writer and I didn’t need a degree to accomplish it. Just like I didn’t need a degree in business to run my own business either. Twenty plus years working in offices had more than prepared me to deal with clients in a professional manner.

Life experience, entrepreneurship, dipping our toes into the working world, and the lessons we learn at home from our parents and extended family are essential. College? Less so.

If you are planning on a position in the medical field – by all means, attend college. I don’t want some kid consulting Wikipedia and watching YouTube videos for instructions on how to remove a tumor. Years upon years of education is definitely a stringent requirement before you put your hands on a patient!

But at some point, we have to make a decision – and that decision is on just how much debt we are willing to encourage our children to be buried underneath. I took out a $10,000 loan in 1988 for secretarial school and a good chunk of it was money that my loser first husband and I lived on (mainly due to the fact that he had no intention of ever working for a living – that was for stupid people like me). Over 20 years later and probably at least twice that amount in payments back to them, I finally paid it off.

Our children are saddling themselves with debt – tens of thousands of it – and it needs to stop. Because there is no point in paying through the nose for a piece of paper if it is going to cost them their future ability to buy a home, a car or to ever hope to live debt-free.

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