Michael’s Unschooling Math Path

Michael's Unschooling Math Path

Michael, age 31.
Unschooled from 2nd grade until college.
Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, minor in Archaeology/Anthropology.
Lived in Central America, working for the Peace Corps.
Finishing up his MBA.

Michael went to school through 1st grade. Timed math tests were his nemesis. He just couldn’t quit watching the clock! So in spite of being in the gifted/talented program, and actually knowing most of his “math facts” by heart, he couldn’t pass those simple math tests.  When he came home to learn, we never did another timed test like that.

Michael was what I would call “A Maker.” One of his favorite Christmas presents one year was a multi-pack of Scotch tape rolls! Give the boy some scissors, markers, and tape… and he was golden. He had no concentrated effort on mathematics as he was growing up.

Or did he?

He played outside, built forts and ramps, played hockey and later volleyball and judo. Inside, he played computer games like Jumpstart 3rd Grade (all the grades, actually) as well as board games, legos, card games, Uno – and all those cardboard/tape creations! Backing up to the Jumpstart computer games though… the kids learned early on that they could move up levels quickly if they turned off the sound (which was the instructional aspect of it!) and they simply moved through. So yes, there was a little use of math in there, but probably not as much as the game really was promising.

Once Michael was a teen, I started to feel a little nervous that there wasn’t much math happening. I anticipated that he’d take community college classes but I thought he’d need to prep a little for that. (SPOILER: He didn’t need to.)  Occasionally I’d ask him to do a few pages of the KeyTo Math workbooks so he’d know a little about the math he’d see on the placement tests. He did a few pages and then wandered off from it. A few months later, I’d inevitably have a wave of panic, shoving the workbooks under him – he’d comply for a little while and then I’d realize how ridiculous it all was.

He was still involved in what would be considered "consumer math."

  • He raised money to travel to Japan as an exchange student.
  • He participated in all the fundraisers his Scout troop set up.
  • Making change was no biggie for him.
  • He understood percentages from tipping and from sale prices.
  • He understood larger math principles from ranch life… sorting, estimating, making logical conclusions.
  • He worked in a pecan orchard and then as a cashier at Target and later at Barnes and Noble.
  • He took lifeguard training and worked at a Scout camp for a summer.

Unschooling and Math!

Do you want more specifics about how to stop stressing about math and find it in all kinds of activities?

This Unschooling Guide can help you do exactly that!

With thought-provoking articles and journal prompts, Sue Patterson can help you get to the heart of the problem. Here's what you will find in this 30-page full-color magazine-style Guide:

  • Seeing Math Everywhere
  • A Scavenger Hunt for Math in Your Home
  • Playing with Math
  • Strewing and Storytime
  • Math out in the Community
  • Your Personal History with Math
  • Math Anxiety and How to Get Over It
  • Math Anxiety Assessment
  • Ten Tips to Overcome Math Anxiety
  • More Reading, Videos, and Podcasts about Reframing Math
  • Math Games & Fun Ideas
  • More Fun Ideas with Math

A few months prior to taking the college placement tests, Michael played with a program online called Number2.com. It was cool how they set it up – but I don’t really think Michael thought it was as cool as I did!  I didn’t really watch to see how much he did of it, but I wanted him to know it was available. (I’m not even sure if it’s actually the same as it was back then… again, though…. not necessary).

Community college placement time… he had done the practice tests, looked up what he thought he didn’t know, and scored well enough that he could move straight into College Algebra with no remedial work. He didn’t though. Instead, he took other classes – just enough to transfer as a sophomore to Texas State University. By going in as a “transfer student,” he avoided having to take the SAT/ACT.  But when he got ready to take Algebra there, they wanted him to do an assessment test. He didn’t pass it. (He didn’t study again for it, like he had for the community college placement test.) But no worries, he took the Pre-Algebra class, sailed through with flying colors, then took Algebra the next semester and made an A.

I can honestly tell you that all my panicking was completely unnecessary.

The KeyTo workbooks weren’t hard, but they weren’t big factors in how he well he did at college.
As Michael said,

“They give you the info, then you take the test. It’s kind of simple like that.”

College math classes were no exception.

Michael graduated Magna Cum Laude. He also had a really full active college life before leaving for Nicaragua with the Peace Corps. His focus there was teaching English to the high school teachers - ironically it was the first time he had ever stepped foot in a high school!

His math leanings are back to what they always were… real world, consumer math.
Buying cars, buying a home, figuring out best insurance rates, budgeting for life. He’s good at it.

...because Real Life has been his focus all along.


I originally wrote this back in 2018. I've updated it a bit and mentioned that he's working on his MBA now.

Read other Math-related blogposts here

Need Some Support?

Our private membership is full of supportive unschooling moms and dads who have created the type of community so many of us look for!

With ongoing coaching from experienced unschooler, Sue Patterson, we share what's going on, gain answers to questions we have, celebrate together, and most importantly, conquer the fears that hold us back from the unschooling life we want!

Find out more about all the benefits of being a member!

Join us today - why wait?

Leave a Reply