The Making of a Wizard & The Crafty Side of Math

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Blog, She Wrote: The Making of a Wizard & the Crafty Side of Math

Do you have a creative child in your life? How about a child who doesn’t enjoy math? Have you struggled to get your child to engage with math?

Today’s post is about encouraging math with creative kids or how to engage kids creatively with math!

Blog She Wrote: Engaging Creative Kids with math

Living Math and Creative Kids:

We hear a lot about living math these days, but what does the term really mean? I see a lot of blogs with labels on living math, but I’m not sure it all fits the criteria. Living math isn’t just about hands on experiences or adventures with math. Living math is essentially applied math. It’s the math you encounter when you are working on a goal- whether it’s cooking, creating, planning, or building.

You can orchestrate living math with projects you devise and suggest, but the best kind of living math comes when your student is working on something creative and comes across the need for math. THIS is when the magic happens.

Blog She Wrote: Pattern Drafting

R12 made four crocheted Gandalfs from a pattern found at Geek Central Station.

What Math Is Needed for the Gandalf Crochet Pattern?

  • Following the crochet pattern– what a lot of counting and spatial reasoning!
  • Drafting the patterns for Gandalf’s clothing-The pattern provided was for the body itself. Rather than purchasing the clothing patterns, she made her own. There’s quite a lot of math in measuring and adjust patterns to fit a particular size.
  • The Brim of the Hat– she needed to use some serious geometry to find the size of the cone to fit the brim of the hat or how to get the circle at the bottom of the cone to be the right size for the brim. She also needed to work out how wide to make the brim itself.

How Did She Solve the Problem? By searching for equations on the internet based on what she knew already about cones and triangles. She actually knew a bit of trigonometry from a discussion with her dad over a slide rule. They had a long discussion about right triangles which started her down a path to conquer her problem.

She did some measuring and given her four Gandalfs were not precisely the same size, she had to adjust them and make four separate ones. She made the jacket from a flat construction she recently learned and was able to try them on and adjust the fit.

Blog She Wrote: Engaging Creative Kids with math

The Key to Engaging Creative Kids with Math:

  • Slow down your schedule– if you and your children are always on the go from one activity to the next, no matter how amazing the activities are, you are taking away from creative time. Think about whether your schedule aligns with the goals you have for your homeschool and family life. Drop things out if you need to.
  • Allow them time for creating– Even if you are home, it’s easy to schedule time with what needs doing whether it’s school work or house work and chores. My observation is that you need to allow kids the time for pursuing their passions. Make plenty of time for it. How they use it will change as they get older and it varies based on the personalities of your children.
  • Give them permission to create on their own without an agenda set by you or anyone else. This is at the heart of Project Based Homeschooling, but even if you don’t consider yourself relaxed enough for this, this is important stuff. Directing projects and managing everything our kids do is quite different from mentoring them to manage their own stuff. Saving a portion of the day for this type of learning is key to becoming an independent learner.
  • Be sure to have the necessary supplies on hand for creating– this may seem so simple, but if your children cannot get to the supplies or there are none available then their creations are limited.
Blog She Wrote: Pattern Drafting

How Does Allowing Time for Creativity Encourage Math Skills?

Chances are your student will come across the need for math while working on his creative project. What counts as math?

  • Measuring– this can come in all forms, but not only requires the act of measuring it’s usually followed up with some arithmetic to figure out if it’s the right size for his intentions.
  • Pattern Following– no matter what you are building or sewing, following a pattern requires mathematical thinking from measuring to spatial reasoning. Being able to do it well takes practice, but it’s a great skill to have.
  • Organizing– if your student is working on a project from idea to product, there’s likely some organizing going on. Organizational thinking and putting steps in order is a mathematical skill.
  • Pattern Drafting– it takes a lot of mathematical thinking to draft your own pattern for something whether it’s for sewing or wood working or anything in between. R12 has been making a lot of patterns and she’s been working with size and proportion and how different elements fit together to make the whole.
Blog She Wrote: Pattern Drafting

R12 doesn’t enjoy using existing clothing patterns as much as she enjoys drafting them. She’s been given some basic tools to get this job done and it’s been a fantastic learning experience to go after it on her own.

A Few Resources for Pattern Drafting:

  • How to Make Sewing Patterns– oldie but goodie on pattern drafting
  • How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns– she uses this one more
  • Blogs & Tutorials- she has learned a LOT by reading what others are doing. Now that she has her own Galaxy Player (think Android version of an iPod touch for you iPeople), she can look up her favorite creative blogs while she works which she LOVES.

The take home point here is that R12 spends a lot of time immersed in her creations and she enjoys tackling the math when it is for the purpose of finishing her creation. She will ask for help if she needs it, but mostly she comes to discuss where she is and how its going. She is far less frustrated throughout this process than when she has to do a problem for a problem’s sake.

Blog She Wrote: Engaging Creative Kids with math

Allowing Time for Creativity & Invention Boosts Morale during the Prescribed Math Time:

  • Prior Knowledge– if they encounter a concept on their own and they tackle it, then they’ve seen it before and they can add it to their math toolbox. Accessing prior knowledge is king when it comes to working on new concepts.
  • Confidence Booster– meeting up with and working out the math for one of their projects reinforces the idea that we are all math smart. We just need to nurture that smart and what better way to do that than with something we are good at?
  • Spoonful of Sugar– helps the medicine go down! When you allow plenty of time for pursuing passions and doing math their way, it helps ease the tension when they have to sit and just do math.

Subscribe to Change How You Think about Homeschooling Creative Teens

So, do you leave time in your schedule for your creative child to pursue his passion?

Is there time in your day and are there materials available for your children to dive into a project?

The investment of time related to projects helps to shore up those mathematical thinking skills outside of prescribed math time.

I’ve seen focused effort on a math problem that far exceeds anything I would lay out for her and this is when you’ll see pure tenacity in getting the job done!

Sign up to get a FREE guide called, 10 Myths You’re Believing about Your Out of the Box Teen that Are Holding Them Back and learn how to approach your homeschool high school differently, even for college bound teens.


If “living math” is not all you’d hoped it would be in your homeschool, then I challenge you to discern whether it’s really the applied living math you are seeking or if it’s just a veneer of the real thing. Authenticity is key when it comes to living math and finding it is really a matter of getting immersed in student driven learning.

I’d love to hear how you encourage your outside the box math learner. Feel free to leave a comment!

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  1. this is so great. i’ve seen kids stretch to learn new math skills in order to accomplish something they needed/wanted to do with their project (for example, building a scale model) and i really think using math *authentically* for their own meaningful purpose helps them make the connection that math can help them do interesting and important work.

    i have a friend who teaches community college and he told me that when he was in school himself, he had no interest in math, but when he was an adult and needed math to do machine work, its *utility* made him interested — he wishes more kids had the opportunity to learn early on what math can *do* in the real world, beyond pages of problems in a math book.

    1. So true! Stretching is the thing! Kids don’t see the math as compelling unless they really have a need for it.

      And really, contriving real math for kids just isn’t the same.

      1. NO, it’s definitely not! exactly the same thing as contrived projects for school kids — fake real-life work vs. *real* real-life work.

  2. You have the coolest ideas :). I’m really enjoying your blog. Math is hard for me and though we do some hands on, it’s hard to keep my son focused with his workbook. He knows how to do the work. He just gets distracted by everything. Even his pencil can become a toy. I move him to different places and give him breaks between problems. I’ve set a timer. Do you have any tips? We’re about to start 3rd grade math. God bless!

    1. Amber,

      How many problems is the math lesson? One thing I do is sit with my younger students until the lesson is over. Sometimes my presence is enough to keep them focused. You might try five at a time. You might cut down on the number he has to do especially if she is showing mastery of the skill. You could try do some of them orally instead of all written. I hope you can find a good balance.

      Thanks for reading!

      1. It’s two pages and each page is divided into thirds with different types of problems. He breezes through time etc but the addition and subtraction parts take awhile. I usually get him to do another subject between pages and sometimes give him breaks between portions on a page. Thanks for your help :). I’ll definitely try your ideas. God bless!

        1. Ah Horizons…I was going to say based on your description that it sounds like Horizons. We used it for many years, but it was not an easy fit for anyone but our oldest.

          Honestly, my suggestion is to have him practice the new concepts and the ones he needs work on. I would not continue to do section upon section of work that he knows. It’s redundant and it is fatiguing. Let him do the sections that involve the new concept and only the ones he needs practice with. Skip the rest. Maybe rotate what he reviews to keep him sharp.

          My kids could do the math easy, but the repetition was excruciating. And not necessary for the most part.

          My two cents!

          1. Thanks so much and I will definitely try that :). I like that Horizons is colorful and gives me a guide to teach (I’m horrible at math). But I don’t want him to hate math. I guess we will have to only use some of the book. I buy workbooks because there’s so much I don’t know on my own. I’m relearning even simple concepts with my son. I just wanted to draw when I was in school and I memorized things to make good grades…there’s few things that actually stuck. I’ll let you know how this goes :). I’m pinning some of your math ideas. We both enjoy hands on. God bless!

          2. That great Amber. You know Life of Fred does a great job of explaining and it’s pretty enjoyable to relearn math that way.

            Horizons is very visually pleasing! I can’t argue with you there. If you follow the teacher’s manual, there’s a lot in there to keep the lessons moving. My guess is he probably doesn’t need all the practice the workbook requires of him.

          3. I don’t have the manual but I need to get it. My hubby has to help me grade papers because it takes me awhile to calculate everything. It’d be great to have the answer guide lol. I’ll have to check out Life of Fred. Cutting down the work will help with grading too….not that grades really matter in our school. It just helps me know if he gets the concepts. Thank you so much for taking the time to help me. 🙂

          4. The teacher guide would give you a hand with teaching the concepts in addition to giving you answers. Plus, it has ideas for the lessons in it like drills and timed practices. Also, it’ll help with those problems that make you think “what is this?” Some of them are not so intuitive.

            I think the manual would make a big difference in instruction and how you handle the workbooks.

  3. Math Mammoth has also helped us with colorful images, concepts in small bites, teacher guides and answers, very inexpensively. My son also resists the repetition once he has the concept down, and this suits him to a T, as it moves on. He actually asks to do it first (7th grade)

    1. Thanks Lisa,

      We’ve used Math Mammoth here and there as well- usually when we need more practice. I like her geometry units.

  4. I have an 8 year old super creative daughter. My question is:
    How do you get enough math understanding into them using applied math to where they can do complex problems like that. My daughter hates it when we are at the lunch counter and I start asking her what I think is fun living math questions. If its not her idea, it meets with so much resistance. What did you do in the earlier math days of just understanding how to add and subtract? Especially for a child who would rather make little people out of the unifix cubes than see them as place holders?

    1. That’s a great question Kelly! Early on we used Horizons math which is a lot of workbook problems in spiraled succession. It was pretty much a chore. We worked on math facts a lot through oral practice, games, and drills. I used Times Tales for her to learn multiplication. That went VERY well. It’s a story memorization tool that teaches the times tables. We still do prescribed math time and there were tears this morning when she learned that math will continue after school ends this year. BUT, my daughter is aces at the conceptual idea of math. She has issues with beasting out problems and being accurate each time.

      The crafty math means she will attack a problem to its end. If what she thought doesn’t work out, she’s learned what doesn’t work and tries another way. THIS is where she excels.

      Even now you can let your daughter work on her own and encourage her to try things she loves that have math skills embedded in them. Start out small and get bigger. I suspect when the math is practical and she’s given lots of time to explore, then her regular math times will be a bit easier as time goes on.

      In short, we did both things. And we varied the ratio of one to another during various seasons. We’re doing math this summer to keep everyone’s head in the game. We’ll definitely relax, but I don’t want to lose ground. That annoys creative thinkers too!

      Let me know if you have more questions.

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