During our first year of homeschool, I spent a lot of time trying various educational approaches to see what the kids liked and what didn’t really do it for them. It was (and is) very important to me that they enjoy “school;” this doesn’t mean that they never have to buckle down and just do the work whether or not they want to. But I really don’t want to hear them groan when it’s time for a particular subject matter. If they’re groaning, then perhaps it’s time for a new approach.
For a while, math was something the kids loved. Eva was six when we started homeschooling, and the concepts we covered were pretty basic. Ian was so far ahead in math when he left public school that I took a break from the traditional math trajectory and explored lots of interesting math tangents (and yes, that pun is intended). We used a variety of books, videos and online math resources, which I’ll discuss in the next two posts. The interactive websites offered digital badges for math success which the kids ate up – they still love solving the computer-generated problems simply to earn the badges. It’s brilliant.
But the next year I decided that we needed to get back to a more traditional math course. The kids, unsurprisingly, weren’t all that thrilled about the idea. Textbooks? You’ve got to be kidding! We don’t use textbooks in homeschool! Which is true. We don’t. But I felt the need in this one topic area. We trudged along for little while, and nobody was very happy. They both wanted to do the online math problems instead, which offered the sparkly badges.
I can make sparkly badges, I thought.
No. The kids can make sparkly badges. Yes! I like this better. Less work for me, more fun for them. We shall take two weeks of math class to create a math motivation game and we shall call it MathQuest.
I thought about Guildwars (Ian’s favorite video game) – how he starts with a character and through achieving different quests earns cool weapons and clothes. The kids picked one character each (Ian picked a Guildwars warrior, and Eva picked a fairy) and came up with stuff they could buy for him/her. Ian jumped on Guildwars Wiki, which had lots of pictures he downloaded and turned into his shop inventory. For Eva, we pulled out How to Draw and Paint Fairies by Linda Ravenscroft; we scanned and copied many of its beautiful pictures and supplemented with fairy house images from the beautiful books Fairy Houses and Fairy Houses and Beyond, both by Tracy Kane.
Using our scanner and photo editors, we made all the images the same general proportion. I sent them off to our local print shop for printing and lamination. Then we brought the pieces home and cut them all out. Ian and Eva decided to create five levels – you can only buy certain items if you’ve achieved the corresponding level (and the basic character gets cooler the higher you get). The kids priced all their pieces, making items in higher levels more expensive (inflation!). Then they sorted the items by type (pets, homes, weapons, magical items, fairy wings, clothing, etc.) and put them into labeled envelopes. Finally, we stuck everything up on a big bulletin board. Below is a picture of the whole thing; there are more close-ups at the end of this post.
This is our second year using MathQuest. The kids earn one point for each problem they work, whether or not it’s correct. Extra points are granted for positive attitudes. At the end of the math lesson, I convert these points into gold (as the kids priced their items separately, I have to take different exchange rates into account, so 10 points for Eva might be worth 500 gold, whereas 10 points for Ian might be worth only 400).
Although ultimately MathQuest has never been able to completely compete with the online math games, it’s been a lot of fun, and the kids have never lost interest. Textbook work is now relatively enjoyable. At the end of each math session, they take their earnings and make their purchases (oh my, more math!!). They can sell an item back for 50% of its value, and they get an additional gold bonus when they change levels. We’re almost at the end of the game – they’re both level 5 characters now, and will have soon purchased everything possible. That’s ok – we’ll find something else to do. Two years of magic isn’t a bad deal, especially when the whole thing cost me about $10.
And now for the step by step photos: