In 1929, a superintendent of schools, Benezet, conducted an experiment among elementary school children in New Hampshire. He was able to prove that children can learn K-6 grade math in one year. Furthermore, students who did not receive any formal math instruction until they were at least twelve years old performed better than those who did. In addition, the students who participated in his experimental classrooms were the children of poor immigrants, not children of privilege.
Verbal skills develop better mathematicians
Rather than teaching rote memorization of math facts, teachers encouraged young students to read and discuss lots of books. Therefore, students and teachers discussed history, literature, geography, and natural sciences and consequently, developed large vocabularies. They were encouraged not only to tell stories, but also to analyze maps, estimate time and distance, and make change for small purchases. Everyone also played games.
However, they did not do math worksheets or memorize formulas. Check out this post that includes some fun ways to do what Benezet’s students did.
The unexpected results showed that they outperformed their traditionally schooled peers on problems that required analysis and problem solving ability. They equaled their peers on calculation ability. Also noteworthy was that none of Benezet’s students had math phobia. Math was easy and natural to them.
What does this mean?
It is hard to believe that this study is almost a hundred years old and yet, we keep pushing formal learning to younger and younger age groups. In contrast, the Sudbury School has repeatedly shown in the past thirty to forty years that motivated children ages ten and up can learn all of K-6 math in eight weeks. Eight weeks!
When I read these studies, I was angry. It seemed to me that all those worksheets actually made kids dumber, not smarter. They made kids hate math, not appreciate its beauty and perfection.
Our fears about our children’s future achievement seems to bring about the very results we are trying to prevent when we force early formal learning.
Please comment below on how you might use this information to improve your child’s education.
Sources cited: Benezet, L.P. The Teaching of Arithmetic I, II, and III: The Story of an Experiment. Journal of the National Education Association, vol. 24, no. 8, November 1935, pp. 241-44.
Also vol. 24, no. 9, December 1935, pp. 301-303 and vol. 25, no. 1, Jan. 1936, pp. 7-8.