HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It
Author: Denise Gaskins
Publisher: Tabletop Academy Press, 2016
Related websites: https://denisegaskins.com/ (author), https://letsplaymath.net/ (book)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Primarily for adults
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Gaskins, Denise. Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy (published in 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press, Blue Mound, IL). Math is often one of the most challenging subjects for students, whether in a classroom or homeschool setting. When our boys were in their elementary years, our core math curriculum was Ray’s New Arithmetics, originally published in 1877. Both my father and grandfather studied from them in school and were known for their mathematical skills in their work. According to Mott Media, which republished them in 1985, they are organized in an orderly manner around the discipline of arithmetic itself, present principles which progress systematically from the simple to the complex, follow up each one with examples, and then include difficult problems to challenge the student so that he must rely on his arithmetic ability to answer the questions. One of the benefits of Ray’s New Arithmetics is that they emphasize mental arithmetic to precede written arithmetic as a means to assure understanding. Another advantage is that Ray’s New Arithmetics incorporate what has become a pariah to modern math students, namely story problems, and thus provides a good foundation for the study of logic..
While some may not concur, most people feel that the development of math skills obviously involves a lot of rote memorization especially in the early grades, but learning math should include much more. Enter author Denise Gaskins. In Let’s Play Math, she sets forth the philosophy and theory behind her “Math You Can Play” series, challenging our thinking about how to approach math and giving concrete examples. “A focus on answer-getting and test performance can ruin mathematics, distorting a discipline that is half art and half sport. Imagine a piano teacher who insisted her students spend six years on scales and exercises of gradually increasing difficulty before she would let them attempt a piece of actual music. Or a football coach who made his team run laps and do sit-ups every day, but let them play only two or three games a year, and scrimmage games at that. How many people would become bored with music or learn to hate football under such instruction?” (p. 12). The eleven chapters are divided into four sections: “How to Understand Math;” “Playful Problem-Solving” (“Math You Can Play,” “Math You Can Touch,” and “Math That Makes You Think”); “Math with Living Books” (the chapter on “4,000 Years of Stumpers” is especially interesting); and “Let’s Get Practical” (with a very practical chapter on “Transition to High School Math”).
There are also several appendices, including lists of “living” math books for all ages and math resources on the Internet. One may not agree with every observation or suggestion that Denise, who is a homeschooling mom of five, makes. In his Foreword, Stanford University mathematician Keith J. Devlin writes, “Does she know it all? No. Neither do I. Is she always right? No. Neither am I. But neither of those matter.” And not everyone will be as all-out gung-ho about math as Denise is—each of us has different gifts. But parents and teachers who are interested in providing a good mathematics background for their students will find many excellent ideas in this book. At the end Denise says, “In the few years we have our children at home, we cannot possibly teach them everything they will need to know as adults. At best, we can give them the tools for learning and the ability to reason, so they can continue their own education. And one of the most important tools for learning is a solid understanding of real mathematics—math taught the mathematician’s way, as mental play” (p. 207).