Penrose the Mathematical Cat


When I started home educating the boys, I began with a traditional school-at-home approach. I knew that we all needed routine and structure to the day. I also value academic learning and wanted to be sure that the boys were making progress.
As the months have passed, however, I have begun to see how much the boys can learn from self-directed projects. We still have routine, but the lessons involve a lot more space for exploring and experimenting, and less of me talking!
With their research projects, the boys have been learning a lot about science without my doing any teaching at all. It’s very exciting! I wanted to try something similar for Maths.
Previously I have taught the boys Maths using National Curriculum linked workbooks, designing extra exercises when they were having trouble. I mixed in a few games – like Pontoon, shape bingo, and clapping games – but the style of me teaching and the boys (ideally) learning didn’t change.
Using The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat is a big change for us. I read the boys a story about a cat. Then we have a couple of puzzles to solve. We solve the puzzles together, which the boys enjoy. Then, if they want, the boys explore the topics a bit more.
My husband was a little unsure about this approach to maths. Both boys make mistakes in basic arithmetic, and husband thinks that we ought to stick to practising this. He worries that they both make random guesses when faced with any problem involving numbers (truthfully, this makes me a bit nervous too).
The Penrose book looks at more than just arithmetic. It covers the Fibonacci sequence, golden rectangles, magic squares and other things that delight people who love numbers. If the boys are ever going to catch the love of maths, this seems like the book to do it! My hope is that the boys will take an interest in numbers and begin to ‘get’ them. Then, they’ll be willing to do sums and see how random guesses don’t make sense. They can do the sums when they want to, I think what they need right now is to find the joy of numbers.
Besides, it will take a couple of months to work through the book, and we can get back to workbooks then if it looks like a better option.
So far, it’s going well! Eldest was fascinated with mathematical stars and fractals.

Middly really enjoyed looking at binary and square numbers.

One big plus has been that, because these are maths conversations rather than workbooks, the boys have been excited about telling their dad, their Nana, their grandad, their uncles (basically anyone who cares enough to provide an audience) about what they’re learning.
We’ve had chats over dinner and scribbled on pub napkins to demonstrate an idea. It’s early days, but, there is a slim chance that the boys are starting to see why numbers are so much fun!
Wish us luck!


9 thoughts on “Penrose the Mathematical Cat

  1. Wow! You’ve really lit a fire there. We home educated our son for just under 18 months until he finished primary. We, like you, started with a timetable and structure. The fact that I worked in a Primary school “helped” shape the early weeks. We needed to evidence his progress, didn’t we? And as time passed we realised that the most important thing was for him to be secure in his own abilities. To improve his self confidence. So now he’s back in mainstream secondary education and working at a lower level than he was at home! Why shouldn’t learning be fun? Good for you, these workbooks and the smiley faces are all the evidence you need!

    • Thank you!
      So pleased to hear that home education helped your son. It seemed like a risky step when we took the boys out of school, but since then I have met loads of families who have done it. Turns out it wasn’t such an unusual move after all!

      • We were supported by the local education authority! It was only his ex-primary school who objected! Hope you are getting lots of support! Good on you!

  2. Oooooo now I’m genuinely interested in this book and I feel a purchase coming on. Thank you so much for linking up to #BigKid with this post as it is exactly what I was hoping for – some brilliant shared knowledge to benefit us all.

    This looks like such an interesting approach to maths and it is well worth a try. I will let you know how we get on.

  3. We love this book, and the others in the series! Art of Problem Solving’s Beast Academy Series is another very rigorous but not traditional approach to elementary grade math.

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