Before your kids learn about unknowns and how to simplify polynomials, it is really really helpful to give your kids familiarity and confidence “mentally” solving problems that usually are taught as algebra problems with written steps.
I discovered, after fielding years and years of repeated versions of the “why do I have to know how to do this?” question, that my kids just took to algebra straight away when I took them through a number of mental math problems first. It was also quite surprising how easily they (and I) could do the problems without pencil and paper.
You can start by looking for a few problems out of an elementary algebra book to get started. Look them over before you sit down with your kids and write out the steps on a piece of scrap paper. That way you can refer to it while you teach and you can use the extra focus to make the lesson more fun and engaging. Use fun and even wacky examples and try to tie the ideas to your children’s daily life. I discovered a long time ago that a child (and really anyone) learns and retains material sooo much better when the new material has a connection to previously-learned concepts. That connection really doesn’t even have to be significant or relevant, it just has to be engaging.
If you want to teach algebra using a pre-written curriculum in the style I described in this post, you are welcome to download lessons from my algebra curriculum site at http://www.teachmebetter.com The book is called “Doodles Do Algebra” and I post a new worksheet each weekday along with an answer key and teacher’s guide.
Find more posts like this at www.ByMoms4Moms.org