I have received several questions recently about math curriculum. Math is a hard subject because it’s so important and there are so many options. We have tried a few different programs over the years and have a few favorites. We also have one student with a learning disability in math which affects which programs suit their learning. There are times when each of my students is using a different program for math, because different ones suit their individual needs and strengths.
Math in the Early Years
For Preschool we have never used a formal program. We incorporate activities in our daily life that teach the early skills of counting, sorting, shapes, sizes, comparison and basic addition and subtraction. Some of the preschool theme packs we have used had math activities that we would use to add variation. For my workbook kids, we would purchase workbooks from Target or Dollar Spot and do a page a day. Our focus during preschool was to love learning and discover how what kind of learner each child was.
As each child mastered these skills and was ready for more we moved towards a formal program between Kindergarten and 1st grade. For my child who is very gifted in math, he was ready very early for a formal program. To test his readiness I used Khan Academy and read each Kindergarten problem aloud for him to answer. This allowed me to confirm he was ready for the next level and that there were no gaps in his basic knowledge.
Choose your Method
There are a variety of ways to teach math each one has their strengths and weaknesses. Following a sequence and focusing on mastery is whats important. Math is fairly unique in the school subjects in that every principle taught builds on the previous ideas introduced. Rushing through concepts for sake of a schedule will do harm as it will build a weak foundation for future concepts. We have used 4 different programs so far for teaching Elementary Math.
Singapore math was encouraged by the all-in-one program we started with. It comes with a textbook and workbook for each level and recommends completing 2 books a year. There are also Home Instructors Guides to show you to teach the child. It does not require a manipulative package which is a positive if you are looking to keep the cost down. We used this book for part of 1st grade. I did not have a Home Instructors Guide and there were no words in the textbook, so it was difficult to understand from the graphics exactly what was being taught on a given page. Singapore Math is it’s own system and was developed in the country of Singapore and used worldwide. We stopped using it because it was different than the way I learned and it was difficult to teach with the materials I had.
A friend introduced us to Math Mammoth Light Blue Series and it has been the most constant math in our house. The material is presented in a Work-text. This means the teaching is intermixed in the same pages as the workbook practice problems. It is also available to purchase as a PDF so you can print what you need for multiple children. It is easy to understand and reminds me of the ways I was taught to do math. Each grade level has 2 books. Each grade level covers a variety of topics by chapter, building a little each year in every area. For my independent learners it is easy for them to read the examples and instructions on their own and ask for help when they need it.
Math-U-See has a unique approach. Each level covers a specific topic is great depth, instead of visiting all topics and adding a new layer each year. The first time we tried Math-U-See was their Primer level. It moved too slow for the student and wasn’t a good fit. We moved on to Singapore then Math Mammoth before finding our way back to it. The Primer Level is structured differently at level Alpha and above, which I didn’t know at the time.
We returned to Math-U-See because a specific child was struggling and could not retain the small bits of each topic from year to year and needed more review each year. After working to learn multiplication facts for the 3rd time with other programs we switched to the Gamma level where the student could continue working with multiplication and practice it to the multiple digits all at once. The following year the focus was division, from basic facts to multi-digit equations. This approach may not work if you are looking to homeschool for a short time or you have a child who grasps concepts quickly. While it has been a good fit for the child with dyscalculia, it was a poor fit and moved too slowly for my engineering minded child.
Beast Academy is a fairly new program and created by Art of Problem Solving. It is designed for math minded kids and emphasizes problem solving and the why behind how math works. The program requires a Guide & a Workbook. There is also an optional online subscription component as well. We have only used the hard copies. The Guide is written as a comic book and is in full color. Each story is told with the same set of monsters and includes a math concept. There is a suggested daily assignments and sequence on the website, and each level consists of 4 Guide/Workbook sets.
Like Math-U-See, Beast Academy follows it’s own unique sequence of introducing different topics, which can make placing a child at the right level a challenge. There are placement tests on their website. For my student who was over a year ahead for his age, Beast Academy provided a challenging way to practice and review his skills. The child was distracted from the math explanations by the comic book format, making new topics frustrating to learn solely from the Guide.
Regardless what math program you choose be sure to bookmark Khan Academy online. It’s a valuable resource for teaching and learning math and is growing to include more subjects. For a season we exclusively used Khan for learning but the lack of written work proved to be a weakness. There is a brain connection made when you manually write out a problem and solve it with pencil and paper. At this time Khan Academy does not have a paper component. As I mentioned earlier it is also a tool I have used to check for mastery before jumping a child to another content area or grade level. There are teaching videos and online practice problems.
This is not a conclusive list of homeschool math programs. These are the ones we have personally tried for our students. We have discovered through trial and error what works for mom as the teacher and also for the way each child learns. I hope our experience will give you a better understanding of these different math options, to help you pick what might work for your students.