Taking the Mystery Out of Homeschool Math Curriculum

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One of the hardest homeschool curriculum choices a parent makes is math. With so many quality options, varied choices, and schools of thought, it’s hard to make the right decision for your child.

So how do you know which homeschool math curriculum is the right one?

Taking the Mystery Out of Homeschool Math Curriculum - By Rhonda

That question is not easy to answer. You need to look at several factors. We’ll start with these:

  1. How does your child learn? Are they able to pick up math concepts quickly or does it take more time to sink in?
  2. How much mental stimulation does your child need? Do they respond well to colorful pictures or do they need pages that are less cluttered?
  3. How easily do your child become bored? Are constantly repeated math concepts stifling to them or do they need this type of reinforcement?
  4. How does your child best take in information? Do they absorb new information best by hearing it, seeing it, or putting their hands on it?

While you think about the answer to the above questions, we need to differentiate between the three types of math curriculum: spiral, mastery and tactile. All homeschool math curriculum will fall into one of these three categories.

Spiral Method: The spiral method is also known as the incremental method. Concepts are taught incrementally with lots of reviews and drills. New material is added all along the way. It’s sort of like climbing a set of stairs. Eventually you’ll climb from the first floor to the second–where the concepts from floor one reappear with new material. Some curricula that are spiral include:

  1. A Beka
  2. Teaching Textbooks
  3. Saxon
  4. Horizons
  5. Christian Light Education
  6. Math in Focus

Mastery Method: The mastery method sticks with one concept until that concept is mastered: i.e., basic addition, addition with carrying, basic subtraction, subtraction with borrowing, multiplication…etc. There are reviews with the mastery method, just not as much. The theory is that the child has learned the concept outright, and therefore, there is no need for constant review. Mastery based programs include:

  1. LifePac
  2. Singapore
  3. Bob Jones
  4. Math-U-See
  5. Rod & Staff
  6. Mammoth Math
  7. ACE

Tactile Method: Is also known as the experimental method. It’s a relatively new school of thought. With this method children learn best with hands on practice and real world examples. Manipulatives are the backbone of this curriculum. Anything can be a manipulative: beans, marbles, blocks. Time is taught with a model of a clock. Examples include:

  1. Miquon
  2. Right Start

Now that we’ve differentiated between spiral, mastery and tactile, you need to decide which style is best for your child. Children with learning disabilities tend to do best with mastery based or tactile programs. For them, the constant introduction of new concepts can be confusing and frustrating. Kids who pick up concepts quickly and like to move on, will do best with a spiral based program.

With all of that being said, remember, just because there are review problems in the book, doesn’t mean you child has to work them. If they know the concept, have it down cold–move on. Don’t make them do busy work, it will just turn them off to math and cause you unnecessary frustration. Not to mention a longer day.

Once you’ve decided between spiral, mastery or tactile, based curricula, look at the math lessons themselves.

  1. Are there lots of colorful pictures, or just basic black and white math problems with little illustration?
    • Some children like the visual stimulation that color pictures bring to a boring math book. Other can’t handle it–especially ones with visual processing problems and ADD type disorders. The multiple colors and pictures are a distraction to these kids. They need clean, black and white pages (ex: LP/MUS/MM).
  2. Are there lots of problems on a page or just a few?
    • Some math curricula will have pages upon pages of problems to work (ex: AB/LP). Kids can become discouraged by just looking at the page full of busy work. I’ve been known to “X” out problems because I don’t believe in busy work, but some kids need that busy work for reinforcement. Parents, this is why we homeschool, so we can tailor make an education for our kids.
  3. Is there a lot of repetitive drill work or practically none at all?
    • I like drill work. Nothing makes you better at anything like practice. A Beka has a page of drills for each week. Four days worth are one sheet, each taking up one-quarter of that page. I thought that was awesome! When my daughter saw it, her visual processing deprived brain flipped on it’s side. She couldn’t handle it. I ended up folding it into quarters so only one day would show. That helped so much.
    • On the other hand, some curricula have very little review because they are mastery based. Once the concept is mastered, there is little need for review, but even mastery based programs can still have review pages (MUS).

The exception to all of the above is Life of Fred. This takes a revolutionary approach to math. It uses real world examples with a storyline. Some kids excel and some don’t. The storyline is very entertaining and interesting.

This all boils down to one simple thought: Don’t let math intimidate you! Some parents had such a bad experience with math while growing up they would rather farm out the teaching of this subject. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help with math–that’s what you expect your kids to do. One thing you can’t do is avoid it like the plague, and you don’t want to taint your child’s learning experience with something from your past. Math is a necessity, God designed the world with balance, and you can’t have balance without mathematics.

So go forth, and teach mathematics. You can do this. You have been called for this task in this season of your life.

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