Marvelous Mondays – Math

     Math!  Does the very word strike terror in the heart of most homeschooling moms?  I hope not.  However, there are oodles of math programs in the homeschool marketplace these days, with more new programs becoming available every year, and that can be very confusing.  Are they all the same?  When buying math curricula is it true to say, “You get what you pay for”, meaning the better the program the more expensive it is?  What about those moms who might have struggled with math, especially in high school.  Should they try to tackle high school math at home with their own children? 
     There is no one size fits all math program on the market.  The sad fact is that the public schools try to make one program work for all of their students, and it just doesn’t work.  Aren’t you glad you are homeschooling your own children?  I am!  We have the incredible privilege of making our children’s education fit the child, and we can learn right along with them.
     Because one size does not fit all, we’ve had a number of right and wrong fits in my own home over the last twenty years.  The following is a list of what we’ve used, along with an explanation of how it worked for us, or why it didn’t work for us.  Read through my words, even if it’s a program that didn’t work well for my family.  The reasons it didn’t work for us, might be the very reasons that it would work for you!
     Please be sure to read through to the end.  Some of these programs are pricey, but I have some final tips about purchasing and using some of these programs to help you save a few bucks.  I’m sure you can think of even more. 
     Bob Jones University Press – BJU Press, a conservative Christian publisher, uses a standard text book approach.  We used their text books for the elementary grades only, and with our older two only.  The program is thorough and relatively easy to use.  The program contained thorough explanation of new concepts, plenty of practice and adequate review.  Periodic tests are included.  We liked this program, for the most part, but there were some drawbacks.  Teacher’s manuals were necessary, even for the early grades, and there was quite a bit of parent prep time involved.  The program did not utilize many manipulatives, making it less than ideal for “hands on” learners.  The program is very expensive. 
     Saxon Math Grades 4 – 12  Saxon is another standard textbook format math program.  We had mixed success with Saxon Math.  We started our older two in Saxon at about the 7/6 and 5/4grade levels, respectively.  There are no teacher’s manuals.  New concepts are carefully outlined in the day’s lesson, making it easy to teach the lesson to your child directly from the text.  Some children can do this independently, turning to mom or dad only when they need a little extra help in understanding.  The success of the program comes from the steady review of past concepts, but this can also be its downfall.  One of my daughters thrived with the steady review, while the other was bored to tears (literally) with the constant, never-ending review.  See?  One size does NOT fit all!  Saxon materials can be expensive, but they are also readily available used.  Since there are no workbooks or teacher’s manuals, you can often find good deals on used text books.  Another downfall to the Saxon program in the high school years, is the absence of a separate Geometry curriculum.  Geometry is taught, but it is included and spread over the two years of Algebra.  The 4th-12th grade programs average around $76 each, but the same textbook can be used with all of your students.  Of my two grown daughters, one would tell you she loves Saxon while the other will tell you she hates it.  (I’ll not say which is which). 
     Saxon Math Grades K – 3  We also used the early elementary materials when our third child began homeschooling.  The Kindergarten through third grade programs are very, very thorough.  The Teacher’s Manuals, which are required,  include scripts that you are to read to your child as you teach each day’s lesson.  I didn’t use the scripts.  I simply taught the conepts using my own words, while still being careful to introduce all the new mathematical terms he should know.   If you are timid about teaching math to your kids, these scripted teacher’s manuals would be a huge help.  The vast majority of the day’s lesson is taught directly from the Teacher’s Manual.  The program also utilizes manipulatives.  LOTS of manipulatives, which makes it a good choice for most young children, but an especially good choice for hands on learners.  The student materials, called Meeting Books, are in workbook format.  This is also quite an expensive choice – the complete 2nd grade kit retails for $96.50.
     The Key to…… Series  This series is based on mathematical concepts rather than grade levels.  Titles include:  Key to Fractions, Key to Decimals, Key to Percents, Key to Measurement, Key to Metric Measurement, Key to Algebra and Key to Geometry.  Each subject is covered in a series of short, student workbooks.  Each topic is presented quite thoroughly, in simple language, with plenty of readily understandable examples.  We put Key to Algebra into the hands of our oldest daughter after struggling with her for months in Saxon Algebra.  The books lend themselves well to independent learners, but would work equally well with Mom or Dad teaching along.  This is a relatively inexpensive program.  For example, the complete Key to Algebra program, consisting of ten student workbooks (average 37 pages each), along with the Answer Keys for all ten books, would run about $50.  This is a workbook based program, so only one student can use the workbooks, but you can always reuse the answer keys with a second set of workbooks. 
     Horizons Math  Horizons Math, a division of Alpha Omega Publications, is my current top pick for elementary math.  This is a workbook based program.  The Teacher’s Manuals really are almost a necessity (not quite, but almost); but this program really does seem to have it all.   There is little, if any, teacher prep time needed.  The pages are colorful, without being so busy that they distract the student, and new concepts are introduced and taught so gently that the students seem to learn them almost effortlessly.  Horizons does move students along quickly, often exceeding the Scope and Sequence standards of other publishers at the same grade level.  The earlier grades make good use of manipulatives.  There is plenty of built in review and testing every ten lessons.  The program is less expensive than some, but is still a bit pricey for a workbook based program.  Example, the complete 4th grade program retails for $72. 
     Teaching Textbooks  I don’t know about you, but I LOVE products that have been especially designed for homeschoolers.  Teaching Textbooks is just such a program.  We’ve used the Algebra I program, and are about ready to begin Algebra II.  So far, so good!  I will say right up front that this is an expensive program, but each level can be used repeatedly for all of your students.  I think the concept is brilliant!  Each day the student pops the CD Rom into the computer drive and listens (and watches) the day’s lesson.  This isn’t a video teaching program, but there are animated diagrams provided on the screen as the lesson is taught.  The on screen appearance reminds me of what my old Algebra teacher did each day on the chalk board for us as he presented the lesson.  Your student gets  both audio and visual instruction this way.  The student then works through the day’s lesson of about 20 problems or so from the text.  Once the lesson is corrected, the Solutions CD Rom is put into the computer and your student selects the problems that he missed.  The problem is then worked out, step by step on the computer screen, until the answer is achieved.  You can see a demo of the program at the website.   The authors started developing this series in the middle, so to speak, with the Algebra programs, but now have branched out in both directions so that their product line covers Grade 4 through Pre-Calculus.  This is my current pick for Grades 7 and up.  The biggest drawback to this program is the price, with the complete programs ranging from $120 (grade 5) to $185 (pre-Algebra and up).  
     Graduation from our home school requires a course in Consumer Math as well.  To date, we have used both Get a Grip on Your Money, by the late Larry Burkett, and Mathematics for Everyday Living, and we have been happy with both. 
     Get a Grip on Your Money: A Teen Study in Christian Financial Management is a biblical look at money management.  The book begins with the student choosing a career (for reference purposes), then covers budgeting, record keeping, managing bank accounts, loans and credit cards, buying a car and then a home, writing a resume, tithing, etc.  This is a very good course for all students.  
     Mathematics for Everyday Living is an extremely thorough course, if you use all twelve books, or it can be used to teach just one particular topic by using a single workbook.  My husband and I felt that this course was more than either of us ever encountered even at the college level, and we would certainly have benefitted from working through these workbooks ourselves.  The twelve books, all entitled The Mathematics of……, include:  Buying, Saving, Budgeting, Borrowing, Insurance, Taxes, Investment, Statistics, Bonds, Mutual Funds, Stocks, Appreciation & Depreciation.  Whew!  These workbooks originally sold for around $11 each, but they are available for much less these days at Amazon (I saw titles for around $2), but you’d have to search for them title by title.  A really in depth review of these books can be found here.  We were very happy with this series of books, too; and will likely use them again. 
     These are not math programs, per se, but they are things we have used in our own home that you may, or may not, be familiar with.
      Math Blaster and Quarter Mile Math are computer games geared toward keeping math skills sharp.  If they’re going to play computer games, why not have the games be educational?  These are good choices to have in your arsenal.  My boys have enjoyed both of these titles, but Math Blaster has been the favorite.
     The CalcuLadder math drills have been indispensable in my home for almost two decades.  These drills take just a few minutes a day, and are a great boon to keeping your students’ computational skills sharp.  They are, quite simply, timed mathematics drills.  Your child starts at level one and continues through the series, year by year,  until all 96 levels have been mastered.  None of my children have especially enjoyed these, but that’s okay.  The publisher calls them “Learning Vitamins”, and I administer them here in that light.  We do it because they’re good for us!  As I said, they’re quick.  From the time you hand out the drill sheets until the drill is finished and the score recorded is less than five minutes, so the “pain” is short lived.  You can choose to buy individual workbooks, which each contain several copies of each drill; but I would recommend you buy either the MasterPaks (which enable you to make as many copies of each drill as you need), or the CD Rom that also allows you to make as many copies as you need for your family.  Simple recording forms and an Achievement Record are also included. 
     Final thoughts:  Don’t be afraid to shop for used math books.  Most math textbooks are readily available and fairly inexpensive on Amazon and other sites.  Be sure, though, that you can also get the Answer Books for the same edition that you are buying.  It’s alright to buy older editions of these books.  They are quite often available at a low price and there is nothing at all wrong with a prior edition.   
     One thing that has cost me money in the past is buying a Teacher’s Manual and single student workbook for one of my children, only to have the company publish a different edition before my next child was at that grade level.  Talk about frustrating!  I finally wised up, though.  Now, when I find a program (math or otherwise) that I’m sure I’ll use with more than one of my children, I buy the Teacher’s Manual (only when necessary) and as many workbooks as I have students still coming along.  It is, of course, a larger initial outlay, but you don’t have to worry about replacing teacher’s manuals, answer keys, etc. 
     You can also find workbooks in “used” condition online, and these might be worth your while.  Quite often, a family will work through only the first two or three lessons of a workbook before abandoning it, and you can pick up that workbook for a song.   

     Teaming up with a friend is a good idea when it comes to buying math manipulatives.  Better yet, forgo the “counting bears” and manufactured number lines, and make your own.  Duplo blocks make great counters for little guys, and there are all manner of things around the house you can use for counters for older kids.  A small dry erase board and marker will produce a great number line, as will a couple of sheets of paper taped together.  You can make your own hundred board in less than an hour, and then cover it in clear contact paper for durability.  Have your husband make a geoboard with brads on a thin piece of wood.  If your budget is limited, and whose isn’t these days, use your imagination before you open your checkbook.  Watch garage sales, too, as many teachers (and former homeschoolers) sells their materials this way.  They also donate to charities, so your local thrift store might also be a good outlet.  In fact, I bought a copy of Saxon Algebra I for a buck at a library sale.
     If you haven’t already done so, head on over to Kendra’s blog for her Marvelous Monday review of Math curricula!  Be sure to join us again next week for another Marvelous Monday homeschool review!  

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your household!
Proverbs 31:27

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20 comments to Marvelous Mondays – Math

  • I learned the hard way how much choosing a curriculum that is good for your student is important.  Since we weren’t certain we would homeschool permanently, we used the same math textbook as our local schools used for 3rd and 4th grade.  It was a great book (Sonlight used it and that’s where we bought ours) but it proved to be too “busy” for my ADHD student, even though I thought it excellent because of all the colorful charts and pictures.

    We switched to Saxon in 6th grade and it worked out very well for Christopher, even though he found it boring he also had been through two years of a book that didn’t work so he was glad to use it.  I should have set aside the “busy” textbook long before that as he didn’t catch up in math until he took community college classes.

    My daughter uses Singapore Math but then again… she has a husband who has a PhD in math so he chose their curriculum.  🙂

  • Your blog continues to be a WEALTH of helpful information!  Can I ask a couple of silly questions?  We don’t have school-aged kids yet, but I’m wondering when and how you start them on math?  I remember playing with an abacus as a small child, and loving that, and also doing basic counting/math etc before I entered formal school, but I’m not sure when I started a more formal curriculum with books and worksheets.  Do you start those things based on age, interest, or both?  I like the idea of student-led learning, but obviously, even children who are less interested in math need to learn certain skills!  Also, on the other end of the schooling, do you have a certain “level” that your children must reach before they graduate from your home school?  You mention algebra and geometry (and pre-calc for one of the textbooks).  Is pre-calc the top level of math that the “high school” level math courses cover? Were either of your grown children interested in calculus or some other high-level math?  I don’t know how I’ll manage it if I have a child who is a math whiz!

  • If you use saxon for highter math I strongly recommend the solutions manual instead of just the answer key. When my children get to Algebra 1/2 or higher I find that having the problem shown start to finish helps us understand where it went wrong. Well worth the cost.

  • @kattmaxx – Yes!  I should have mentioned that!  It’s been awhile since we’ve used Saxon so I forgot to mention the Solutions Manuals.

  • Math has been the most difficult of all subjects as far as choosing curriculum. I have one math wiz and one who struggles terribly. We have used PACE’s for the struggler only to find out those were not effective at all. I then went to saxon and the wiz is bored and the struggler is still struggling. I was planning to switch programs for next year. I will check out the Horizon….this Marvelous Monday theme is AWESOME….I will go read what Kendra has to say!

  • @tjsNana – If it’s possible, you can try different programs for each of the children.  This happens in my home due to the age difference (high schooler and a 4th grader), but I’d certainly consider giving each of the children a different program if that’s a possibility for you.

    @Becky – Not a silly question at all!!  I’d keep “math” really low key and fun for the kids.  What I’d recommend is probably what you are already doing.  Count things with your children as you handle them in normal, daily living – the apples going into the bag at the store, the plates you put on the table for dinner, etc.  Provide fun, hands on “math” toys (remember your abacus?) for your children and spend a bit of time playing with them.  Don’t be teachy (that’s not a word, but it works!), just play!  I wouldn’t worry about introducing any sort of actual math curriculum untlil your child are 6 or so unless they show an interest or are wanting to do school.  My now ten year old felt left out when he was little, so we bought some preschool workbooks (Rod & Staff) for him.  Be aware, though, that some children are just ready and willing earlier than others.  Homeschooling allows us to allow our children to begin early or late, as best fits.   We do not have a set level of math for high school graduation.  In fact, one of my older daughters did not finish algebra.  She and algebra were just at cross purposes and it was not going to happen.  Guess what?  She is a full funtioning adult who can apply enough algebraic and geometric principles to manage quite well in life!  I do require Consumer Math, as mentioned in the article, but beyond that we have, so far, catered to the child’s mathematical bent.  Aaron, my 15 year old, will have Algebra II and Geometry under his belt, and beyond that, I’m not sure.  Will, my ten year old, is my first math whiz and I don’t know how far he’ll go.  The beauty of this homeschooling thing is that we can learn along with our children when they pass us up.  Teaching Textbooks is perfect for upper math levels for just this reason. 

    @BrendaKayN – Thanks for commenting, Brenda.  I was hoping that you, and a few other wise “been there and done that” gals would chime in and add to our discussion. 

  • It would be VERY possible to do different programs for both kids. Which ones would be best?? Math Wiz will be 3rd grade level and loves workbook style learning, and my little struggler is 5th grade this year but still working at a beginning 4th grade Saxon Math…I do not want to push her.

  • Ooooo, and I got a little freaked out at what Kendra said about Saxon….the letters and then also that it is geared toward government schooling….gives me the creeps.

  • @tjsNana – You know, I’d never heard that about the letters on the Saxon books before myself; but I did know they were secular text books.  Some people LOVE Saxon.  Dani still loves Saxon!  Email me about the math.  I have some ideas.

    @Ex_Goat_Milker –  Ya, but they’re good for you!

  • @tjsNana –   The letters actually spell “Mathmatics”, if you use only some of the letters and arrange them you can spell “Atheist” or “Meat” for that matter.  

  • Dani….ok that makes more sense. I think Kendra was trying to say one of her kids was bored enough to figure out those letters spelled athiest!! I understand….Zach is bored with it too. Charlotte is not bored, but is more baffled.

    Of all the subjects, math has been the most difficult to find that “fit” and once you buy it (me, anyway) I need to use it…I can not buy several programs a year! I think Horizons may be the answer for one of the kids, maybe both.

    I will e-mail you tomorrow Cheryl….I am heading out the door. Again….GREAT post!

  • Cheryl, my husband chose Alpha Omega Life Pacs for our Math curriculum during our 2nd year of home schooling.  Currently both of our boys are continuing with the Lifepacs while our daughter is doing Switched on Schoolhouse Math.  There are ups and downs to each program, but if and when you find something that works well, the kids will tell you.   When we had our housefire, we had picked up some math books from Wal-Mart to keep up until we got in to our house and everything unpacked.  What impressed me so much was the day we unpacked the Life Pacs and started back in, my oldest said, “Mom, I’m so glad I have my math books back.”   

  • Saxon now has something called Saxon Teacher (for many of their high school level courses).  It is lesson and test CDs and each math module is taught by a teacher as though the student is in class.  It goes fully through all the exercises and materials in that lesson.  The student can then work the problems — if they encounter a problem then they can click on that problem on the CD and the teacher walks through it step by step.

    This is our 4th year with Saxon but this year is going so much better thanks to the Saxon Teacher program.  My son is lucky enough to have a wonderful and amazing math teacher at our co-op but class meets only twice a week.  This supplemental program has ended frustration when he gets confused.

    As others have said the key is finding what works for each child as they all learn so differently.

  • @Homeschoolmummyx3 – You’re right!  When you find a good “fit” for your children, everyone knows it!

    @Chris – Saxon Teacher sounds very similar to the Teaching Textbooks program that we use.   

  • I use Rod and Staff math through 6th grade.  After 6th grade it stopped working at our house.  That is when I pick up Teaching Textbooks, which I LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!  Have I mentioned how much I love Teaching Textbooks?  lol

  • Cheryl,

    I wanted you to know that when you talked about Teaching Textbooks awhile back, I looked into it for my daughter who takes after her math challenged parents, all I can say is WOW! What a difference it makes!! She is doing so much better in math!! There are no more tears!!! Thanks so much!!! You are such a blessing!

    Love, heather

  • @neeceeok – 

    @heatherintx – I’m always so pleased to hear how the Lord works through this blog!  I’m so glad that Teaching Textbooks is working out so well for your daughter. 

  • Wow. Thank you!!! I am one of those parents who is terrified of teaching math to my children. I have never really done well at math. I used to say I “hate” math. I don’t wish to see my children struggle with it like I do, so seeing other people’s reviews helps me figure out what to try for the fall when we begin homeschooling.

    Thank you!

  • Thanks so much for your feedback on my questions! I think we’re sticking with counting apples, etc. for the time being!  And I’m not at all surprised that your daughter is thriving even without algebra!  The consumer math seems like a really wise things to make sure all your children have mastered, and I’m definitely going to look into that.  Also, I think that your 4 children are living proof that homeschooling really works. It seems like they’ve all had different interests and strengths, and you’ve been able to be flexible and adjust to those personal interests.  I went to a traditional school, as did my husband, and I think (as you’ve rightly pointed out several times) that each family, and child, is different there is no “one size fits all” model.  So, although we aren’t yet sure how we’ll educate our children, and I suspect that they will go to a more traditional school for at least some of their education, I’m LOVING learning about your own homeschool.  I’m constantly reminded that even children who leave the home to go to school between 8am and 3pm have SEVERAL hours at their “homeschool” each afternoon and evening.  There’s so much teaching and learning to be done!  Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom!